By JIM DAVENPORT
Associated Press Writer
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Republican presidential contender John McCain called the Iraq war "a great tragedy" on Thursday, yet still decried a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal as the Senate voted to begin pulling out troops by Oct. 1.
"I'm aware of the patience of the American people. I read the polls. I'm not embarrassed to say that. I understand the frustration and sorrow that American people feel about this war. It's a great tragedy," said McCain, who was campaigning in this early voting state and missed the Senate vote on the bill containing the withdrawal timetable.
Earlier in the day, he predicted that the consequences of U.S. withdrawal would be severe.
"If we leave Iraq, there will be chaos, there will be genocide, and they will follow us home," the Arizona senator said, calling the war against al-Qaida "a struggle between good and evil."
On Thursday, the Senate followed the House's lead, brushing aside a veto threat and passing legislation that would order President Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq by Oct. 1.
As the furor grows over the firings of eight federal prosecutors, McCain broke with President Bush, saying that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should leave office.
"His best loyalty to the president would be served by stepping down," McCain said during a morning campaign stop.
McCain is the first Republican presidential contender to urge Gonzales to resign, and the fourth Republican senator to do so, joining Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Gordon Smith of Oregon and John Sununu of New Hampshire. Several others have stopped short of demanding Gonzales' resignation but have harshly criticized his leadership.
Bush has given Gonzales a strong vote of confidence and the attorney general himself has vowed to remain in his post despite bipartisan criticism of his leadership. At a contentious Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week, Gonzales claimed dozens of times that he couldn't recall key details about the firings or about a meeting that records show he attended.
McCain was joined at his campaign stop by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and bantered with reporters about Graham being the perfect replacement as attorney general.
"It would be a very popular move in Congress," McCain said. Graham laughed, but did not address the remark and the two quickly joked when asked about sharing a presidential ticket.
"I think he'd make a lousy vice president," Graham said.
McCain's sense of humor has been criticized twice in the past week. On Tuesday night, he joked on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," that he had brought an explosive device back from Iraq as a gift for the show's host. Last week, while in South Carolina, McCain gave a rendition of the opening lyrics of the Beach Boys rock classic "Barbara Ann," calling the tune "Bomb Iran" and changing the words to "bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, anyway, ah ..."
At both his Greenville stop and a later visit to Columbia, McCain was introduced as "Barbara Ann" played in the background. "I don't know why they keep doing that," McCain said when asked about the song selection.
"No one will acknowledge responsibility," he joked. "We'll play, maybe, 'Good Vibrations' next."
Danny Diaz, McCain's chief spokesman, later said he picked the song for the events.
The candidate said critics need to lighten up.
"You've got to have a sense of humor in this business, and it's vital and I think that Americans appreciate a sense of humor," McCain said. "And those that don't, as I've said before, in all due respect, lighten up and get a life."
The "Bomb Iran" title isn't original, McCain said, noting that the parody stemmed from the Americans were being held hostage in Iran many years ago. Like most things I do, it certainly was not original - unfortunately," McCain said.
Associated Press Writer Susanne M. Schafer in Greenville contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)