Deal or no deal?
Though using that TV show name has now become trite when referring to emergency bailout talks in Washington between the White House, Congressional leaders, and presidential candidates Republican Sen. John McCain and Barack Obama, it’s the best description of news reports about the day of high political drama.
Or would the real TV title of the day be “Lost” — as in lost opportunity?
But not lost in a political sense for John McCain:
Since announcing that he was suspending his campaign, McCain has pulled even with Obama in the Gallup Daily tracking poll and retaken the lead in the newest Zogby poll. So in terms of political dividends, regardless of controversy, McCain’s moves have (so far) paid off. (UPDATE: A new New York Times poll gives Obama a six point lead but it may have been taken before or shortly after McCain’s announcement.)
Some early reports said a deal was reached on basics. A new report flatly says the deal is dead.
Some say McCain worked to try to get Republicans on board. A prominent Democratic Congressman said McCain is proved to be a deal breaker, throwing a monkey wrench into delicate negotiations that seemed just on the verge of gelling.
The McCain campaign insists he is there to put country first and that’s why he won’t debate. Critics on various websites think he’s using the crisis to dodge the debates and note that historically American leaders — both great and not so great — have all been capable of multi-tasking.
Some reports say Democrats fear McCain is setting a trap — that he’ll jump in and declare the compromise hammered out between Congressional leaders of both parties his own. Other reports say Democrats fear McCain will actually opt to vote no by linking up with Republicans who hate the White House plan, right after the Democrats back Bush and then try to link up the Democrats with Bush and run as someone who isn’t Bush III against a bailout of questionable popularity.
Pick a theory, throw a dart and you have an interpretation to fit the political bias of your choice. The bottom line: until there is a vote and a formal announcement no agreement has been finalized.
Here’s a cross section of the sometimes contradictory news reports and a bit of weblog reaction and the gist of some of these reports:
–THEY ALMOST HAD A DEAL BUT IT ENDED IN CHAOS. CNN:
Chaos erupted on Thursday in the negotiations over the proposed financial bailout as lawmakers bickered over competing counterproposals to the Bush administration’s $700 billion rescue plan.
A meeting at the White House between President Bush, congressional leaders and the presidential candidates was meant to speed approval of an agreement, but instead revealed deep divisions between Democrats and Republicans.
Earlier in the day, congressional negotiators said they had agreed to a set of principles on revisions to the rescue plan, which calls for the Treasury Department to buy up bad mortgage securities from banks in an effort to get them to lend again.
–DEMOCRATS SAY MCCAIN’S PRESENCE UNDERMINED A BIPARTISAN DEAL. ABC News:
But even as he prepared to begin the meeting, Reid continued to cast blame on Republicans, and specifically Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Several Republicans have said Democrats are to blame for not consulting with them enough.
The House Republicans have suggested a new proposal that Paulson opposes.
Reid said McCain was “not helpful” by suspending his campaign and heading to Washington, claiming it was difficult to “understand what John McCain said at the [White House] meeting.” He said McCain spoke last and only for several moments, and did not contribute anything.
“McCain only hurt this process,” Reid said.
Asked if Sen. McCain expressed interest in taking part in negotiations on Capitol Hill, Reid said, “No.”
…After the White House meeting, House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., told Democratic colleagues that McCain’s sudden heightened involvement in the negotiations has destroyed the chance of an agreement, sources told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.
Frank compared McCain’s involvement to “Richard Nixon blowing up the Vietnam peace talks in 1968.”
A senior McCain adviser told ABC News’ David Chalian, “It is clear that there is not yet an agreement, but we’re working with all parties with the common goal of getting an agreement. When we have an agreement, we’ll have a debate.”
–McCAIN HAS BEEN MISUNDERSTOOD BY DEMOCRATS AND THE PRESS. From Marc Ambinder, who does some excellent reporting as well as blogging:
Though Sen. Chris Dodd implied that Sen. McCain sandbagged the rest of the negotiators by bringing up alternative proposals, McCain himself did not bring up those proposals, according to four independent sources briefed by four different principals inside the meeting, including two Republicans and two Democrats.
“McCain has not attacked the Paulson deal,” said a third Republican who was briefed by McCain direclty. “Unlike the [Democrats] in the [White House] meeting, he didn’t raise his voice or cause a ruckus. He is urging all sides to come together.”
Republicans like John Boehner brought up the concerns of House GOPers and McCain acknowledged hearing about their concerns. And McCain, and staffers, did seek to gauge the level of support of the GOP working group’s white paper. The Democrats were left with the impression that McCain endorsed the GOP efforts, but they concede that he did not raise them directly.
–DEMOCRATS STILL BLAME MCCAIN. Wall Street Journal:
Nevertheless, negotiations have taken on a new level of political tension, following Sen. McCain’s decision on Wednesday to leave the campaign trail and go to Washington to help tackle the financial-bailout proposal. Democrats Thursday night were broadly blaming Sen. McCain for the bailout’s troubles.
Sen. Christopher Dodd (D., Conn.) told CNN after the meeting that Democrats were blindsided by the House Republicans’ proposal. “What this looked like to me was a rescue plan for John McCain,” he said.
In response, Sen. McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said, “John McCain has been very clear that he stands for a responsible bipartisan agreement to protect homeowners, taxpayers and main street business.”
–IGNORE THE PRESS REPORTS AND BLOG REPORTS (such as this one) SINCE THEY DID MAKE PROGRESS. A tidbit from the Washington Post:
White House counsel Ed Gillespie, another participant in the meeting, said it was not surprising that there were “different points of view,” but he said everyone understands “that we have a crisis in this country right now in our financial markets.”
“We’re getting closer,” he said. “There’s been a lot of give and take in this process. There’s some more that has to be done.”
–ON BALANCE THE MEETING WAS A SETBACK AND THE REPUBLICANS FELT AMBUSHED. The Politico:
The high-profile White House meeting on Treasury’s $700 billion Wall Street rescue plan ended on a sour, contentious note Thursday after animated exchanges among lawmakers laced with presidential politics just weeks before the November elections.
“I can’t invent votes,” House Republican Leader John Boehner warned the administration about the lack of support in his conference for the massive government intervention. And House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) angrily accused House Republicans — with the tacit support of Republican presidential candidate John McCain — of crafting an alternative to undercut Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.
Both McCain and his Democrat rival, Sen. Barack Obama, left without any joint endorsement. A beleaguered President Bush had to struggle to maintain order and reassert himself. And when Democrats left after the meeting to caucus in the Roosevelt Room, Paulson pursued them, begging that they not “blow up” the legislation.
The former Goldman Sachs CEO even went down on one knee as if genuflecting, to which Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) is said to have joked, “I didn’t know you were Catholic.”
The White House meeting had been called at the urging of McCain, but Democrats made sure Obama had a prominent part. And much as they complained later of being blindsided, the whole meeting turned out to be something of an ambush on their part—aimed at McCain and House Republicans.
“Speaking professionally,” said one Republican aide, “They did a very good job.”
And it has this key paragraph:
The whole sequence of events confirmed Treasury’s fears about the decision by Bush, at the urging of McCain, to allow presidential politics into what were already difficult negotiations. And while the markets were closed by the time the meeting ended, Friday could bring turmoil, and there will be immense pressure now by Treasury to get back on track before Monday.
McCain could feel that same pressure. Having called for the meeting, he will have to show if can deliver the votes of House Republicans, many of whom have been leery of him in the past. Mindful of this, the senator’s campaign issued a brief statement an hour after the breakup of the meeting.
Meanwhile, a lingering question among new and old media pundits and reporters has been precisely why McCain decided to suspend his campaign and pull out of Friday’s debate (a position he has not changed). As noted here yesterday, some websites have suggested it had to do with his low poll numbers (which have gone up substantially since he made his dramatic announcement).
However there were two new tidbits on this today.
1. A prominent Democrat vouched for McCain’s character and said McCain should be given the benefit of the doubt that he acted in good faith. THE DOWNSIDE: That Democrat was former President Bill Clinton, who in appearances praises McCain and either doesn’t mention Obama or mentions Obama in a perfunctory way, lending credence to a growing perception that he wants McCain to win so Hillary Clinton can run as the Democratic nominee in 2012.
2. CBS’s veteran newsman Bob Schieffer reported that GOPer Sen. Lindsey Graham was told by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson that the bailout plan would fail unless McCain came in and brought balky Republicans aboard. DOWNSIDE: Schieffer is a superb reporter and should have been the successor to Walter Cronkite. However, his source is Graham who is discounted by many on the left as a spinmaster. It could well be true — just as it increasingly seems to be true that McCain is doing a “hail Mary” for political purposes on nixing tomorrow’s debate.
Meanwhile, the question now rages: Will McCain show up for tomorrow’s debate or will Obama debate an empty chair?
Be sure to read this earlier post.
UPDATE: McCain and Palin reportedly didn’t have their best night tonight on national TV.
UPDATE II: From the Huffington Post’s piece which has some new info plus info from reports:
According to the source with knowledge of the White House gathering — which featured both presidential candidates, congressional leaders and the President — virtually ever key figure in the room, save McCain and GOP Sen. Richard Shelby, were in agreement over a revised version of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson’s plan.
Towards the end, McCain finally spoke up, mentioning a counter-proposal that had been offered by some conservative House Republicans, which would suspend the capital gains tax for two years and provide tax incentives to encourage firms that buy up bad debt. McCain did not discuss specifics of the plan, though, and was non-committal about supporting it.
Paulson, however, argued directly against the conservative proposal. “He said that he did not think it would work,” according to the source. At another point in the meeting, President Bush chimed in, “If money isn’t loosened, this sucker could go down” — and by sucker he meant economy.
ABC News reported that, following the meeting, Paulson “walked into the room where Democrats were caucusing…at the White House and pleaded with them ‘please don’t blow this up.’” But this story isn’t incomplete, according to sources.
Democrats stayed talking in the Roosevelt room and Paulson approached them. After his comment, Speaker Pelosi and Rep. Barney Frank shot back that the real problem was with House Republicans. Paulson replied, “I know, I know,” as he got down on one knee to lighten the mood. Pelosi joked back, “I didn’t know you were a Catholic.”
Cartoon by Nate Beeler, The Washington Examiner