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The "Not Too Important" Debate

A partisan back-and-forth is raging today over comments John McCain made this morning on "Today."

Host Matt Lauer asked McCain if he now has "a better estimate of when American forces can come home from Iraq."

"No, but that's not too important," McCain replied. "What's important is the casualties in Iraq. Americans are in South Korea, Americans are in Japan, American troops are in Germany. That's all fine...the key to it is we don't want any more Americans in harm's way."

Democrats quickly seized on the "not too important" part of the quote.

Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joseph R. Biden Jr. – a potential running mate for Barack Obama – said this: "Senator McCain's comment is evidence that he is totally out of touch with the needs of our troops and the national security needs of our nation. I think many of our brave soldiers and their families would disagree that it's 'not too important' when they come home."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also weighed in: "Senator McCain's statement that it is 'not too important' when U.S. troops are redeployed from Iraq is yet another indication how out of touch he is with the effect the war in Iraq is having on the readiness of our military."

As did House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel: "When asked this morning about American troops coming home from Iraq, John McCain said 'that's not too important.' Senator McCain, to the men and women who are serving their second, third, or even fourth deployment in Iraq, and to their families, it is incredibly important."

And former Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, on a conference call with two Obama foreign policy advisors, said "It is unbelievably out of touch and inconsistent with the needs and concerns of Americans. To them it's the most important thing in the world when they come home, and it's the most important thing in the world that we have a commander in chief who understands how they come home."

This afternoon, McCain's camp pushed back against the Democratic offensive on a conference call.

"To put it mildly I am disappointed by these reflexive attacks on what Senator McCain said this morning on the Today Show," said Sen. Joe Lieberman. "Because if you read the paragraph and not take a single clause out of context it is very obvious what John McCain is saying and it is consistent with everything he said along the way."

"This clearly is a deliberate distortion that is trying to change the subject," added Sen. John Thune. "The Democrats are trying to blow this up as an issue because they don't want to talk about the success of the surge and the stability that's been delivered throughout Iraq. And they don't want to talk about the differences between Senator McCain and Senator Obama which could not be more distinct when it comes to the issue of winning in Iraq."

"Frankly to suggest for a moment after everything that Senator McCain and his family have been through that he doesn't understand the sacrifice our troops are making is just absurd," he added.

In a statement, McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds said "The Obama campaign is embarking on a false attack on John McCain to hide their own candidate's willingness to disregard facts on the ground in pursuit of withdrawal no matter what the costs."

"John McCain was asked if he had a 'better estimate' for a timeline for withdrawal," he continued. "As John McCain has always said, that is not as important as conditions on the ground and the recommendations of commanders in the field. Any reasonable person who reads the full transcript would see this and reject the Obama campaign's attempt to manipulate, twist and distort the truth."

You can watch the full exchange here.

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