Now here's bipartisanship: McCain blames the Democrats

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 29, 2008 

WESTMINSTER, Colo. — John McCain blamed Barack Obama and the Democrats for Congress' failure to pass a $700 billion Wall Street bailout on Monday, while Obama avoided blame games and instead implored Americans to "stay calm."

McCain appeared before the press in Iowa about 5 p.m. EDT and said: "Our leaders are expected to leave partisanship at the door and come to the table to solve our problems. Senator Obama and his allies in Congress infused unnecessary partisanship in the process."

In fact, Democrats in the House of Representatives mustered 140 votes for the compromise bailout plan drafted by lawmakers from both parties and the Bush administration, while Republicans delivered only 65 votes. Some 133 House Republicans opposed it, as did 95 Democrats.

"No one person is at fault in this crisis, there’s a lot of blame to spread around," Obama told a rally at a high school outside Denver after the House vote.

"Right now, Democratic and Republican leaders have agreed, but members have not agreed," Obama said. "It's important for the American people and the markets to stay calm because things are never smooth in Congress, and to understand that it will get done. We are going to make sure that an emergency package is put together because it is required for us to stabilize the markets."

For McCain, playing the blame game is a gamble. It could deflect attention from his own unsuccessful effort since last Thursday to rally House Republicans behind the bailout. It could backfire, however, if voters don't think his criticism of Obama is credible. It also could encourage Obama and his surrogates to paint McCain as temperamental and impulsive, a tactic they're weighing.

For Obama, the political risk lies in his continuing calculations over how strongly to defend himself against attacks versus refusing to take the bait. Many of his Democratic supporters worry that he's too aloof under fire sometimes, although his calm performance in the face of McCain’s jabs during their first debate last week seemed to work in Obama’s favor, as polls showed him pulling ahead.

A McCain campaign event earlier Monday in Columbus, Ohio, occurred before the House vote. There, he told the crowd that he'd, "Put my campaign on hold for a couple days last week to fight for a rescue plan that put you and your economic security first."

He accused Obama of sitting on the sidelines for not suspending his own campaign. "I will never, ever be a president who sits on the sidelines when this country faces a crisis," McCain said.

Obama, however, has spoken frequently by phone with congressional leaders and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson since the bailout talks began, and he and McCain both traveled to the White House last week at President Bush's request to discuss the bailout.

After the failed vote Monday, McCain's senior policy adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin issued a statement renewing the attack and charging that Obama had "failed to lead." Holtz-Eakin asserted that that alleged failure, combined with a "strongly-worded partisan speech" by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi prior to the vote, sank the bailout.

"This bill failed because Barack Obama and the Democrats put politics ahead of country," Holtz-Eakin said. He didn't say how many of the 133 Republicans who voted against the bill were planning to support it until Pelosi spoke.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton responded by saying that Congress' inaction plus "the hyper-partisan statement released by the McCain campaign are exactly why the American people are disgusted with Washington. Now is the time for Democrats and Republicans to join together and act in a way that prevents an economic catastrophe."

In Colorado on Monday, Obama apologized to the audience for beginning his remarks about 45 minutes late, explaining that he'd been on the phone with Paulson, Pelosi and others discussing the House vote and its consequences.

Democrats have criticized McCain, who two weeks ago called the economy fundamentally strong, for injecting presidential politics into the bailout.

He considered skipping the first presidential debate because of the financial crisis, and then reversed himself. He explained his decision to debate by expressing confidence that a deal was being worked out. His return to Washington last week, meanwhile, coincided with House Republicans' refusal to sign onto the compromise.

When House Republican leaders did sign on late Saturday night, McCain took credit for bringing Republicans together, but Monday's failed House vote was due disproportionately to House Republicans' refusal to support it.

(Talev reported from Colorado. Douglas reported from Ohio and Iowa.)

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