Why the GOP Needed McCain Back

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This morning you would’ve been hard pressed to find a Republican member of Congress supporting the bail out despite five days of heavy pressure from the likes of Dick Cheney, Henry Paulson, Jim Nussle and Josh Bolten. The caucus was in a virtual revolt over being forced to vote for a bill that pretty much stands against much of their own platform. Leaders were struggling to figure out how they would convince enough members to vote for the legislation. McCain’s sudden suspension of his campaign and return to Washington to work on the bill comes as a welcome relief to many members of the House GOP caucus. “What it will do is show that there’re some issues that should and do rise above polticial debate and I think it’s appropriate that they come back and hunker down and that we get this thing taken care of,” said Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican.

McCain’s moves give a lot of panicked members who weren’t going to bow to pressure from the White House or their own leadership the political cover they sought. But it also marries McCain to an incredibly unpopular bill and leaves the door open to Democrats, as they did this afternoon, to accuse McCain of playing politics and making “more drama” out of an already precarious situation, as Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, told me.

The move is a huge risk — much like the Palin choice. It could turn the page for McCain on the economy, an issue where polls this week show Obama breaking away, or it could paint him the cynic willing to do anything to be elected. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi did their best to put McCain in a box on this bill and this certainly springs McCain from that the box but it might be a case of out of the frying pan and into the oven. Several sources on the Hill said they expect Bush tonight to call congressional leaders, including McCain and Obama, to the White House tomorrow to sit down and hammer out an agreement.

But leaders from the left and the right rejected the idea of McCain and Obama taking over the talks. When asked by reporters if he wanted McCain sitting in blow-by-blow negotiations Rep. Adam Putnam, the No. 3 House Republican, simply smirked, mute for ten seconds as reporters laughed. Democrats were more voiciferous in their rejection of McCain-Obama negotiations; New York Senator Chuck Schumer and Rep. Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 House Dem, both said if McCain had really cared where have he — and his staff — been in the negotiations thus far.

The situation is history making — what happens when must-pass emergency legisaltion comes before an unpopular lame duck president? The answer blurs the lines between the executive and legislative branches. At the end of the day the bill will be passed but the cost for the GOP may be akin to the pain the Dems felt passing the 1993 budget for the rank-and-file GOP and McCain alike. And while we’re on the subject of that tough vote, it’s worth noting that that budget deal set the country on the path to surpluses and balanced books.

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