Republican presidential nominee John McCain said Wednesday he wants to postpone Friday's debate with Democratic rival Barack Obama so that Congress can focus on passing a bailout plan in the wake of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Obama quickly rejected that idea and said the debate should go on as scheduled. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
In a presidential campaign now famous for its unpredictable twists and turns, Republican Senator John McCain added another one Wednesday.
McCain said the first of three presidential debates with Democratic Senator Barack Obama, set for Friday at the University of Mississippi, should be postponed while Congress tries to reach a consensus on a financial rescue plan.
"I'm 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," said John McCain.
Senator McCain said he was suspending his campaign and heading to Washington to work on a bipartisan solution to the nation's credit crisis, expressing concern that the Bush administration's $700-billion bailout plan was in trouble.
"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," he said. "All we must do to achieve this is temporarily set politics aside, and I am committed to doing so. Now is our chance to come together to prove that Washington is once again capable of leading this country."
In response, Senator Obama held a news conference in Florida where he has been preparing for Friday's debate.
Obama said the debate should go ahead as scheduled.
"It is my belief that this is exactly the time when the American people need to hear from the person who, in approximately 40 days, will be responsible for dealing with this mess," said Barack Obama. "And I think that it is going to be part of the president's job to deal with more than one thing at once."
The University of Mississippi issued a statement that said it had been notified by the independent commission that organizes the presidential debates that Friday's event will go ahead as planned.
At his news conference, Obama said he and McCain talked by phone on Wednesday and discussed the idea of issuing a joint statement calling on Congress to act urgently on a bailout of the financial industry in order to avoid an even more severe economic crisis.
"There are times for politics and then there are times to rise above politics and do what is right for the country," he said. "This is one of those times. I don't think any of us enjoy putting taxpayer dollars at risk. But the risk of doing nothing is economic catastrophe, potentially, and that is a risk we cannot afford to take."
Obama said that in the telephone call, McCain mentioned the possibility of delaying Friday's debate, but heard nothing more until McCain announced his decision on television later in the day.
The back and forth over Friday's debate comes amid new survey numbers that show Obama pulling away from McCain, largely because of concerns about the U.S. economy.
The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Obama leading McCain by a margin of nine points - 52 to 43 percent. Two weeks ago, McCain led Obama in the same poll by a margin of 49 to 47 percent.