December 1st, 2009
10:02 PM ET
6 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. Angela in Denver

    I am sick and tired of Republicans (period!)

    December 1, 2009 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  2. Louise in NC

    After 8 years in Afghan. surely we have been training some of the Afghan military and police. It's not like they are starting from scratch. All the President is saying is that they will be training more. We do not know what the commanders on the ground have already put in place and are just waiting for the troops. I believe it will be fast and successful.

    December 1, 2009 11:40 pm at 11:40 pm |
  3. Ed, Santa Fe, NM

    and di McCain challenge Bush on HIS exit strategy? NO? Thought not....

    shut him up and send him packing...

    December 1, 2009 11:41 pm at 11:41 pm |
  4. jane

    The President has obviously sought the best advice he can and has thoughtfully made the best decision he can. I have confidence in him.

    December 1, 2009 11:48 pm at 11:48 pm |
  5. Jose

    McCain – if you were as smart as you and Palin think you are,, than you would be president. Stating the objective and exit policy is a good thing for America. Using common sense as things progressed is an even smarter thing. Both of which is sounds like the President is doing.

    December 1, 2009 11:50 pm at 11:50 pm |
  6. Dem TIl death

    Folks,I think it't time to support our president. I think he is a patriot and worthy to be the leader of our great and beloved country.

    December 1, 2009 11:55 pm at 11:55 pm |
  7. francis Opara

    I believe that the problem with Americans is basically "acting on impulse". Obama's administration needs the support of all to succeed. If he fails American fail, if he succeed the glory goes to the nation, so why can't the citizens stop talking and start thinking. Noise making and unnecessary blame game will not fix the issues confronting the nation.
    It is quite sad that the Republicans can't swallow their pride and accept Obama as their commander In chief, while the Democrats should relax their hold on party ideology and consider what is best for the nation.
    HEYGUYS !! You are voted to serve the nation and not party interest.

    December 2, 2009 12:01 am at 12:01 am |
  8. stevetall

    By the way, Mr. McCain, have you ever fought in a war that we won? How would you know what it takes to win one???

    December 2, 2009 12:01 am at 12:01 am |
  9. give me a break

    Exit strategy? Really. A republican wants to know about an exit strategy.

    Give me a big fat break! You never cared about such a thing when good ol' "W" was in office.

    You're hypocracy is laughable and your insincerity a joke. Really? You're challenging the president about an exit strategy?

    Well, what do you expect from a guy who has such good judgement he picked Palin as a running mate.

    December 2, 2009 12:02 am at 12:02 am |
  10. Richard in Oakland

    Why does anyone listen to McCain about anything? This is the man who thought, and still thinks, that the Iraq war was a good idea. We would never have heard of Sarah Palin except for McCain – the entire Palin phenomena is entirely his fault. As president he would have sat back, done nothing and watched the country fall into a depression.

    December 2, 2009 12:04 am at 12:04 am |
  11. steve

    The President cannot win this one. In Iraq, he (then a U.S. Senator) decried Bush for sending in the 'surge' and never supported it. Yet it worked. Now, he's faced with that same decision in AFG. So, with Obama sending in 30k, he has now been confronted with the fact that a 'surge' could work as effectively as it did in Iraq, which is what his commanding General requested sometime ago.

    December 2, 2009 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  12. Nea

    Those of you who want to crticize this President need to think for a moment, he is the President and he have to do whats he feel is right for this country so what we as Americans need to do is stand behind him like it or not and support our troops and Please PRAY for him, dont sit and criticize him and never pray for him; even right now im asking GOD to help him to continue lead this country in the right direction and protect him and his family and please LORD take care of our troops, home and away.

    December 2, 2009 12:27 am at 12:27 am |
  13. billy123

    Senator McCain get over it you lost President Obama is the President and regardless of what he does the GOP will always be there with the knife in the back.

    December 2, 2009 12:29 am at 12:29 am |
  14. Mike H

    The last thing we need is input from the Republicans side of the aisle. That party had its chance for more than seven years and failed miserably in extinguishing al Qaeda and in locating bin Laden. No doubt Bush and Cheney's hasty and pointless invasion of Iraq reduced our intelligence forces in Afghanistan, likely leading up to Obama having to clean up the mess.

    The Replicans showed they are inept when it comes to engaging in a war, and completing it. Now let's hope the Democrats have a better plan.

    December 2, 2009 12:31 am at 12:31 am |
  15. joel

    I like this, we have multiple brains working on a solution for a change.

    December 2, 2009 12:36 am at 12:36 am |
  16. Bert K.

    John McCain is the same guy who picked Palin, the fickle quitter, to be his vice president and he has the nerve to challenge the president on his exit strategy?

    December 2, 2009 12:36 am at 12:36 am |
  17. bennie new york

    While I'm glad that Obama plans to pull our troops out by a certain date, it seems as though the expectation for the plan is pretty low if the line was drawn that early. I'm glad Obama realizes the reality of the situation, but it bothers me that we're gonna sink so much money into a plan that the architects don't even expect to work. Actually, "bothers" is an understatement.

    December 2, 2009 12:46 am at 12:46 am |
  18. Marry

    It is so great to see President Obama handling the Afghan situation with some smarts! Something American foreign politics has been missing for years. Such a complicated situation like Afghanistan cannot be solved with brute force, or with the old idea of “winning”. You win if you can help with the process of “nation building” and work together with all the many national and international groups that have a “hand” in this conflict. Hopefully the end will provide for the people in the area a future – if they are willing to take it into their hands! So massage to Mc Cain and GOP: Support the president because you had no ideas when it was YOUR war – or please, shut up!

    December 2, 2009 12:49 am at 12:49 am |
  19. Alicia

    Its amazing how mccain feels he is knowledgeable in this field. After 8 long years of NOTHING, tell mccain and cheney to go lie down just like the fallen soldiers they ignored.

    December 2, 2009 12:53 am at 12:53 am |
  20. Aaron

    If the president could get all warring factions to lay down arms and agree to a permanent ceasefire, these jokers would still have an issue with it. No war means no bucks in their pockets or their buddies in the war industries.

    December 2, 2009 12:54 am at 12:54 am |
  21. Doug

    So what was the challenge? All this reporting is a mile wide, an inch deep.

    December 2, 2009 01:02 am at 1:02 am |
  22. Thomas

    Sen. John McCain never upfront questioned Baby Bush's policies in Afghanistan , did he ?

    December 2, 2009 01:03 am at 1:03 am |
  23. RickM

    Both the Taliban and Al Qaeda know now that if they play rope a dope and absorb body blows for the next eighteen months they win. Period, end of story.

    December 2, 2009 01:22 am at 1:22 am |
  24. cgillette369

    Obama and his War Council have more draft dodsger including GATES & BIDEN than veterans that would be Generl Jones.

    this team of comedians should recuse themselves.

    'i drank too much ice tea' that's the al gore statement.

    December 2, 2009 01:26 am at 1:26 am |
  25. Tom in VA

    McCain? Really? People defer to HIM? Look... the guy served bravely in Nam..and indured much suffereing (I still find it odd the McCain voted AGAINST a torture bill) but let's remember (or for those it don't know) ..

    McCain finished at the BOTTOM of his class at Annapolis. That HARDLY makes him a sage in military affairs.

    Obama was ABSOLUELY RIGHT in calling for an planned exit date! I guess McCain and "You-can't-draft-me-hell-no-I-won't-go" Cheney WANT another Viet Nam.

    December 2, 2009 01:35 am at 1:35 am |
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