I Had a Secret Meeting in the Basement of My Brain
The Politico's David Rogers reports from yesterday's Congress-White House-presidential candidates circus.
Both McCain and his Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, would leave the White House without comment, and the meeting was described as among the wildest in memory. A beleaguered President Bush had to struggle to maintain order and reassert himself. And when Democrats left to caucus in the Roosevelt Room, Paulson pursued them, begging that they not "blow up" the legislation.
The former Goldman Sachs CEO even went down on one knee as if genuflecting, to which Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) is said to have joked, "I didn't know you were Catholic."
It was McCain who had urged Bush to call the White House meeting but Democrats made sure Obama had a prominent part. And much as they complained later of being blindsided, the whole event turned out to be something of an ambush on their part—aimed at McCain and House Republicans.
"Speaking professionally," said one Republican aide, "They did a very good job."
When Bush yielded early to Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D- Nev.) to speak, they yielded to Obama to speak for the assembled Democrats. And it was Obama who raised the subject of the conservative alternative and pressed Paulson on what he thought of the idea.
House Republicans felt trapped—squeezed by Treasury, House Democrats and a bipartisan coalition in the Senate. And while McCain spoke surprisingly little after asking for the meeting, he conceded that it appeared there were not the votes for the core Paulson plan without major changes.
Leave aside the obvious Great Man politics of McCain's stunt and it's not clear how his presence is distorting the negotiations. Were Republicans emboldened to oppose the deal and present alternatives when McCain gave them cover? Democrats can pass a bill without them, after all, it's just that they want the bipartisan cover. Obama seems to want a deal, any deal, angering liberal Democrats by opposing the bankruptcy protections they want to add in.