By Michael D. Shear and Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, September 29, 2008
Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama expressed cautious support for a $700 billion bailout of the nation's biggest financial institutions, though both reserved the right to change their minds after they have reviewed details of the hastily arranged deal.
The candidates made their comments as both prepared to return to the campaign trail after an odd week in which electioneering was interrupted by the economic crisis, McCain's brief pledge to suspend his campaign and the first debate between the two candidates.
Both camps now turn their attention to Thursday's debate between the vice presidential candidates, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. The debate is sure to prompt particular interest in the performance of Palin, whose limited exposure to tough questions has been criticized by opponents and supporters alike.
McCain's campaign announced that Palin will step off the trail entirely tomorrow and Wednesday as she prepares for her most significant unscripted event of the campaign.
On the economic bailout, McCain said on ABC's "This Week" that he will "swallow hard and go forward" with the plan, adding that it is time to "get this deal off the table, let's get this to the president."
McCain, who returned to Washington last week to help Congress reach a deal, said yesterday that "the option of doing nothing is simply not an acceptable option."
Obama called the need for a bailout "the culmination of a sorry period in our history, in which reckless speculation and greed on Wall Street and lax oversight from Washington led to a meltdown of our financial markets."
Obama said that as president he would order a review of the bailout plan to ensure it meets the principles he sought, including strict oversight and limits on executive pay. But he said a failure to approve the proposal would have "devastating consequences" for the U.S. economy.
"When taxpayers are asked to take such an extraordinary step because of the irresponsibility of a relative few, it is not a cause for celebration," Obama said. "But this step is necessary."
The campaigns continued to squabble over the extraordinary scene of last week's White House meeting on the economy and the sometimes angry negotiations over the bailout package, which culminated in a deal early yesterday.
McCain explained on ABC that he "came back because I didn't want to phone it in. I won't claim a bit of credit if that makes them feel better."
But Democrats noted that McCain spent very little time on Capitol Hill talking directly with lawmakers, instead preferring to work the phones from his Crystal City headquarters.
And an Obama spokesman sent out e-mails to reporters noting that, while lawmakers and congressional staff members worked into Saturday night to hammer out the deal, McCain was at CityZen, one of Washington's priciest restaurants.
"After taking 22 hours to get from New York to Washington to pull a pointless political stunt, McCain spent yesterday working the phones -- from his campaign headquarters across the river from the Capitol," said Damien LaVera, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee.
Campaigning in Detroit, Obama continued to attack McCain, saying the Republican's backing of deregulation laws helped cause the economic crisis.
"You can't make up for 26 years in 26 days," Obama told a crowd of more than 15,000 at a rally in downtown Detroit. "For most of the 26 years, he's been against the common-sense rules and regulations that could have stopped this problem."
And he mocked McCain's initial response to the crisis. "His first response to the greatest financial meltdown in generations was a Katrina-like response," Obama said. "He sort of stood there, said, 'The fundamentals of the economy are strong.' "
Throughout Friday's debate, McCain suggested that Obama didn't "understand" a number of issues, a charge Obama tossed back at his opponent yesterday.
"No, I understand -- you want more of the same," he said, referring to McCain's embrace of some policies advocated by the Bush administration. "A fifth-grader could understand it's more of the same."
A McCain spokesman responded that Obama had "ignored his record of opposing middle-class tax relief" during the rally.
"Barack Obama voted 94 times in just three years for higher taxes," said spokesman Tucker Bounds.
Palin also sparked some controversy over the weekend by saying in response to a question at a campaign stop that U.S. troops in Afghanistan should cross the border into Pakistan to fight terrorism. "If that's what we have to do to stop the terrorists from coming any further in, absolutely, we should," she answered.
Democrats quickly noted that McCain has criticized Obama for a similar answer, including at Friday's debate. In the appearance on ABC, McCain played down the comment, saying: "She would not . . . she understands and has stated repeatedly that we're not going to do anything except in America's national security interest."
Referring to Palin's critics, he added: "They can complain all they want to. The American people have responded to her in a way that's been wonderful. I'm so happy that she is part of the team."