Rescue Plan Failed Despite Leaders' Urging

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The failure of the bailout plan came as a surprise, in part, because so many leaders said they were backing it. President Bush, the two presidential candidates and the leaders of both parties in the House all backed it and failed.


Capitol Hill was quieter today. One day after the stunning rejection of the bailout, there may be another vote later this week. But today, everyone could agree on one thing, the first vote failed for lack of leadership on all sides. And joining us to talk about what went wrong is NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hey, Mara.

MARA LIASSON: Hello, Melissa.

BLOCK: And let's start first with President Bush. He has been out there urging both parties to approve this deal. He made a brief statement this morning, again warning of dire consequences if a bill isn't passed. Let's listen.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We're facing a choice between action and the real prospect of economic hardship for millions of Americans.

BLOCK: Mara, is anybody in Washington taking cues from this lame duck president?

LIASSON: Well, it sure doesn't seem to. They certainly didn't take cues from his speech last week. He is a true lame duck. In the latest Washington Post-ABC poll, he had a 70 percent disapproval rating. He seems to be out of juice with his own party. There are 19 Republicans in the House from Texas and only three of them voted for this bill. So at this point, it's not for nothing that Newsweek has named Henry Paulson as the king of Washington. He seems to represent the administration now, and he also failed, because he put forward a tone deaf initial version of that plan that was off-putting, to put it mildly.

BLOCK: What about the House leadership here, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Minority Leader John Boehner?

LIASSON: Well, they didn't cover themselves with glory either. Democrats point out that Pelosi actually did deliver what she said she would, 140 Democratic votes. Republicans, Boehner couldn't even deliver the 75 or 80 that he had promised, they ended up with 65 Republicans. But on the other hand if Pelosi wanted that bill to pass, why didn't she make it a party discipline vote? Why didn't she whip it? Why did she make it a vote of conscience and basically leave it up to anybody, their Democrats to vote how they wanted to, and why did she make a partisan speech right before the vote?

It might not have been the reason as Republicans claimed that they didn't get their votes, but the tone of that speech certainly didn't help. I think clearly both Pelosi and Boehner really thought they had the votes so they failed, they couldn't count and don't forget they lost votes on the left and the right. Not just among vulnerable incumbents, who you would expect to vote no, but also the majority of those in the very safest seats, like in the Black caucus. This was an ideological and political rejection. This was a real political meltdown to go along with the financial meltdown.

BLOCK: Now, Mara we just heard from Scott Horsley and Don Gonyea about the presidential candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama today. What do you make of the role that they played in these bailout talks?

LIASSON: Very true to form. McCain charged in, wanted to be in the middle of the fight, clearly was ineffective, he dramatically inserted himself into the process but failed. He certainly had the most at stake here. Four out of the 11 house members that he called personally on Saturday voted no, including two from his own home state in Arizona, Jeff Lake and John Shadegg. Now, Obama on the other hand has said that he's been calling the - he called the president today, he's been in touch with Paulson and congressional leaders, but he has not been twisting arms of members directly to vote yes on this. His aids say he is working behind the scenes but he is playing it safe, being very cautious, clearly doesn't want to get identified too much with this bill although he is urging members to go back and try it again.

BLOCK: Mara, what do you think it needs to happen now?

LIASSON: Well, as one senior House member said, I guess they're going to put some eyewash in it and twist 12 arms, meaning they're going to put some fig leaf in it so members can say it got better and then find the 12 votes they need to get to a majority, but of course, we all thought it was going to pass yesterday so maybe we'll be wrong again.

BLOCK: And, big question, what does that fig leaf look like? NPR's Mara Liasson, thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

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