POLITICS
10/25/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Obama And Democrats Call McCain's Bluff

Barack Obama rejected the proposal -- put forward by John McCain today -- that the two presidential candidates leave the campaign trail, delay Friday's debate, and return to Washington to work on a bailout package for the economy,

"Presidents are going to have to deal with more than one thing at a time," he said, "it is not necessary for us to think we can do only one thing and suspend everything else."

Expressing concern about infusing "Capitol Hill with presidential politics," Obama said it was his desire to see the debate go forward.

"With respect to the debates it is my belief that this is exactly the time when the American people need to hear from the person who in roughly 40 days will be responsible for this mess," he said. "I think it is going to be part of the president's job to deal with more than one thing at once. I don't see why we can't be constructive in helping with this problem."

Obama, who would not commit to taking advertisements off the air as McCain's campaign has, delivered his remarks hours after McCain announced the suspension of his campaign. The Arizona Republican insisted that it was time for the two candidates to return to work to help push forward a bi-partisan bailout package to deal with the financial crisis.

Earlier in the afternoon, Democrats in Congress were already calling out McCain for engaging in what was described, at various times, as a "Hail Mary pass" and a "deeply cynical" ploy.

"The debate should take place as scheduled," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in an interview with NPR to be broadcast this afternoon. "We have to be able to do a couple of things at once. That's what leadership requires."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement that McCain's move would actually impair negotiations over the bailout by introducing politics into the equation.

"I understand that the candidates are putting together a joint statement at Senator Obama's suggestion," said Reid. "But 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."

Later, Reid personally delivered his statement to McCain over the phone after the Arizona Republican called the Majority Leader. "Sorry, John, I already issued this statement," Reid told McCain, a Democratic staffer told the Huffington Post.

The staffer added, "John McCain's done enough damage to our economy in Washington. He should stay on the campaign trail."

Sherrod Brown, meanwhile, called McCain's move "a bit of a gimmick," noting that the Arizona Republican had "never weighed in on these economic issues in the past," and asking, rhetorically, why a presidential candidate couldn't multi-task.

"This country is faced with enough crises, both foreign and domestic that they should be able to continue with this debate," Brown told MSNBC.

Appearing at the same time on Fox News, Sen. Joseph Lieberman was sticking to the McCain campaign line - which seems to be that it is one's patriotic duty to stop the campaign and work on the economy.

"A debate on foreign policy Friday night is important but not as important as saving American from an economic crisis," he declared. "I would say it is more important of John McCain and Barack Obama to be here in Washington as part of a solution to this economic crisis."

Democratic aides on Capitol Hill were incensed with McCain's move. One, whose boss works on the Senate Banking Committee, described the move as "cynical politics" at its worst. Another, however, lamented the fact that McCain could very well claim the ethical high-ground. "In general," said an aide. "I'd say we should have thought of it, but we did, then McCain [screwed] us."

Whether the move was a political ploy on the part of the Republican candidate, Obama wouldn't say. He did, however, note that he was the one who first broached McCain with the idea of releasing a joint statement on the crisis. That came in the form of an 8:30 a.m phone call this morning which McCain never answered. According to Obama, the two campaigns spoke six hours later, where it was suggested that in addition to the joint statement the candidates would meet in Washington D.C. with congressional leaders. Shortly thereafter, however, McCain had announced in front of television cameras that he was putting a temporary stop to the campaign functions.

"My assumption was that the joint statement would go out initially," said Obama.