Republican Senator John McCain on Thursday said that President Barack Obama is "directly responsible" for the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, citing the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) group during the president's watch.
He later issued a statement saying that he "misspoke", according to The Associated Press.
"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," McCain clarified in his statement, issued as his initial comments were drawing heated criticism from Democrats.
McCain, who lost to Obama in the 2008 presidential election, spoke to reporters in the Capitol earlier on Thursday while Obama was in Orlando visiting with the families of those killed in Sunday's attack and some of the survivors.
"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 said as the Senate debated a spending bill, according to AP.
"So the responsibility for it lies with President Barack Obama and his failed policies," McCain added.
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 ISIS, which was quick to claim responsibility for the shooting.
In the aftermath of the shooting, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has accused Obama of putting U.S. enemies ahead of Americans. Trump also has suggested that Obama himself might sympathize with radical elements.
Obama fired back at Trump earlier this week, blasting him as un-American and saying that his mindset is “dangerous”.
Questioned on his startling assertion, McCain initially repeated it and said, "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."
However, about 90 minutes later, McCain issued his statement saying he misspoke, though his statement continued to lay blame for the attack on the president's policies — just not on 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," said McCain who used an alternative acronym for ISIS, according to AP.
McCain has long been a critic of Obama, his foreign policy and his strategy against ISIS.
In April, he warned that the United States-led coalition is headed for "slow, grinding failure" unless it scales up the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
"This administration's grudging incrementalism in the war against the Islamic State risks another slow, grinding failure for our nation," he said at the time.