Economic Crisis Puts Politics On Hold?

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As you have probably heard by now, John McCain has moved to suspend his campaign as of tomorrow in order to return to Washington to focus on the economic crisis. From McCain’s campaign:

America this week faces an historic crisis in our financial system. We must pass legislation to address this crisis. If we do not, credit will dry up, with devastating consequences for our economy. People will no longer be able to buy homes and their life savings will be at stake. Businesses will not have enough money to pay their employees. If we do not act, ever corner of our country will be impacted. We cannot allow this to happen.
Last Friday, I laid out my proposal and I have since discussed my priorities and concerns with the bill the Administration has put forward. Senator Obama has expressed his priorities and concerns. This morning, I met with a group of economic advisers to talk about the proposal on the table and the steps that we should take going forward. I have also spoken with members of Congress to hear their perspective.

It has become clear that no consensus has developed to support the Administration’s proposal. I do not believe that the plan on the table will pass as it currently stands, and we are running out of time.

Tomorrow morning, I will suspend my campaign and return to Washington after speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative. I have spoken to Senator Obama and informed him of my decision and have asked him to join me.

I am calling on the President to convene a meeting with the leadership from both houses of Congress, including Senator Obama and myself. It is time for both parties to come together to solve this problem.

We must meet as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans, and we must meet until this crisis is resolved. I am directing my campaign to work with the Obama campaign and the commission on presidential debates to delay Friday night’s debate until we have taken action to address this crisis.

I am confident that before the markets open on Monday we can achieve consensus on legislation that will stabilize our financial markets, protect taxpayers and homeowners, and earn the confidence of the American people. All we must do to achieve this is temporarily set politics aside, and I am committed to doing so.

Following September 11th, our national leaders came together at a time of crisis. We must show that kind of patriotism now. Americans across our country lament the fact that partisan divisions in Washington have prevented us from addressing our national challenges. Now is our chance to come together to prove that Washington is once again capable of leading this country.

Barack Obama’s campaign quickly followed up with a statement of their own:

At 8:30 this morning, Senator Obama called Senator McCain to ask him if he would join in issuing a joint statement outlining their shared principles and conditions for the Treasury proposal and urging Congress and the White House to act in a bipartisan manner to pass such a proposal. At 2:30 this afternoon, Senator McCain returned Senator Obama’s call and agreed to join him in issuing such a statement. The two campaigns are currently working together on the details.

In making such a dramatic move, McCain is able to accomplish several things. It has become clear over the past week that his campaign has lost control of the race. McCain’s post convention/Palin bounce has evaporated as economic concerns drove voters to Obama’s fold. Instantly, he is able to change the story, or at least shift the fundamentals of it (and burying the Rick Davis lobbying story in the process doesn’t hurt either). This move also allows McCain to display leadership on the economy (putting country first?). Not wanting to be outdone, Obama’s camp was quick to point out that they had actually moved this morning to get with McCain on this issue.

It remains unclear just what McCain’s move means for the campaign. McCain is pushing to delay this Friday’s debate, which was to focus on foreign policy, while Obama’s campaign is hesitant to push it back. Obama’s statement mentions nothing of suspending his campaign, nor has his campaign signaled a willingness to delay the debate. “The debate is on,” a senior Obama officially reportedly told ABC News. “We can handle both,” Illinois Democrat Rahm Emanuel, who headed up debate negotiations for Obama, added. McCain’s team is also suggesting that both sides pull their campaign ads for the time being–a move that would be difficult to pull of logistically with the ads already in circulation. Does McCain intend to really suspend all political activity? Will he close his campaign offices? Will he stop canvassing? Will he pull his surrogates off of the cable news channels? Will he stop fundraising?

And how will McCain’s move affect the negotiations on the Hill? While, it’s true that the combined power of the two presidential nominees could force Congress to move forward quickly on an agreement. But it seems more likely, however, that their presence would only further politicize this thing, potentially derailing it altogether. Neither McCain nor Obama has any significant expertise in dealing with issues of this nature and they haven’t exactly been major players in the debate on the Hill thus far. The Congress has not rushed forward, instead reacting with a healthy dose of skepticism. While the failure to act may further propel this crisis, moving hastily to repair the damage would simply lead to problems down the road.

“While I appreciate that both candidates have signaled their willingness to help, Congress and the Administration have a process in place to reach a solution to this unprecedented financial crisis. 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,” Majority Leader Harry Reid noted this afternoon.

McCain’s decision to suspend his campaign and delay the debate puts Obama in a difficult position. Should Obama push for the campaign and the debate to continue, he risks falling into a trap, appearing to have put politics over country. On the other hand, he could play this off as a political stunt from a desperate candidate falling in the polls. He could suggest, rightly so, that a president often has to deal with more than one situation at a time, calling for the campaigns and the debates to move forward even as the two sides work together to solve the economic crisis. Either way, Obama will have to maneuver cautiously. In going public, it looks like McCain is trying to force Obama’s hand on this. He tried to get out in front of this to make Obama play on his terms, while Obama’s campaign appeared content to work behind the scenes to reach a deal on the bailout proposal with McCain.

While I don’t mean to question McCain’s desire to solve America’s financial crisis, it’s difficult to deny the political benefits of his actions today. He’s thrown another Hail Mary, but I’m not sure this one will be caught in the end zone.

Cross-posted at Political Realm.