Harsh Republican Party in-fighting sidetracked the Bush administrations $700 billion plan to bail out the battered financial services industry, and its uncertain how many GOP lawmakers will even take part in Fridays resumption of closed-door negotiations in Congress.
Even for a party whose president suffers dismal approval ratings, whose legislative wing lost control of Congress and whose presidential nominee trails in the polls, Thursday was a remarkably bad day for Republicans.
A White House summit meeting called principally with the purpose to seal the deal that President Bush has argued is indispensable to stabilizing frenzied markets and reassuring the nervous American public descended into arguments mostly among Republicans.
The meeting revealed that Bushs proposal to combat the worst financial crisis in decades had been suddenly sidetracked by fellow Republicans in the House, who refused to embrace a plan that appeared close to acceptance by the Senate and most House Democrats.
This is the presidents own party, said Rep. Barney Frank, a top Democratic negotiator who attended both meetings. I dont think a president has been repudiated so strongly by the congressional wing of his own party in a long time.
By midnight, it was hard to tell who had suffered a worse evening, Bush or McCain. McCain, eager to shore up his image as a leader who rises above partisanship, was undercut by a fierce political squabble within his own partys ranks.
The consequences could be worse for Bush, and for millions of Americans if the impasse sends financial markets tumbling, as some officials fear. Although talks were resuming Friday, it wasnt clear how many House Republicans would participate.
Republicans and Democrats alike seemed unsure which way McCain was leaning. His campaigns statement late Thursday shed little light.
At this moment, the plan that has been put forth by the administration does not enjoy the confidence of the American people, it said. It was unclear whether McCain would attend Friday nights scheduled debate against Democratic nominee Barack Obama in Oxford, Miss.
At one point in the White House meeting, according to two officials, McCain voiced support for Ryans criticisms of the administrations proposal. Frank, a gruff Massachusetts liberal, angrily demanded to know what plan McCain favored.
These officials also said that as tempers flared, Bush struggled at times to maintain control.
At one point, several minutes into the session, Obama said it was time to hear from McCain. According to a Republican who was there, all he said was, I support the principles that House Republicans are fighting for.
Some at the table took that to mean the conservatives alternative proposal, which stands little chance of passage.