Bailout Causes Pols to Lose Footing, Cool

As negotiations crumbled irreparably during the bailout summit yesterday Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson -- reeling from the embarrassing walk-out by his own party -- was taken hold by desperation and, on the floor of the Roosevelt Room, did what any self-respecting head of department would do: he got on his knees.

Paulson, a former chief executive of Goldman Sachs, got down on one knee in front of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and begged her not to "blow it up" by withdrawing support.

"I didn't know you were Catholic," Pelosi quipped. "It's not me blowing this up, it's the Republicans."

Paulson, who sighed, said, "I know. I know."

The vignette was a just one act taken from the Tom Stoppard 'Coast of Utopia' school of political theater that had nearly all participants begging for intermission during the relentless all-day slug-fest in Washington yesterday. By the end of it, each party returned to its respective corner a little less sane, gaving dueling pressers and continuing to point fingers at one another late into the night.  

When President Bush addressed reporters he sounded more like he belonged at the helm of Spaceball I than the leader of the free world discussing the future of the U.S. financial markets.

"If this money isn't loosened up," he said, "this sucker could go down."

And of course there was Johnny-come-lately McCain who jet-setted into Washington on the "Straight Talk Express" mid-bailout discussion. Before Team McCain even caught a whiff of jet  fuel at Newark Airport, Democrats and Republicans had already announced that a tentative deal had been struck -- although that proved premature.  

Ultimately, his bumbling attempt at heroics was viewed by some as an act of sabotage, hubris and -- yes -- political theater. Majority leader Harry Reid among others were not shy about letting their opinions on it be known. 

"If we lose progress on this because of one person, that's John McCain," Reid said. "He's standing in the way."

It was a day when photo-ops were sandwiched in between out-right partisan brawls that couldn't be contained -- offering a rare and at times humorous glimpse into Washington.

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