McCain: Scrap Friday Debate for Bailout; Obama: The Debate is On

ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos and Rick Klein report: Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Wednesday said he would "suspend" his presidential campaign to come to Washington to help negotiate a financial bailout bill and argued Friday's first presidential debate should be scrapped -- a dramatic move designed to seize a powerful issue.

McCain said he called on the Commission on Presidential Debates to postpone the debate scheduled for Friday in Mississippi, to ensure quick congressional action.

"I have spoken to Senator Obama and informed him of my decision and have asked him to join me," McCain said in New York City Wednesday. "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.”

Preparing for the debate in Florida, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama held a previously unscheduled news conference, arguing the debate should go on.

"I believe that we should continue to have the debate," Obama said. "It's my belief that this is exact time when the American people need to hear form the person who in approximately 40 days will be responsibly for dealing with this mess and I think that it is going to be part of the President’s job to deal with more than one thing at once."

Obama said that unlike McCain, he will not suspend ads, or campaign events scheduled between now and Friday's debate.

"I think it's very important that the American people see the people who potentially could be in charge of this problem within the next couple of months and so my attitude is that we need to be focused on solving the problems, as I have been," Obama said. "It's also important that we communicate where we need to go in getting us out of the situation."

Obama said he will stay in Florida for the time being and will not return to Washington unless asked by Congressional leadership.

"I've told the leadership in Congress is that if I can be helpful then I am prepared to be anywhere at anytime," he said.

President Bush will attempt to shore up public support for the administration's $700 bailout plan in a primetime address to the nation tonight.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said the Bush administration "welcome Sen. McCain's announcement" that he is suspending his campaign to deal with the bailout bill.

"We are making progress in negotiations on the financial markets rescue legislation, but we have not finished it yet," Perino said.

"Bipartisan support from Sens. McCain and Obama would be helpful in driving to a conclusion. The financial market crisis is a big problem that requires a big solution, and solving this in a bipartisan way will help prevent economic damage spreading from Wall Street to all Americans," Perino said.

Obama supporter and chief debate negotiator Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., told MSNBC that "we can handle both," when asked about his reaction to McCain's call to postpone the first debate because of the administration's bailout plan.

Earlier Wednesday, a senior Obama campaign official told ABC News, "The debate in on."

An Obama campaign official told ABC News the Democratic presidential candidate called McCain this morning to suggest a joint statement of principles.

McCain called back this afternoon and suggested returning to Washington.

Obama is willing to return to Washington "if it would be helpful." But Obama reiterated that Obama intends to debate on Friday.

Obama senior strategist Robert Gibbs said that Obama and McCain spoke today at approximately 2:35 pm, for about five minutes as Obama was leaving a campaign event in Florida en route back to his hotel.

Gibbs insists that Obama at that time was not left with the impression that McCain had decisively decided to suspend his campaign, or would ask for the debate to be canceled.

The first time Obama found out McCain was suspending his campaign and returning to Washington was when McCain made his statement earlier today.

The McCain campaign has pledged to suspend campaign advertising.

"To be clear, in addition to suspending his campaign to return to Washington to work for a bipartisan solution to this problem, this campaign is suspending its advertising and fundraising," McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said.

McCain and his top advisers said the Republican presidential candidate has not committed to voting for the massive financial bailout plan proposed by the Bush administration, with aides saying he will reserve final judgment until there is a final product.

A senior McCain campaign official said that the “Bush package is dead. This is a serious situation. Package must be resolved by the time markets open on Monday."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that McCain had assured Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson that he would support the $700 billion legislation.

Asked about that Wednesday, McCain responded: “I did not say that.”

Senior advisor Mark Salter then interjected saying, “He hasn’t said that to Paulson or to Reid or to anybody else. He hasn’t said that to me.”

McCain campaign political director Mike DuHaime told reporters at a lunch meeting in Washington that the senator will not commit until he sees the final package that comes to the Senate floor.

“He’s going to do what he thinks is right,” DuHaime said at a lunch sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “He’ll make a vote as a leader in this country, and people will look to him.”

DuHaime added, “Quite frankly, I think you could ask Sen. Obama if he’s going to do what he thinks is right. I mean, he has never -- I believe -- never once made a decision that is an unpopular decision or went against the orthodoxy of his party, and was one that was one that was a tough decision to make. . . . Sen. McCain has done that throughout his entire career, his entire life -- not just in politics, but his life.”

DuHaime said that while McCain understands the urgency, many voters continue to have important questions about what the bailout means to them.

“When you start talking about $10,000 per household or per family to go toward bailing out Wall Street, they have legitimate questions about it,” DuHaime said. “People understand that that is a big thing and it affects them, and they do legitimately have questions about, is this really going to go to bail out companies or leaders of companies who now are relying on taxpayer dollars to bail them out, and are going to get these huge compensation packages after they come to the taxpayers for it.”

“There is some frustration, certainly, in that, and it’s understandable to say the least. And it has not been a quick rush to say yes or no. People understand the gravity of this, want to see it done right, while still understanding the timing factor.”

ABC News' Bret Hovell and Sunlen Miller contributed to this report.

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