By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 2, 2008
After months on the campaign trail and countless missed votes, Barack Obama and John McCain returned to the Capitol last night as just two of 99 senators voting on a massive Wall Street rescue plan, but their forceful advocacy for the controversial measure may help push it into law.
Obama delivered an unflinching defense yesterday of a bill that could not muster majority support in the House just two days earlier. Four hours later, both men cast their votes for its passage.
Voters now face the choice between two major-party candidates who stand arm-in-arm on one of the most far-reaching and controversial economic interventions since the Depression.
"There's no real separation between Wall Street and Main Street," Obama said from the obscured corner desk of a junior senator. "There's only the road we're traveling on as Americans, and we will rise or fall on that journey as one nation and as one people. I know that many Americans are feeling anxiety right now, about their jobs, about their homes, about their life savings. But I also know this: that we can steer ourselves out of this crisis. We always have."
McCain declined to speak on the measure, leaving his Arlington condominium after 7 p.m. to make a belated, 8:20 entrance when most other senators had already reached the floor.
Over the past weeks, as the investment banking industry collapsed and financial institutions were shuttered one by one, McCain and Obama had taken turns blaming and mocking each other. McCain accused Obama of standing on the sidelines and shirking a leadership role. Obama personally confronted McCain at a tense White House meeting. Obama's campaign charged that McCain's effort last week to insert himself into the negotiations was a political stunt that proved more disruptive than constructive.
But since Monday's House rejection and the 778-point, one-day plunge of the Dow Jones industrial average, such recriminations have diminished. "There will be time to punish those who set this fire," Obama said from the Senate floor. "But now is not the time. . . . Right now, we want to put out that fire."
Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), an influential House conservative, said last night he had spoken to McCain three times since Saturday. After voting no on Monday, he said, "I'm inclined to hold my nose and vote yes." Obama, in a brief Capitol interview, said he too had spoken to "quite a few" House members, although the only name he offered was that of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Last night's bipartisan harmony capped a day of public unity. At an Obama rally in La Crosse, Wis., and a McCain event in Independence, Mo., the two candidates struck remarkably similar tones, speaking of the crisis as a time for unity and national purpose -- and a call for far more fiscal discipline in the future.
"The constant partisan rancor that stops us from solving these problems in Washington isn't a cause, it's a symptom. It's what happens when people go to Washington to work for themselves and not you," McCain said at the Truman Library.
"This financial crisis is a direct result of the greed and irresponsibility that has dominated Washington and Wall Street for years," Obama told a large crowd in western Wisconsin. "But while there is plenty of blame to go around and many in Washington and on Wall Street who deserve it, all of us now have a responsibility to solve this crisis, because it affects the financial well-being of every single American."
McCain even released an advertisement that decries partisanship in both parties, never mentions Obama and lifts one of his opponent's signature lines: "We're the United States of America."
"What a week," McCain says, speaking into the camera. "Democrats blamed Republicans. Republicans blamed Democrats. We're the United States of America. It shouldn't take a crisis to pull us together."
On the Senate floor, Obama crossed the well to the Republican side to reach his hand out to McCain and mouth, "Good to see you." McCain looked up briefly from his conversation with Sens. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) to give his rival a curt handshake.
On the airwaves and through the candidates' surrogates, the fierce presidential campaign raged on. Obama released a new advertisement mocking McCain's claim to be a fiscal disciplinarian, rapping him for tax cut proposals that he said would stack $3 trillion onto the federal debt, along with $1 trillion from a plan to add private investment accounts to Social Security. McCain has spoken in favor of such accounts, but he has no detailed plan.
The Republican National Committee came the closest to actually blaming Obama for the crisis, with an ad intoning: "Wall Street squanders our money, and Washington is forced to bail them out with, you guessed it, our money. Can it get any worse? Under Barack Obama's plan, the government would spend a trillion dollars more, even after the bailout."
That partisan ill will was evident in the Senate chamber. Obama entered at the tail end of a speech by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who then left the chamber. Democratic senators filed in, to listen, then mob the candidate with handshakes, hugs and good wishes. Only one Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, sat on the other side of the aisle.