Despite their back-and-forth Wednesday (September 24) about suspending campaigns and potentially postponing their first debate, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama came through with a promised joint statement urging Democrats and Republicans to work together on an economic-bailout package.
"The American people are facing a moment of economic crisis," the statement reads. "No matter how this began, we all have a responsibility to work through it and restore confidence in our economy. The jobs, savings, and prosperity of the American people are at stake. Now is a time to come together — Democrats and Republicans — in a spirit of cooperation for the sake of the American people. The plan that has been submitted to Congress by the Bush administration is flawed, but the effort to protect the American economy must not fail.
"This is a time to rise above politics for the good of the country," the statement continues. "We cannot risk an economic catastrophe. Now is our chance to come together to prove that Washington is once again capable of leading this country."
President Bush addressed the country on Wednesday night to lay out his plan for the economy. In the speech, Bush said he invited Obama and McCain, as well as other key congressional leaders, to a White House meeting to hammer out a massive financial-rescue plan. Both senators have agreed to the meeting.
Just hours before the joint statement was released, Obama announced that he would not be following McCain's lead in suspending his presidential campaign and asking for a delay of Friday's debate.
"This is exactly the time when the American people need to hear from the person who in approximately 40 days will be responsible for dealing with this mess," Obama said. "It will be part of the president's job to deal with more than one thing at once. I think there's no reason why we can't be constructive in helping to solve this problem and also tell the American people what we believe and where we stand and where we want to take the country. In my mind, actually, it's more important than ever that we present ourselves to the American people and try to describe where we want to take the country and where we want to take the economy."
Calling it a moment of "great uncertainty in America," Obama warned that if Congress doesn't act soon, "People's jobs, people's savings, the economic security of millions of Americans will be put at risk."
Like McCain, Obama called on Democrats and Republicans, and the White House and Congress, to come together to figure out a solution to the worst economic crisis to face the country since the Great Depression. It was in that bipartisan spirit, Obama said, that he reached out to McCain on Wednesday morning after determining that "many of the principles that I had set forth were ones that Senator McCain had adopted as well, in terms of how this financial proposal should be structured." Obama credited Republican Senator Tom Coburn with suggesting that the presidential rivals issue a joint statement about the financial crisis to show their unity on the issue.
Obama verified that McCain called him back at 2:30 p.m. and that he urged McCain to join in issuing the statement "to let this Congress and this administration know where we stand and what we expect from this proposal." Among the four principles Obama has suggested to guide the bailout are: a bipartisan accountability board to monitor where the money goes, treating the American public like investors, and giving "every penny" back once the economy recovers, helping homeowners struggling to stay in their homes and making sure Wall Street executives don't profit from the crisis.
Saying he's been in constant contact with the leadership in Congress, Obama added that he's also been in daily contact with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, but that these difficult days are proof that "there are times for politics, and there are times to rise above politics and do what's right for the country."
The brief address was followed by a question-and-answer session, a pointed attempt by Obama, it seemed, to further distance himself from McCain, who has drawn fire lately for his lack of availability — as well as the virtual media blackout on his vice-presidential running mate Sarah Palin — and his infrequent Q&A's with the press, with whom the Arizona senator had long had a cordial relationship.
After Obama reached out to McCain, he said the Republican agreed to the joint statement and added that the two should have a meeting in Washington with congressional leaders and perhaps President Bush. Stressing that the statement should come out first to show their bipartisan spirit, Obama said he found out that McCain had announced the suspension of his campaign shortly after their 2:30 phone call.
Obama said he would not be following McCain's lead and suspending his campaign or pulling his ads from the air because of his feeling that it's important that the American people see the men who could potentially be dealing with this issue over the next couple of months. "We need to be focused on solving the problem, as I have been over the last several days," he said. "But I think it is also important that we communicate to the American people where we need to go in getting out of this situation."
Obama pledged to make himself available to be "anywhere, anytime" to help with the bailout negotiations but said it might not be helpful to "suddenly infuse" the process with potentially distracting presidential politics during the delicate negotiations.
[This story was originally published at 6:13 p.m. ET on 9.24.2008]
Get informed! Head to Choose or Lose for nonstop coverage of the 2008 presidential election, including everything from the latest news on the candidates to on-the-ground multimedia reports from our 51 citizen journalists, MTV and MySpace's Presidential Dialogues, and much more.