Bush, McCain, Obama have historic West Wing huddle
Updated: 2008-09-26 08:40

US President George W. Bush meets with Bicameral and Bipartisan Members of Congress to discuss a Wall Street bailout plan in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, September 25, 2008. Bush is joined by Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain and Minority House leader John Boehnerand House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).  [Agencies]

Washington - US President Bush, Barack Obama and John McCain were an unlikely trio at the White House on Thursday mulling a $700 billion bailout to end the country's financial market crisis.

Wall Street held its breath. Would the US president, a self-described free-market man, confirm that a deal had been made to infuse billions into the markets? Would sparks fly between McCain and Obama, who sat at opposite ends of a shiny, oval table in the West Wing, where each wants to work?

Reporters clicked pens and queued their tape recorders to be ready to witness the historic huddle of the nation's top political leaders trying to prevent financial calamity. A White House aide, ferrying the president's dog Barney, wet from the rain, worked his way through the crush of media anxiously waiting outside the Cabinet Room.

Public access to the meeting lasted only one minute.

McCain and Obama let Bush do the talking. Bush's words were hopeful but not definitive.

"All of us around the table take this issue very seriously and we know we've got to get something done as quickly as possible," Bush said in measured tones. "And this meeting is an attempt to move the process forward. My hope is that we can reach an agreement very shortly."

That was it. The rest of the meeting was conducted behind closed doors.

White House advisers allowed to sit in said Bush greeted the group with a friendly "Hello, everybody."

After thanking McCain, Obama and the top congressional leaders for attending, he spoke about the hearings on Capitol Hill and the testimony Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and other top economic advisers gave to lawmakers.

"If you think you gave them a grilling, think about the grilling I gave them," the adviser said Bush, noting the seriousness of the situation, told the lawmakers.

Then he turned to Paulson to give the group an update on the markets, which closed before the meeting began. The president then opened up the discussion to questions and comments from nearly everyone around the table.

According to the adviser, who took notes during the meeting, Bush said: "I asked them (his economic advisers) a lot of tough questions and that's what you would expect of me. And at the end of the day, I was convinced that we had to take this action. So let's get after it. Let's work together and let's solve the problem."

Hours before the White House confab, reports from Capitol Hill indicated that key lawmakers had reached an agreement in principal. But Sen. Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, left the White House meeting telling reporters the announced deal "is, obviously, no agreement." He waved five pieces of paper, telling reporters they were filled with top economists' concerns about the administration's plan.

At the meeting, Obama, wearing an American flag pin, and McCain, sans lapel adornment, sat with hands folded on the shiny table top. Neither nodded or showed any emotion as the president spoke. McCain smiled widely and nodded to reporters who tried to ask questions. Bush advisers said Vice President Dick Cheney was mum the entire meeting.

Both candidates and their staffs slipped out a side door of the West Wing to do separate rounds of TV interviews, apparently deciding against using the authoritative White House venue as a backdrop for their remarks.

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