Democratic Sen. Barack Obama rejected Republican Sen. John McCain’s dramatic call Wednesday to delay Friday’s presidential debate because of the economic crisis. The McCain campaign said McCain would not show up for the debate unless a deal to address the crisis was reached.
The Commission on Presidential Debates and the University of Mississippi, the scheduled host of Friday night’s first debate, said the debate would go forward. They did not say what they would do if McCain failed to show up in Oxford, Miss.
Speaking to reporters in Clearwater, Fla., Obama said he and McCain agreed on the need to issue a joint statement of support for legislation to rescue the banking industry. But he declined McCain’s call to postpone the 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 told reporters in Clearwater, Fla.
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“In my mind, it’s more important than ever that we present ourselves to the American people and describe where we want to take the country and where we want to take the economy,” he said.
A senior adviser to McCain told NBC News that Obama’s insistence on going ahead had not changed McCain’s position. The aide said McCain would stay in Washington and skip the debate unless a financial agreement was in place by Friday.
Speaking to reporters in New York, McCain said he would suspend his campaign to work on banking legislation, saying President Bush’s proposed $700 billion bailout appeared unlikely to pass.
Obama stopped short of following his model, saying he had told congressional leaders that he was willing to help out, but only if they thought it would be useful.
As for the debate, he said, “It’s going to be part of the president’s job to be able to deal with more than one thing at once.”
Obama camp sees political ploy
Obama said he and McCain discussed the economy in two telephone calls earlier Wednesday. Obama said it was he who proposed issuing a joint statement on the bailout plan.
Late Wednesday, the candidates issued a joint statement.
"This is a time to rise above politics for the good of the country," their statement says. "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."Video: Obama: I’ll be there
Obama indicated that McCain’s statement seeking to delay the debate came as a surprise, saying McCain had told him in their second call only that he was thinking about the idea.
“I guess he was further along than I thought,” Obama said.
Aides to Obama characterized McCain’s proposal as a ploy to distract attention from his standing in the polls, which has fallen sharply in the last few days as Americans focus on the economic crisis on Wall Street.
A senior aide to Obama said McCain would have been better advised to have made his proposal several days ago. The aide said the only thing that had changed was McCain’s poll numbers.
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and a close adviser to Obama, called the idea “the longest Hail Mary pass in the history of either football or Marys.” He said in an interview on MSNBC that negotiators were close to reaching a tentative agreement on the bailout and said Obama’s and McCain’s help was not needed.
But Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, welcomed MCCain’s offer.
“This is the John McCain I know,” Hatch said in an interview on MSNBC’s “Hardball.” “He is willing to risk [the] election to do what’s right for the country.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., meanwhile, said McCain’s and Obama’s presence during congressional negotiations over a rescue package would “not be helpful at this time,” saying they would be a distraction.
“We need leadership, not a campaign photo op,” Reid said. “If there were ever a time for both candidates to hold a debate before the American people about this serious challenge, it is now.”
White House press secretary Dana Perino, however, said the Bush administration welcomed McCain’s announcement, adding, “Bipartisan support from Senators McCain and Obama would be helpful in driving to a conclusion.”
McCain to suspend campaign
McCain said he would suspend his campaign after he addressed former President Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative gathering Thursday. A
dvisers said they were also reaching out to the Obama campaign to discuss pulling political television advertisements from airing.
Aides denied that the proposal was a political move. They said McCain hoped to create a “political free zone” until a deal to rescue the the financial industry could be reached.
Mark Salter, a senior adviser, held out the possibility that McCain could yet take part in Friday’s debate if congressional negotiators worked out a bank agreement by Friday morning. But he said McCain had been convinced in conversations Tuesday and Wednesday with colleagues on Capitol Hill that passage was next to impossible.
In his statement, McCain said it had become clear that “no consensus has developed to support the administration’s proposal.” He called on Bush to convene a leadership meeting in Washington that would include him and Obama.
McCain said that if Congress did not pass legislation to address the crisis, credit would dry up, people would no longer be able to buy homes, life savings would be at stake and businesses would not have enough money
“If we do not act, every corner of our country will be impacted,” McCain said. “We cannot allow this to happen.”
By Alex Johnson of msnbc.com with David Gregory, Andrea Mitchell, Kelly O’Donnell, Chuck Todd and Mike Viqueira of NBC News and Chris Matthews of MSNBC.
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