On Thursday, Republican Senator John McCain said that President Obama is "directly responsible" for the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, over the weekend. According to the Associated Press, McCain — who is considered one of the most hawkish members of the Senate — charged that the shooting stemmed from the administration's Middle East policy, saying that Obama made a misstep when he pulled troops out of Iraq, because it precipitated the rise of ISIS.
McCain was in the halls of the Capitol speaking with a small group of reporters, who asked a question about the gun control debate which has rocked Congress since the shooting, culminating in the nearly 15-hour filibuster by Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy and other Democrats that stretched into early Thursday morning. Instead of answering, McCain jumped to foreign policy and how Obama's at fault:
Barack Obama is directly responsible for it, because when he pulled everybody out of Iraq, al-Qaeda 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 thinking that conflicts end just because we leave. So the responsibility for it lies with President Barack Obama and his failed policies.
And no, you didn't hear that wrong. According to the Washington Post, a reporter pressed McCain on if Obama was "directly" responsible. McCain reiterated his point:
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.
That would put McCain on nearly the same level as Trump — and far beyond his fellow Senate Republicans' attacks on Obama following the shooting. Trump appeared to connect Obama to the attack in an interview Monday on Fox & Friends. He said there was "something going on" several times. He kind of backtracked, but then went on to tweet an article on Wednesday that threw Obama the blame.
If McCain meant what he said, it would really put him on the fringe with Trump. But maybe he misspoke. He released a statement Thursday afternoon backtracking after the comments received news coverage. He claimed that he did not mean the president was personally responsible ... I guess he sees a difference. McCain went on to say: "I was referring to President Obama’s national security decisions, not the President himself."
Though the gunman claimed to be a soldier for ISIS, authorities have found no actual connection between him and the group. Obama has said this appears to be a case of "homegrown terrorism." Speaking from the Oval Office Monday, Obama said, "It does appear that at the last minute, he announced allegiance to ISIL. But there is no evidence so far that he was in fact directed by ISIL, and at this stage there’s no direct evidence that he was part of a larger plot."
McCain was speaking to reporters as Obama went to Florida to act as comforter in chief. Both he and Vice President Biden will spend time with the mourners to show that "Americans stand shoulder to shoulder" with the people of Orlando, in particular the victims' loved ones, as White House spokesman Eric Schultz put it.