John McCain follows Trump's lead: President Obama is "directly responsible" for Orlando shooting

“This is what the president called the JV (junior varsity) that just caused the deaths of 49 people in Orlando”

Published June 16, 2016 8:00PM (EDT)

 (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/Lucas Jackson/Photo montage by Salon)
(Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/Lucas Jackson/Photo montage by Salon)

While President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met with the families of the 49 victims, first responders and the survivors of Sunday's mass shooting at a gay Orlando nightclub, one-time rival and Arizona Republican Senator John McCain was joining with his party's new leader, Donald Trump, in accusing the president of being "directly responsible" for the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

McCain made the comments to a gaggle of reporters in a Senate hallway in Washington, D.C. on Thursday. Responding to a question about the gun-control debate that has flared on Capitol Hill, the senator lashed out at the president for pulling U.S. troops from Iraq too soon and allowing for the rise of ISIS.

“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 Washington Post.

When asked to clarify his comments, McCain, currently locked in another tough primary battle, reportedly doubled down.

“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,” McCain said of the president, conveniently leaving out any mention of the Status of Forces Agreement that President Bush signed agreeing to a troop removal date with the Iraqi government.

“It’s a matter of record," McCain argued. "So he is directly responsible.”

McCain also made similar comments on Wednesday, arguing that “the cause of terror is the failures of the Obama administration to address this issue seriously.”

“This is what the president called the JV (junior varsity) that just caused the deaths of 49 people in Orlando,” McCain said, laying blame for the attack squarely on the president's foreign policy.

Of course, McCain's comments come one day after Trump tweeted a dubious Breitbart article to essentially making the exact same argument to prove that President Obama is responsible for the attacks in Orlando.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's office was quick to slam McCain's comments on Thursday.

McCain's "unhinged comments are just the latest proof that Senate Republicans are puppets of Donald Trump," spokesman Adam Jentleson told the Associated Press.

“there is no daylight between Senate Republicans and Donald Trump.”

In contrast, however, Arizona's freshman senator, Republican Jeff Flake, joined with other prominent Republicans to forcefully rebuke Trump's response to the attack in Orlando earlier this week.

“That’s beyond the pale," Flake said of Trump's suggestion that President Obama is any way linked to the shooting in Orlando. "I mean really, just particularly, particularly disgusting to imply that that the president was hiding something,” Flake said.

After several national outlets reported on McCain's comments, he attempted to "clarify" his remarks:

“I did not mean to imply that the President was personally responsible,” McCain said in a statement, claiming he "misspoke."

“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.”

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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