McCain rejects pastor's backing after Hitler remark

UNION CITY, California Thu May 22, 2008 11:28pm BST

Republication presidential candidate Senator John McCain appears with host Ellen DeGeneres at the taping of ''The Ellen DeGeneres Show'' in Burbank, California, May 22, 2008. REUTERS/Michael Rozman/Warner Bros/Handout

Republication presidential candidate Senator John McCain appears with host Ellen DeGeneres at the taping of ''The Ellen DeGeneres Show'' in Burbank, California, May 22, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Michael Rozman/Warner Bros/Handout

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UNION CITY, California (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Thursday rejected the endorsement of a Texas preacher after the pastor was discovered to have made derogatory comments about Jews.

"Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them," McCain said of the remarks by John Hagee. "I did not know of them before Reverend Hagee's endorsement, and I feel I must reject his endorsement as well."

McCain's rejection of the Hagee endorsement drew comparisons to controversy surrounding the longtime pastor of Democratic front-runner Barack Obama. Obama cut ties with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright last month over his former pastor's racially charged remarks.

McCain's statement came after The Huffington Post Web site reported on a late 1990s sermon Hagee gave in which he quoted from the Bible to make the argument that God's will had its influence on Nazism.

"'And they the hunters should hunt them,' that will be the Jews. 'From every mountain and from every hill and from out of the holes of the rocks.' If that doesn't describe what Hitler did in the Holocaust, you can't see that," Hagee had said.

Hagee is staunchly pro-Israel and is the founder and national chairman of Christians United for Israel. In his many writings he sees historical and contemporary events, especially in the Middle East, as unfolding biblical prophecy.

McCain had until now been forced to distance himself from Hagee, founder of Cornerstone Church of San Antonio, Texas, but still accepted his endorsement because of Hagee's influence with evangelical Christians.

But after the Huffington Post's report, including a statement from Hagee in which he did not seem to apologize for the sermon, McCain took a stronger stand.

In his statement, McCain raised the issue of Obama's former pastor, who often delivered racially charged sermons.

"I have said I do not believe Senator Obama shares Reverend Wright's extreme views. But let me also be clear, Reverend Hagee was not and is not my pastor or spiritual advisor, and I did not attend his church for twenty years. I have denounced statements he made immediately upon learning of them, as I do again today," McCain said.

Hagee issued a statement saying he was withdrawing his endorsement of McCain because of the distractions.

"Ever since I endorsed John McCain for president, people seeking to attack Senator McCain have combed my records for statements they can use for political gain. They have had no qualms about grossly misrepresenting my position on issues most near and dear to my heart if it serves their political ambitions," Hagee said.

"I am tired of these baseless attacks and fear that they have become a distraction in what should be a national debate about important issues. I have therefore decided to withdraw my endorsement of Senator McCain for president effective today, and to remove myself from any active role in the 2008 campaign," Hagee said.

(Additional reporting by Deborah Charles; Editing by Eric Beech)

(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at http:/blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)