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Bush invites McCain, Obama to White House meeting
By JENNIFER LOVEN, Associated Press Writer
1 hour, 18 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - With extraordinary stakes on the line, President Bush invited both men vying to succeed him and key congressional leaders to a White House meeting to hammer out a massive financial rescue plan. The president also was appealing directly to Americans in a prime-time address Wednesday to help push his tough-sell bailout into reality.
The meltdown among several financial institutions and intense negotiations with Congress over the administration's requested $700 billion package led the president to return to Washington early Wednesday from a three-day whirl of international meetings in New York. He also canceled plans to spend the afternoon in Florida raising campaign cash for Republicans.
The package is meeting with deep skepticism on Capitol Hill, especially from conservatives in Bush's own party revolting at the high price tag and unprecedented private-sector intervention. Though there is general agreement that something must be done to address the spiraling economic problems, the administration has made big concessions almost daily based on demands from the right and left. The timing and even the size of the package remained in doubt.
So, not long before his planned 12-minute address to the nation from the grand East Room, Bush took the unusual step of calling Democrat Barack Obama to invite him to the White House for the meeting on Thursday, said presidential spokeswoman Dana Perino. The White House said the presidential invitation was also extended to Republican John McCain and to Republican and Democratic leaders from Capitol Hill.
Intensive, personal wheeling and dealing is not usually Bush's style as president, unlike some predecessors. He does not often call or meet with individual lawmakers to push a legislative priority.
Obama spokesman Bill Burton said the senator would attend and "will continue to work in a bipartisan spirit and do whatever is necessary to come up with a final solution." The plans of the other invitees were unknown, and the exact details of the meeting, which Perino said was aimed at making fast progress to stem the biggest financial meltdown in decades, were still being set.
In another move welcome at the White House, Obama and McCain issued a joint statement urging lawmakers — in dire terms — to act.
"Now is a time to come together Democrats and Republicans in a spirit of cooperation for the sake of the American people," it said. "The plan that has been submitted to Congress by the Bush administration is flawed, but the effort to protect the American economy must not fail."
The two candidates — bitterly fighting each other for the White House but coming together over this issue — said the situation offers a chances for politicians to prove Washington's worth.
"This is a time to rise above politics for the good of the country. We cannot risk an economic catastrophe," they said.
Bush last gave a prime-time address to the nation 377 days ago, on Iraq. This one, expected to be carried by all five major television outlets, could be the last of his presidency. The president hoped it would convince regular Americans of the bailout's relevance and, as Perino said, "get this over the goal line" with lawmakers.
White House and administration officials have warned repeatedly of what Perino on Wednesday called the risk of "financial calamity."
But that has not closed the deal, which for many recalls previous warnings of grave threats from Bush — such as before the Iraq war — that did not materialize. So Bush's goal with his speech was to frame the debate in layman's terms to show the depths of the crisis, explain how it affects the people's daily lives and inspire the public to demand action from Washington. He was not expected to dwell much on the question of blame.
"The cold on Wall Street could infect Main Street," Perino said. People "are concerned about their homes, their education funds, their retirement accounts, their savings."
The White House has struggled to determine how to deploy Bush.
As the problem mushroomed over the weekend of Sept. 13, Bush generally stayed out of the limelight, letting Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke take the lead with reporters, lawmakers and the public. Bush remained silent for days.
Since Thursday, however, the president has talked about the crisis almost daily, although usually briefly, and yet he still has had trouble breaking into the debate. News coverage has barely mentioned Bush's comments.
The decision to pull out perhaps a president's largest available weapon — the ability to demand a presence on evening television screens nationwide, from a setting with the ultimate bully-pulpit power — is one sign that the rescue package still faces daunting hurdles. TV executives can't be thrilled to give up airtime. This is the much-promoted week when the networks unveil their first episodes of the fall season for high-profile shows.
With so many crises hitting the United States at once, the presidential race has taken a back seat and so has Bush's involvement in politics. Wednesday's Florida trip was the third time in a week that he has scrapped his attendance at out-of-town fundraisers, either because of the market turmoil or Hurricane Ike.
The economic crisis also is almost certain to overshadow the rest of Bush's four months left in office and could hugely impact his legacy. It has been assumed that the long-term view of Bush's presidency was to be shaped largely by Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Now, the dire economic problems and the aftermath of the government's attempted solution will certainly be added to that list.
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