Republican Sen. John McCain welcomed Democrat Barack Obama to the fall campaign for the White House on Tuesday with a blistering attack...

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NEW ORLEANS — Republican Sen. John McCain welcomed Democrat Barack Obama to the fall campaign for the White House on Tuesday with a blistering attack on his judgment and a charge that he “voted to deny funds to the soldiers who have done a brilliant and brave job” in Iraq.

“Americans ought to be concerned about the judgment of a presidential candidate who says he’s ready to talk, in person and without conditions, with tyrants from Havana to Pyongyang, but hasn’t traveled to Iraq to meet with Gen. [David] Petraeus, and see for himself the progress he threatens to reverse,” McCain said as his rival wrapped up the Democratic nomination.

McCain cast Obama, a first-term Illinois senator, as lacking the experience and discretion to be a wartime commander in chief, and he argued the Democrat’s calls for a troop withdrawal from Iraq would imperil the United States.

Obama fired back in his victory speech: “There are many words to describe John McCain’s attempt to pass off his embrace of George Bush’s policies as bipartisan and new. But change is not one of them.”

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McCain began his speech with praise for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, saying, “The media often overlooked how compassionately she spoke to the concerns and dreams of millions of Americans, and she deserves a lot more appreciation than she sometimes received.”

Cardinal asks priest to take leave

CHICAGO — Cardinal Francis George asked a Chicago priest Tuesday to temporarily step down to “reflect on his recent statements” regarding Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and her bid for the White House.

Last week, the Rev. Michael Pfleger mocked Clinton at Sen. Barack Obama’s former church, saying the New York senator felt “entitled” to the Democratic nomination for president. In a guest sermon at Trinity United Church of Christ, Pfleger pretended he was Clinton crying over “a black man stealing my show.” Pfleger, 59, apologized for his comments.

Pfleger’s sermon, along with past controversial statements by Trinity’s former longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, led Obama to resign his membership at Trinity over the weekend.

George asked Pfleger to take leave from pastoral duties at St. Sabina Church to “reflect on his recent statements and actions in the light of the church’s regulations for all Catholic priests,” according to a statement Tuesday from the Archdiocese of Chicago. Officials have said the Catholic Church does not endorse political candidates.

The leave, effective Tuesday, was scheduled to last about two weeks, an archdiocese spokeswoman said.

Priest offers apology for endorsement

MELVILLE, N.Y. — A prominent Roman Catholic priest Tuesday issued an apology for endorsing Sen. John McCain for president at a Republican fundraiser but said he would do it again, only not during the invocation of an event.

The Rev. James Lisante, a religion commentator for Fox News Network and a pastor on Long Island, came under fire for condemning Sen. Barack Obama and backing McCain at the Manhattan event Thursday.

“One final thing, Lord, I promise,” Lisante, wearing his clerical collar, said at the end of the invocation, a videotape of which was posted on the Internet. “This November could you keep an eye on all of us and see that the change that we embrace comes from Arizona and not Illinois?”

Lisante acknowledged Tuesday he had been endorsing McCain and said his only mistake was the moment he chose to do it. “In hindsight I would have separated out the invocation, the prayer, from my commentary,” said Lisante, pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in West Hempstead.

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