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ON THE TRAIL

Debate Still in Limbo as Democrats Blame McCain For Interrupting Process

The University of Mississippi had hoped hosting the first presidential debate would cast a new light on the school. Now, the campus waits for news on whether the debate will be held Friday after all.

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By Michael D. Shear and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 26, 2008

The first debate between John McCain and Barack Obama, scheduled for tonight, remained in limbo last night after the presidential candidates left a White House meeting without a deal on a $700 billion economic rescue plan.

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Democrats immediately blamed McCain for disrupting the effort at compromise, saying his decision to suspend his campaign and return to Washington shifted the klieg lights of the White House contest to the tense and delicate congressional negotiations.

Those discussions, which had appeared promising early in the day, culminated in the late-afternoon meeting held by President Bush. But instead of producing a joint statement of success, McCain and Obama slipped out of a gathering that those present described as contentious and unproductive.

"What this looked like to me was a rescue plan for John McCain for two hours," said an angry Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), who had all but declared the deal done earlier in the day. "To be distracted for two to three hours for political theater doesn't help."

In interviews after the meeting, Obama pointed a finger at his rival for the faltering talks, saying on CNN that "when you start injecting presidential politics into delicate negotiations, you can actually inject more problems, rather than less."

His spokesman Bill Burton was more blunt, accusing McCain of turning "a national crisis into an occasion to promote his campaign. It's become just another political stunt, aimed more at shoring up the senator's political fortunes than the nation's economy."

In response, senior McCain adviser Steve Schmidt accused Obama of playing politics, saying the negotiations had been far from resolved and challenging the Democratic nominee to "publish the list of members of Congress who were going to vote for this. Because in reality, there is not a list of a majority of Democrats and Republicans who are willing to vote for it."

McCain said he is "hopeful" that a deal can be reached soon, despite opposition from many House Republicans who have consistently balked at the bailout cost and produced a far different proposal in the 11th hour yesterday.

"There are a variety of concerns, I think a lot of them have been satisfied," McCain said on ABC's "World News Tonight" after the meeting. "And I believe and I'm hopeful that we can satisfy all of them and move forward very quickly. They are aware of the urgency."

Obama and McCain both held out hope that they could still meet in Oxford, Miss., tonight for their long-scheduled first debate as they settled in to overnight in Washington. "I think he knows that I'm going to be there," Obama said in his own appearance on ABC. But McCain's campaign said that no travel decisions had been made as of last night.

"I understand how important this debate is and I am hopeful," McCain said on ABC News.

The independent Commission on Presidential Debates said yesterday that it is "moving forward" with its plans for the face-off.


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