With Summit, Bush Seeks Solution To Crisis

Amid the ongoing financial crisis, the Bush administration called the McCain and Obama campaigns into the Oval Office for an emergency summit.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block. There are a lot of questions tonight about whether there is, in fact, an agreement on the 700 billion dollar Wall Street bailout. There are also a lot of questions about whether the first presidential debate will go on tomorrow night as planned. The debate's organizers and Barack Obama say they plan to be there. John McCain has yet to commit, saying he's waiting for a deal on the bailout, and he hasn't seen one yet. Barack Obama was asked about McCain saying he's not campaigning because he wants to make a deal happen in Washington.

BARACK OBAMA: The concern that I have, and one of the concerns that I've had over the last several days, is that, when you start injecting presidential politics into delicate negotiations, then you can actually create more problems rather than less. It's amazing how much you can get done when the cameras aren't on, and nobody's looking to get credit or allocate blame.

BLOCK: That's Barack Obama speaking earlier tonight on CNN. Both Senators McCain and Obama were at the White House earlier today for a meeting on the bailout plan with President Bush and congressional leaders. At one point, it appeared that White House meeting would be celebrating an agreement, but then Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, came out with this.

RICHARD SHELBY: I can tell you, I don't believe we have an agreement. I have voiced my concerns all along. There are still a lot of different opinions. Mine is, it's flawed from the beginning.

BLOCK: NPR's David Greene has been traveling with the McCain campaign. He joins us now, and, David, it sounds, by some accounts, like that meeting at the White House was quite acrimonious, and whatever they thought they might have had going in, they didn't think they had it coming out.

DAVID GREENE: You captured it perfectly, Melissa. I mean, going into that meeting, it felt like it was really going to be a coming together. It was a scene at the White House the likes of which I just don't remember. You had all the various entourages from the White House, the press pool, the Obama campaign, Obama campaign staffers, who had never been at the White House and were just, sort of, an eye-opening experience for them, McCain staffers, who used to work at the White House, and it was a reunion, and everybody was waiting, thinking that the two candidates were going to come out and talk about some sort of deal. But then, as you just heard Shelby said, no deal. And Barack Obama and John McCain, you know, I was in the McCain motorcade, and McCain just left the White House and shuttled off and is now spending the night in D.C. And what happens from here is a little unsettled.

BLOCK: And that's the real question. Well, this meeting came about, David, because of things that John McCain set in motion yesterday. He said he was going to suspend his campaign temporarily until there is a bailout deal. He also wants to delay Friday's debate, tomorrow night's debate. Where do things stand with both of those parts of the equation?

GREENE: Well, it's not clear. What the McCain campaign say is that Senator McCain is in his residence. He's making phone calls, and he wants to try and broker a deal. And they particularly said that he is trying to bring House Republicans on board who are very concerned about the Paulson proposal, and the campaign says he wants to bring House Republicans on board without driving other parties away.

So they say that he is hard at work, but, as Senator Obama mentioned, you know, he said that he didn't agree with idea of injecting presidential politics into this. There's no doubt presidential politics have become part of the day, and we already have these charges and counter charges going back and forth from one campaign to the other.

Senator Obama's campaign is already putting out statements saying that, you know, here's John McCain. He talked about suspending his campaign. He really didn't suspend it at all. They've said that he's been meeting with his campaign advisers, and his surrogates have been attacking Obama.

And then from the McCain side, we just talked to a senior adviser, Steve Schmidt, outside McCain headquarters, and he really went after Barack Obama. And said that, if Obama is so committed to talking about having this debate, you know, he might be all talk at a time when he should be putting the country first and not Obama first. So, on a day when politics were supposed to be put aside, we're certainly getting a lot of it.

BLOCK: And, again, Senator Obama plans to go to Oxford, Mississippi for this debate. Any more from the Obama campaign about their plans for tomorrow? GREENE: Well, the Obama campaign says that Senator Obama does plan to go to that debate. What we are getting from the McCain campaign is that they are hopeful. They are hopeful that something could be worked out by tomorrow, but they are leaving open the possibility that Senator McCain will not be appearing on that stage.

BLOCK: And it sounds like, by a lot of accounts of what happened today, this was a set back. This was not progress in the right direction.

GREENE: It does - that's certainly one way to look at it, and we have a lot of political attacks going back and forth and as much uncertainty or more than we did when we woke up this morning.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's David Greene with the McCain campaign in Virginia. David, thanks very much.

GREENE: It's always a pleasure, Melissa.

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Obama, McCain To Meet With Bush On Economy

John McCain and Barack Obama are expected at the White House at 4 p.m. on Thursday, accepting President Bush's invitation to discuss the nation's financial turmoil with him and congressional leaders. The president mentioned the invitation in a televised speech on the economic crisis Wednesday, capping another topsy-turvy day in the long presidential campaign that left the first debate of the election, set for Friday, in question.

The McCain campaign suddenly called reporters to a Manhattan hotel Wednesday afternoon. He used a teleprompter, which is rare at such quick events, but it meant he had chosen his words carefully and could look right into the camera as he said Washington must do something about the crisis on Wall Street.

"If we do not, credit will dry up, with devastating consequences for our economy. People will no longer be able to buy homes, and their life savings will be at stake. Businesses will not have enough money to pay their employees. If we do not act, ever corner of our country will be impacted," McCain said.

He then announced that he would suspend his campaign and return to Washington after speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative on Thursday morning.

"I have spoken to Sen. Obama and informed him of my decision and have asked him to join me," McCain said. He said he had given up on Congress approving the Bush administration's bailout package as it stands, so he wanted to head to Washington and get to work.

As for Friday's debate in Mississippi, McCain said, "I am directing my campaign to work with the Obama campaign and the commission on presidential debates to delay Friday night's debate until we have taken action to address this crisis."

As McCain wrapped up the announcement, the focus shifted to Obama, who was campaigning in Florida. He hastily called a news conference and said he's still getting ready for the debate in Mississippi.

"This is exactly the time when the American people need to hear from the person who, in approximately 40 days, will be responsible for dealing with this mess," Obama said. "And I think it is going to be part of the president's job to deal with more than one thing at once."

Obama promised that if congressional leaders need his help in dealing with the financial crisis, he'll go anywhere anytime. He didn't suspend his campaign and said he wasn't worried about making the debate.

"We've both got big planes. We've painted our slogans on the sides of them. They can get us from Washington, D.C., to Mississippi fairly quickly," he said.

As Obama and McCain spoke, there was also a behind-the-scenes back and forth between the campaigns. According to aides on both sides, Obama called McCain in the morning to propose some kind of joint statement on the economy. Obama couldn't get through to McCain. But the Arizona senator got back to Obama in the afternoon and suggested that both candidates suspend their campaigns.

Recalling the exchange, Obama said he suggested that they issue a joint statement first and then have their staffs discuss the issue. "The only possible miscommunication might have been how quickly there was an announcement and somebody was on television. I think probably my assumption was that the joint statement would go out initially," he said.

The joint statement did finally come, Wednesday night. Obama and McCain called this a moment to rise above politics and "prove that Washington is once again capable of leading this country."

Both candidates plan to be at the White House meeting Thursday to discuss the administration's $700 billion rescue proposal for Wall Street. From there, the course is unclear. McCain's campaign said the Arizona senator will debate Friday only if there's a deal in place. But the debate organizers in Mississippi said the debate is on, as far as they're concerned.

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