December 1st, 2009
10:02 PM ET
3 months ago

McCain challenges Obama in private meeting

In a private meeting held hours before his prime-time address, President Obama was challenged by his 2008 presidential campaign rival Sen. John McCain.
In a private meeting held hours before his prime-time address, President Obama was challenged by his 2008 presidential campaign rival Sen. John McCain.

Washington (CNN) - Hours before he was set to address the nation on his new Afghanistan strategy, President Obama and members of his war council spent about an hour briefing senior members of Congress at a White House meeting that multiple sources described as businesslike and sobering.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers, who attended the meeting, said Obama laid out his plans to escalate the military mission before several lawmakers asked questions.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin told CNN the president emphasized that in addition to sending some 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, he also has a "target for when this is coming to an end."

"The president believes that gives the Afghans enough time, and the Pakistanis enough time to take control of the situation," Durbin said.

Three GOP sources told CNN that Sen. John McCain used the meeting to directly challenge the president on his exit strategy.

The sources said that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell deferred to McCain, who questioned the concept of announcing now plans to begin withdrawing in July, 2011.

These sources said the president responded to McCain by promising that the withdrawal would be based on conditions on the ground.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn was one of the only members of the Democratic leadership in either chamber to tell CNN "I'm very supportive of it."

Even Durbin, one of the president's closest allies, told CNN he is withholding judgment. "The president took some time to reach his decision, I'm going to need some time to reach mine," Durbin said.


Filed under: Afghanistan • Dick Durbin • Extra • John McCain • President Obama
soundoff (108 Responses)
  1. Shanglee

    Senator McCain needs to keep his mouth shut. He, George Bush and other Republicans had almost 8 years for this War and did nothing. Now the party of No has all the answers.

    December 1, 2009 10:01 pm at 10:01 pm |
  2. Realist

    Easy to throw rocks from the sidelines. McCain repeatedly said in an interview after Obama's speech that the July 2011 date was arbitrary. This with him knowing full well from this meeting and Obama's speech that the date was proposed and dependant on consitions on the ground. typical politician = mccain.

    Guess there is a reason why a vacuous airhead gets bigger crowds than him on the trail. . .

    December 1, 2009 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  3. GuyInVA

    Durbin is going to reserve judgment. In other words, if it works he was for it all along. If it fails, well, he told you so.

    December 1, 2009 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  4. Raphael

    So, now, the differences are so infinitesmal between Obama and McBush. The squabbles that they are having have nothing to do with the rising unemployment rate in the U.S. This is a collosal joke. Don't expect me to vote next time around.

    December 1, 2009 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  5. gary

    Are the people opposed to a time line willing to support a war tax to pay for an open ended war?

    December 1, 2009 10:07 pm at 10:07 pm |
  6. Trenton

    Who in the heck does McCain think he is....God's gift? Challenge???? Get a grip old man and get over yourself already!!

    December 1, 2009 10:07 pm at 10:07 pm |
  7. WAHEID

    McCain needs to zip it up. He lost the election. He is not the President. He is no longer in uniform and, even if he was, the President is Commander-in-Chief.

    McCain tries to project the image of being a military commander. True, he did serve in the Navy. However, he was a Lieutenant (or possibly a Lieutenant Commander) when he was made a prisoner of war. Because of his time in captivity he was promoted to Captain. No doubt he earned the promotion based on the time served in captivity. But it is important to note that he was not promoted because of his expertise in military strategy. I doubt that he ever participated in drawing up a single war plan. He deserves our gratitude for his service, but there is nothing in that service that warrants the mantle of battlefield commander.

    December 1, 2009 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  8. oliver

    McCain comes off looking like a and old, white, disgruntled Republican like he truly is.

    December 1, 2009 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  9. bob

    "The president took some time to reach his decision, I'm going to need some time to reach mine," Durbin said.

    a.k.a. I don't really care what happens so long as I look good, so I'll wait to see what direction things are going in so I can be sure to be on the winning side.

    Good or bad, at least this president HAS a strategy.

    December 1, 2009 10:10 pm at 10:10 pm |
  10. Xavier

    I respect McCain, but he is part of the problem.

    December 1, 2009 10:10 pm at 10:10 pm |
  11. methuselah

    McCain, the repeated abandoned bride of politics, still thinks he is relevant in military discussions. But he's out of date in too many ways to count. Perhaps he can go Maverick on us and get out of politics.

    December 1, 2009 10:10 pm at 10:10 pm |
  12. valwayne

    The YO YO Doctrine. Dither for months, put the troops in, pull the troops out. Why start July 2011? Because we will win by then? Not likely...gotta get out to smooth the ruffled feathers of the left wing nuts he'll need in 2012! The Obama YO YO Doctrine!

    December 1, 2009 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  13. Independent Lilarose, Bandon, Oregon

    This is all about war, folks!

    It is not a Sunday night movie. If the prez wants to set a time to pull out, let him do so and worry about more important things, like the entire survival of our country.

    I am sure Obama will revise plans as they are necessary.

    We really need to get rid of the old timers in Congress and get some new faces, minds, voices, and talents.

    December 1, 2009 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  14. Denna

    Shut up, John. President Obama has enough on his plate with the mess your party left him without you crawling all over him. I watched his speech tonight and I thought it was great, very to the point. He outlined his plan and an exit strategy – something that has not been addressed. If you want to do some good, why don't you say no the next time a member of your party wants to start a war. You are, after all, a member of the "Party of No". Make it count for something.

    December 1, 2009 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  15. Ivan

    John McCain you selected Palin as your vice-President and we should trust your judgement. You got to be kidding.

    December 1, 2009 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  16. Jim

    "Three GOP sources told CNN that Sen. John McCain used the meeting to directly challenge the president on his exit strategy."

    I wonder if McCain remembered to ask Bush the same question.

    December 1, 2009 10:20 pm at 10:20 pm |
  17. Sir No Name

    To end this "war" you have to cut off the head of the snake. To cut off the tail is useless, it only grows a new one. Quit messing around and get the job done. We all know who the bad guys are; Osama and Company. Cut off the head and you will achieve "the goal". Stop with the "velvet glove" routine. The people hiding Osama could care less about you and your family. Also, you can not fight a conventional war against guerilla warfare; that's why America lost in Vietnam. History teaches: You either learn from the past or you die from it. If Afghanistan becomes the next Vietnam, than all the Earth had better begin to focus on defense. To fail to get the people who started this fiasco, is to open all of the Earth to the Radicals, the Insurgents, the Nut-Cases, etc. Then the End-of-the World will seem like a blessing.

    December 1, 2009 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  18. B. Bear

    Respectfully, Sen. McCain looks very agitated, very angry, and very old in the photograph. His face is red, his jaws are clenched,and the vein behind his left ear is fully engorged.- an elderly man on the verge of losing his temper. A stark contrast to the President's demeanor. A stark reminder of a major reason behind last years election results.

    December 1, 2009 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  19. Kent

    Seems ironic to me that leading up to the announcement of the plan, these same individuals were quick with their judgements, suggestions, and demands of what the president should do. Now that they've heard the plan, they are slow and careful to see how the public reacts rather than thinking for themselves. What a bunch of limp turkeys......on both sides of the isle.

    December 1, 2009 10:26 pm at 10:26 pm |
  20. Kent

    Forgot to mention that Clyburn seems to know well thought out strategy when he hears it.

    December 1, 2009 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  21. CBR

    At a time when we need to speak with one voice, we still have politicians who cannot do that. Their egos seem to supersede their willingness to work together and support the president. Nothing new there and it happens on both sides of the aisle. Come election day, each politician will be reelected because the constituent represented is not willing to believe that the change needs to occur in that district. How many times have we seen this? Those politicians with the greatest egos get reelected time and time again even though they are impediments to progress.

    This is a chance for the Afghan people to regain control of their own country. We can help to do that but in the end the Afghan people must work together without foreign intervention. Our role is to help but not to occupy. Surely we have learned that lesson by now. I do think that the majority of the troops would like to see the Afghan people take the lead role in the country. They want to give the Afghan people the hope that they can forge their own destiny.

    I

    December 1, 2009 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  22. Wanda

    Senator I am so you did not win or we would be in afganistan for 100 years. The President is making the right decision in putting an exit date on this plan.

    December 1, 2009 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  23. Michael

    McCain and his views were rejected last November!

    December 1, 2009 10:34 pm at 10:34 pm |
  24. Susie

    In a debate last fall, John McCain said he KNOWS where Bin Laden is/was - why's he holding out on the rest of us?

    December 1, 2009 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  25. Independent

    Both parties represent the Industrial Military Complex!!! This is where the stimulus money is going!!!

    December 1, 2009 10:36 pm at 10:36 pm |
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