After the cameras left the Cabinet room, Bush thanked everybody for their spirit of cooperation and said he knew it was not an easy vote. He knew elements still needed to be worked out and said he wanted to go around the table to hear people's views.
Pelosi said Obama would speak for the Democrats. Though later he would pepper Paulson with questions, according to a Republican in the room, his initial point was brief: "We've got to get something done."
Bush turned to McCain, who joked, "The longer I am around here, the more I respect seniority." McCain then turned to Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to speak first.
Boehner was blunt. The plan Paulson laid out would not win the support of the vast majority of House Republicans. It had been improved on the edges, with an oversight board and caps on the compensation of participating executives. But it had to be changed at the core. He did not mention the insurance alternative, but Democrats did. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, pressed Boehner hard, asking him if he really intended to scrap the deal and start again.
No, Boehner replied, he just wanted his members to have a voice. Obama then jumped in to turn the question on his rival: "What do you think of the [insurance] plan, John?" he asked repeatedly. McCain did not answer.
A man putting country first would have led. He would have proposed a compromise. He would have offered to stay in that room and help hammer out a deal that could win more votes. McCain did none of that. He couldn't even answer Senator Obama's simple question about the plan House Republicans were proposing (a plan Secretary Paulson and Fed Chairman Bernanke had already considered and rejected because it wouldn't work).
Want to know why McCain didn't look at Obama during the debate Friday? There's your answer: Obama proved in that White House meeting, in front of the most powerful people in the country, that he could lead, and that McCain could hardly follow.