Just two days after John McCain dramatically suspended his campaign and vowed to return to Washington and help reach a deal on an unpopular financial-bailout package, his staff announced this morning that he is resuming his campaign and that he will attend the debate tonight in Mississippi.
The decision ends an unusual and high-risk personal effort by McCain to participate in negotiations between the two branches though it is still unclear whether a deal is imminent or what difference McCain's involvement has made.
The announcement came Friday morning as Democrats turned up the heat on McCain on cable television, blaming him for throwing a wrench into the talks after a deal at least between Senators and House Democrats was largely completed yesterday afternoon. That deal quickly unraveled late yesterday afternoon at an emergency gathering of congressional leaders, McCain and Barack Obama at the White House, where House Republicans voiced their strong opposition to the bailout. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seemed to put much of the blame on McCain in a press conference this morning, when he said that the deal's outlines were in place and then "Guess who came to town?"
In a statement released this morning, McCain's campaign said, "Senator McCain has spent the morning talking to members of the Administration, members of the Senate and members of the House. He is optimistic that there has been significant progress toward a bipartisan agreement now that there is a framework for all parties to be represented in negotiations. The McCain campaign is resuming all activities and the Senator will travel to the debate this afternoon."
The statement added that McCain would return to Washington after the debate "to ensure that all voices and interests are represented in the final agreement, especially those of taxpayers and homeowners." It also lamented the "familiar spectacle in Washington" and attacked Obama directly: "The difference between Barack Obama and John McCain was apparent during the White House meeting yesterday where Barack Obama's priority was political posturing in his opening monologue defending the package as it stands. John McCain listened to all sides so he could help focus the debate on finding a bipartisan resolution that is in the interest of taxpayers and homeowners. The Democratic interests stood together in opposition to an agreement that would accommodate additional taxpayer protections."
While the exact state of the talks was not known at midday, Obama said that he had seen "real progress being made" both last night and today.
The latest maneuvering came after yet another morning of high-stakes political theater in Washington. President Bush made an unusual, market-calming appearance in the Rose Garden just after 9.30 a.m. to reassure the nation that all parties were seeking a speedy solution to the bailout stalemate. Negotiations continued at the staff level on Capitol Hill this morning. In general, House Republicans continue to object on free market grounds to the President's bailout plan, while Senate Republicans, as well as Democrats in both houses, have been more supportive. Democratic leaders have been reluctant to move the measure through either the Senate or the House without Republican support, fearing a one-sided backlash at the polls in November.
As the political situation continued to deteriorate, Democrats began blaming the House Republicans for delaying action and risking a widespread financial collapse. House Republicans were set to caucus at noon, and there were reports that minority whip Roy Blount would be joining the high-level negotiations with Senate leaders from both parties.
"The President understands that a lot of them have reservations," said Dana Perino, the White House press secretary.
With reporting by Jay Newton-Small and Michael Scherer / WashingtonSee a gallery of campaign gaffes here.)