McCain suspends campaign, wants to delay debate until after bailout vote
Nick Juliano and David Edwards
Published: Wednesday September 24, 2008

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Obama wants debate to go on as scheduled

John McCain has said he will suspend his presidential campaign Thursday and wants to postpone Friday's scheduled debate with Democratic candidate Barack Obama to return to Washington and work on a solution to the financial crisis gripping the country.

Obama said he was caught off guard by McCain's televised proposal and insisted that the American people deserved to hear the two candidates outline their economic proposals during their first side-by-side appearance.

"It's my belief that this is exactly the time that the American people need to hear from the person who in approximately 40 days will be responsible for dealing with this mess," Obama said. "I think that it is going to be part of the president's job to be able to deal with more than one thing at once. I think there is no reason why we can't be constructive in helping to solve this problem and also tell the American people what we believe and where we stand and where we want to take the country."

CNN later reported that a senior adviser to McCain said the Arizona senator "would partake in the debate if they passed an agreement" on the fiscal bailout, but added that McCain "called President Bush and talked to colleagues in Washington and learned that passage of the bailout plan was next to impossible."

The Republican candidate's dramatic proposal Wednesday afternoon came after Obama approached him earlier in the day about issuing a joint statement on the economic crisis, Obama said. Congress is debating a potential $700 billion bailout package, and the two senators had remained mum on their plans until Wednesday.

"At 8:30 this morning, Senator Obama called Senator McCain to ask him if he would join in issuing a joint statement outlining their shared principles and conditions for the Treasury proposal and urging Congress and the White House to act in a bipartisan manner to pass such a proposal. At 2:30 this afternoon, Senator McCain returned Senator Obama’s call and agreed to join him in issuing such a statement. The two campaigns are currently working together on the details," Obama spokesman Bill Burton said in an e-mail to reporters sent immediately after McCain spoke.

McCain strode in front of television microphones just after 3 p.m. to announce suspension of his campaign.

"It's time for both parties to come together to solve this problem. we must meet as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans, and we must meet until this crisis is resolved," he said, proposing a delay in the debate "until we have taken action to address this crisis."

Obama is expected to speak soon. His campaign reportedly wants the debate to go on as scheduled, and the University of Mississippi, which is hosting the debate, expects it to go on as scheduled.

"The debate is on," a senior Obama aide told ABC News after McCain's remarks.

McCain's dramatic and unexpected statement seems to undercut any overtures he might have been making to bipartisanship. Instead of issuing a joint statement with Obama -- as the two campaigns apparently had discussed -- McCain chose to snag the spotlight for himself with a flamboyant display that portrayed him as putting country above party.

The move is quickly being perceived as a political gambit aimed at changing the campaign narrative away from what had been a series of negative reports.

As recently as Monday McCain had no plans to return to Washington.

The American Prospect's Ezra Klein is perplexed by McCain's move.
But this only makes sense if you've been running, well, John McCain's campaign. A bread-and-circus show meant to distract Americans from the issues at hand. If that's your model of politics, then it makes a certain sense to suspend your relentless festival of diversion to focus on the financial crisis. Debates, however, are not planned by Steve Schmidt or run as 30-second ads. They are a moment when the presidential candidates appear before the American people and articulate their agendas in detail and at length. There's every reason to focus tomorrow's debate on the economic crisis, but no reason to cancel it. And, indeed, McCain is not canceling everything. He is still giving his speech at the Clinton Global Initiative. He is simply hiding from the debate. He's a kid pulling the fire alarm because final is coming up and he hasn't studied. Such a panicked response to declining poll numbers and major national events does not inspire confidence. You don't get to call time out when you're president.
The candidates had been scheduled to meet Friday at the University of Mississippi-Oxford for a debate on foreign policy issues beginning at 9 p.m., although there's little chance the economy would have gone unaddressed given the current crisis.

It's unlikely that Congress would be voting on a bailout during the few hours the candidates would be debating, and Obama previously announced plans to return to Washington Saturday morning. Congress is expected to remain in session through the weekend to pass legislation addressing the current crisis.

The Nation's Ari Melber notes it's unusual that McCain, who has pushed for debates all summer, "is cutting and running from the first one," and he speculates the decision may ultimately be motivated by McCain's tanking poll numbers.

Some progressive activists suspected the pleas for bipartisanship and proposal to postpone the debate was little more than a political ploy from the McCain, who missed more votes than any other Senator in the current session of Congress. Along with his dropping poll numbers, McCain has faced a near revolt from reporters angry about being kept away from his running mate Sarah Palin and persistent questions about his campaign manager's connection to embattled mortgage lender Freddie Mac.

This video is from, broadcast September 24, 2008.

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