Republican Sen. John McCain lashed out at Barack Obama on Thursday, saying the president is 'directly responsible' for Sunday's terror attack at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida – because the ISIS terror army was allowed to flourish on his watch.
But within an hour he walked back his comments, saying he 'misspoke.'
Briefing reporters on Capitol Hill, McCain connected the dots between killer Omar Mateen's ISIS-inspired attack and Obama's policies in the Middle East.
'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.
Blame: McCain accused Obama of being responsible for the rise of ISIS as he spoke to reporters on Thursday afternoon - at precisely the time the president was on Orlando to meet the family of Mateen's victims
Perpetrator: Omar Mateen, 30, an American citizen, killed 49 in the worst mass shooting in modern American history. He attacked the Pulse nightclub, gunning down clubbers at the gay venue, then taking more hostage
Walk-back attempt: McCain tweeted this message shortly after making the accusation about Obama being to blame for ISIS
When a reporter asked McCain to clarify how Obama is 'directly' responsible, the Arizona senator, who is up for re-election, 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,' said McCain, who ran against Obama for the White House in 2008 as the Republican nominee.
'It's a matter of record,' McCain continued.
'So he is directly responsible,' the Arizona lawmaker added.
McCain walked some of his comments back in a statement, turning his personal jabs into policy disagreements.
'I misspoke,' he said. '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.'
ISIL is the Obama administration's preferred acronym, and is interchangeable with ISIS.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the body's top Democrat, quickly condemned McCain's remarks.
It's 'just the latest proof that Senate Republicans are puppets of Donald Trump,' Adam Jentleson, Reid's spokesman, said in a statement to the Washington Post.
'There is no daylight between Senate Republicans and Donald Trump.'
Timing: As McCain spoke, the president had landed in Orlando having come with vice-president Joe Biden to meet families of Omar Mateen's 49 victims
Comfort: The president and vice-president came to Orlando to meet families of the Pulse nightclub massacre at a time when the political fall-out over the terror attack has come to divide Republicans and Democrats
McCain has been trying to distance himself from his party's presumptive nominee in part because his state is heavily Hispanic.
Trump has done himself no favors with this demographic group in calling for a border wall between the United States and Mexico.
The Orlando gunman, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people and injured more than 50 in the attack at a gay nightclub.
The 29-year-old Muslim, a native New Yorker with Afghan parents, made calls during the attack pledging his allegiance to ISIS.
But he also spoke about the al Nusra Front, an affiliate of al Qaeda and about Hezbollah, both of which are ISIS enemies.
Hezabollah is Shi'ite, rather than Sunni – and hates both al Qaeda and ISIS.
In the aftermath of the shooting, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has accused Obama of putting U.S. enemies ahead of American's own people.
Trump also has appeared to suggest that Obama himself might sympathize with radical elements.
Democrats criticized Trump and some Republicans tried to distance themselves from his remarks.
Tribute: President Obama and his vice-president, Joe Biden, laid flowers in memory of the victims