News & Politics

John McCain Says Obama Is Directly Responsible for Orlando Massacre, Then Walks Back Comment

FILE - In this April 28, 2016 file photo, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. McCain says President Barack Obama is “directly responsible” for the mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., in which a gunman killed 49 people because he allowed the growth of the Islamic State on his watch. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Republican Sen. John McCain accused President Barack Obama of being “directly responsible” for the massacre in Orlando in comments to reporters Thursday.

“Barack Obama is directly responsible for it, because when he pulled everybody out of Iraq, al-Qaida went to Syria, became ISIS, and ISIS is what it is today thanks to Barack Obama’s failures, utter failures, by pulling everybody out of Iraq,” a visibly angry McCain told reporters in the Capitol as the Senate debated a spending bill.

“So the responsibility for it lies with President Barack Obama and his failed policies,” McCain said.

The gunman, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people and injured more than 50 in the attack at a gay nightclub. The 29-year-old Muslim born in New York made calls during the attack saying he was a supporter of the Islamic State.

When questioned on his assertion, McCain doubled down: “Directly responsible. Because he pulled everybody out of Iraq, and I predicted at the time that ISIS would go unchecked and there would be attacks on the United States of America. It’s a matter of record, so he is directly responsible.”

Democrats quickly pounced on McCain’s criticism.

Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said McCain’s “unhinged comments are just the latest proof that Senate Republicans are puppets of Donald Trump.”

More likely, McCain was reacting to the president’s unhinged comments on live television earlier this week. “For awhile now, the main contribution of some of my friends on the other side of the aisle have made in the fight against ISIL, is to criticize this administration — and me — for not using the phrase radical Islam,” the president sneered.

“What exactly would using this language accomplish? What exactly would it change?” Obama asked during remarks at the Treasury Department. “Would it make ISIL less committed to try and kill Americans?” he continued, using a different acronym for ISIS.

“Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this? The answer is none of the above,” he said. “Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away.”

Video via the Washington Examiner:

McCain later softened his comments on Twitter: “To clarify, I was referring to Pres Obama’s national security decisions that have led to rise of #ISIL, not to the President himself.”

The senator, who is running for reelection this year, continued the walk back the comments with a statement on his website:

I misspoke. I did not mean to imply that the President was personally responsible. I was referring to President Obama’s national security decisions, not the President himself. As I have said, President Obama’s decision to completely withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011 led to the rise of ISIL. I and others have long warned that the failure of the President’s policy to deny ISIL safe haven would allow the terrorist organization to inspire, plan, direct or conduct attacks on the United States and Europe as they have done in Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino and now Orlando.