John McCain and Barack Obama are digging in their heels. McCain is still saying holding the debate as planned is a bad idea before a bailout deal is struck; Obama is still saying that postponing it is a bad idea regardless of the status of a deal.
The default position appears to be that the debate is still on, as the Commission on Presidential Debates hasn’t made any move to reschedule anything, and still plans to hold the debate on Friday.
In the meantime, former president Bill Clinton (of all people) is defending McCain’s proposal to postpone the debate, and pooh-poohing Democratic accusations that he’s trying to duck the debate altogether. On the Hill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s finger-wagging at McCain over coming back to Washington for the deal negotiations runs counter to the effusive praise Reid lavished on Obama for doing the same thing two months ago.
Details, along with analysis of the evolving implications of the debate schedule, below the break.
In an unexpected bit of campaign weirdness, Bill Clinton has emerged on Good Morning America to say something I wouldn’t say earlier: that McCain’s call for a postponement was a good-faith move (not the cynical ploy I’d characterized it as last night). Clinton even points out that suggestions by Obama fans that McCain did this because he’s “afraid to debate” don’t hold much water, since McCain’s been trying to get Obama on a debate stage for months. (Clinton doesn’t recall, at least out loud, that McCain handed Obama’s head to him at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Forum in August .) It would seem that the former president still hasn’t put the primaries behind him.
On the Capitol front, Fox News commentators (story online at CBS News) have pointed out that Harry Reid’s admonition to John McCain that they don’t need him in the Senate for the deal, and that he should keep presidential politics out of it, doesn’t jibe with Reid’s praise of Obama when the Democratic nominee put his own campaign on hold briefly in July to come back to the Senate for some key votes. Back then, Reid tore McCain a new one for not doing exactly what the Republican nominee is proposing now:
Let’s compare today’s statement …
“It would not be helpful at this time to have them come back during these negotiations and risk injecting presidential politics into this process or distract important talks about the future of our nation’s economy. If that changes, we will call upon them. We need leadership; not a campaign photo op.”
… With Reid’s statement from July, when Obama showed up for a vote but not McCain (quoted in The Washington Post):
“I should mention how glad my fellow Democrats and I were to have our nominee for president here to vote on these important bills. Senator Obama has come to work and taken tough stands. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Senator McCain,” Reid said. “Perhaps taking tough stands on important issues is not part of Senator McCain’s campaign strategy. Perhaps he’s just too busy on the campaign trail to do his day job.”
Or perhaps Reid is too busy on Obama’s campaign trail to keep track of his own statements.
But back to the status of the debate. This actually adds to the impetus for Republicans to come to an agreement posthaste. As it stands now, Obama is dead-set on showing up at the debate. Honestly, I don’t see the benefit to McCain of not showing up in Mississippi, effectively giving Obama a pass on what’s supposed to be a foreign policy debate, Obama’s reputed weak point. Of course, attending the debate after making a big show of imploring Obama and the Commission to postpone it for the public good will make him look like he’s all talk.
Given McCain’s insistence that he belongs in Washington as long as there’s no deal, clearly the best thing for McCain would be for Congress to strike a deal, before the debate is scheduled to open. His overwhelming duty to be there for the negotiations would be rendered moot, he would still be on record as having put the people’s business before his own ambition, and he would not be forced to concede the much-hyped “foreign policy debate” to Obama.
The next 24 hours will be key. Hill sources are telling news correspondents that a deal is close, now that a number of Democratic concerns about the Paulson plan have been addressed. McCain had better hope so.