On Thursday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said President Barack Obama is “directly responsible” for the Sunday morning mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando that left 50 dead.
“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,” McCain said, according to The Guardian. “[Obama] 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… The responsibility for it lies with President Barack Obama and his failed policies.”
There’s a good reason why McCain would ignore guns and focus on foreign policy. According to data from the Center of Responsive Politics, no member of Congress has received more direct and indirect support from the National Rifle Association than the $7.7 million that has gone to McCain over the course of his career. In 2008 alone, the NRA spent more than $7.2 million in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat Obama and elect McCain, who was the Republican candidate that cycle.
Though suspected Orlando shooter Omar Mateen pledged loyalty to ISIS during the attack on Pulse nightclub, no evidence has emerged that the American-born gunman was in previous contact with the group. Meanwhile, a former classmate told the Palm Beach Post he believes Mateen was gay, while his ex-wife told the Washington Post he was violent, emotionally troubled, and not particularly religious while the two were together. Mateen was twice investigated by the FBI — once for online comments he made in support of Islamist groups, and the second for connections he had with an Islamic extremist.
Despite all that, Mateen recently legally purchased the Sig Sauer MPX assault rifle he used during the massacre that left 50 dead. He also legally purchased a Glock 17 found on him after he was killed by law enforcement officers.
As McCain’s comments circulated, he attempted to walk them back with a statement where he said he “misspoke.”
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.
But a reporter who was present when McCain made his comments in a Senate hallway suggested he was trying to do damage control:
While he did link Orlando to Obama's policies, McCain said three times the president is "directly responsible." https://t.co/QGKaHpb6iN
— Sabrina Siddiqui (@SabrinaSiddiqui) June 16, 2016
McCain’s remarks came just hours after the conclusion of a Democrat-led filibuster demanding the Senate vote on two gun control measures — extending background checks to all gun sales and banning people on the “terror watch list” from buying firearms. But even in the the event those measures pass in the Republican-controlled chamber, neither of them would’ve prevented Mateen from legally purchasing an assault rifle in the days before he went on a deadly rampage. (Update — a proposal offered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) might actually block people like Mateen from buying firearms by broadening the criteria to include being investigated for terrorism during the past five years.)
McCain, who faces a tough reelection fight against Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick, has pledged his support for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. His comments came a day after Trump cited a debunked conspiracy theory to make a case that Obama secretly supports ISIS.
Adam Jentleson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), wasted no time drawing a connection between McCain and Trump, characterizing the senator’s “unhinged comments” as “just the latest proof that Senate Republicans are puppets of Donald Trump” and adding, “there is no daylight between Senate Republicans and Donald Trump.”