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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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The White House meeting was the result of McCain's startling announcement Wednesday that he would cease campaigning and return to Washington, urging Bush to convene a summit to address the financial crisis. Bush did so, informing the nation in an address Wednesday night, and inviting Obama and McCain to attend.

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Yesterday's photo opportunity amounted to Bush's first public appearance with McCain since May, when the two briefly shook hands on a tarmac at the Phoenix airport. The Republican nominee has sought to distance himself from the president, whose approval rating has touched new lows in recent polling, and campaign aides have said they have no plans to ask Bush to appear on the campaign trail.

McCain, Obama, administration officials and congressional leaders had hoped to emerge together from the West Wing to deliver a forceful joint statement that would at least show a display of unity behind the principle of a massive federal intervention in the financial markets.

McCain's "Straight Talk Air" landed at Reagan National Airport just after noon, and his motorcade headed toward the Senate. But even before his charter plane took off from Newark, senior Democrats and Republicans at the Capitol were already announcing that a deal in principle had been reached.

That declaration turned out to be premature, as McCain's colleagues in the House objected to the ideas presented and arrived at the meeting adamant that they had never signed on to a deal.

At the White House, the gathering turned contentious when House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) brought up a new set of principles that conservative House Republicans had been laid out earlier in the day.

Boehner's move was received poorly by Obama and the other Democrats, who quickly pressed McCain to say whether he supported Boehner's position, according to a detailed account of the meeting. McCain declined to commit, one source said.

In a statement late last night, McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said the GOP nominee "did not attack any proposal or endorse any plan," adding that Democrats "allowed Senator Obama to run their side" and that the meeting "quickly devolved into a contentious shouting match." The statement also said that McCain plans to return to Capitol Hill today to work toward a bipartisan solution.

For much of yesterday, McCain shuttled between meetings and his Senate office, but rarely came close to the Capitol suites and committee rooms where the talks were taking place. He had returned to his Crystal City condominium by 6 p.m., where aides said he continued to work the phones in support of the deal.

Earlier, McCain had emerged from his office in the Russell Senate Office Building to a crush of reporters, saying nothing as he made his way to Boehner's office. In tow were a trio of his closest allies, Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), as well as top campaign aides Rick Davis and Mark Salter.

Boehner and McCain discussed the bailout plan, but Republican leadership aides described the conversation as somewhat surreal. Neither man was familiar with the details of the proposal being pressed by House conservatives, and up to the moment they departed for the White House yesterday afternoon, neither had seen any description beyond news reports.

At 1:25 p.m., McCain left Boehner's office through a back door, walking across the Capitol's rotunda to the applause of tourists. Graham conceded the group knew little about the plan the nominee had come to Washington to try to shape.


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