John McCain called for the first face-to-face debate of the US election to be postponed after both presidential candidates urged Americans to come together to solve the financial crisis.
Barack Obama proposed that the two candidates should work together to help Congress pass a rescue plan for the troubled US economy during private talks with Mr McCain earlier today.
But the 72-year-old Republican did not wait for a joint statement to be issued, and instead held his own press conference where he declared he was suspending his campaign and planning to travel to Washington.
He called for Friday’s debate on foreign policy at the University of Mississippi to be postponed and urged Mr Obama to follow suit and suspend his campaign events.
But the 47-year-old Democrat said: “Presidents are going to have to deal with more than one thing at a time.
“I believe that we should continue to have the debate.
“I think that it makes sense for us to present ourselves before the American people to talk about the nature of the problems that we’re having in our financial system; to talk about how it relates to our global standing in the world, what implications it has for our national security, how it relates to critical questions like the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“And, obviously, if it turns out we need to be in Washington, we’ve both got big planes, we’ve painted our slogans on the sides of them, they can get us from Washington DC to Mississippi fairly quickly.”
He went on: “We need to be focused on solving the problem, as I’ve been over the past several days, but I think it’s also important that we communicate to the American people where we need to go in getting us out of this situation.
“And, as I’ve said, I think it’s possible for us to do both.”
Speaking in Clearwater, Florida, Mr Obama said it was a “critical time for everyone”, but he said this was “exactly the time” when the American people needed to hear from the presidential candidates in a debate.
He said that following their conversations earlier today, the two campaigns were still working on a joint statement, but Mr McCain had “gone on television” and announced the plan to work together to tackle the financial crisis.
But he said: “There are times for politics and there are times to rise above and do what’s right for the country.
“This is one of those times.”
The developments left Mr McCain looking as if he was trying to gain a political advantage by getting his statement out first.
But Mr Obama said the differences between the two campaigns should not distract from what was being proposed.
“Given the fierce competition of this election, and the stakes involved, the fact that both parties agree that we need to focus on this problem on Capitol Hill, and that this is an issue which should transcend the typical day-to-day politics, I think that’s an important statement,” he said.
“And it’s one that I’m glad to be a party to.”
Earlier, Mr McCain said the US faced “an historic crisis” and no consensus had been reached on a solution.
He said he did not believe the current US$700bn (€476.25bn) rescue plan would be passed and added that America was “running out of time”.
“If we do not act, ever corner of our country will be impacted. We cannot allow this to happen,” he said.
The Arizona senator compared the crisis to the terror attacks of September 11 2001, but said he was confident that a consensus would be reached by Monday morning.
“America this week faces an historic crisis in our financial system. We must pass legislation to address this crisis.
“It has become clear that no consensus has developed to support the Administration’s proposal.
“I do not believe that the plan on the table will pass as it currently stands, and we are running out of time.
“Tomorrow morning, I will suspend my campaign and return to Washington after speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative.
“I have spoken to Senator Obama and informed him of my decision and have asked him to join me.
“I am calling on the president to convene a meeting with the leadership from both houses of Congress, including Senator Obama and myself. It is time for both parties to come together to solve this problem.”
He went on: “We must meet as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans, and we must meet until this crisis is resolved.
“Following September 11th, our national leaders came together at a time of crisis. We must show that kind of patriotism now.
“Americans across our country lament the fact that partisan divisions in Washington have prevented us from addressing our national challenges.
“Now is our chance to come together to prove that Washington is once again capable of leading this country.”