McCain and Obama cross paths in the Senate

As the Wall Street bailout passes, the presidential candidates have a brief encounter.

Published October 2, 2008 1:49AM (EDT)

WASHINGTON -- The best moment during the Senate's mini-vote-a-rama Wednesday evening didn't come from either Barack Obama or John McCain, though both were back at their day jobs (even if it was nighttime on the East Coast) to join the Senate in passing a $700 billion bailout for Wall Street.

No, by far the most interesting, the strangest, the most truly Washington scene on the Senate floor Wednesday night was when Ted Stevens (currently on trial in a federal court a few blocks from the Capitol) walked up the aisle toward Joe Lieberman (currently campaigning for McCain/counting down until Nov. 5, when his colleagues are very likely to boot him out of the Senate Democratic caucus), lifted his arm and gave him ... a fist bump. Also known, of course, as a terrorist fist jab.

There were two unrelated roll-call votes before a vote on adopting the bipartisan bailout compromise plan (and then a final vote after that on passing the bill), which passed 74-25. (Only Ted Kennedy wasn't there.) So most lawmakers were on the floor for the better part of an hour and a half. Each of the presidential candidates hung out with his allies -- for Obama, Joe Biden, Dick Durbin, Debbie Stabenow, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, among others; for McCain, Jon Kyl, Lindsey Graham, John Thune and Mel Martinez. Obama stood and talked with Biden for a while, slapping him on his back during a conversation. At one point, Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican from Texas, walked over to schmooze with Obama. (Also, at one point, Larry Craig walked over to chat with McCain, who sort of edged away.) The whole scene felt a bit like the end of summer camp; members in tough reelection races seemed to get more attention than others, and there was more than your usual supply of senatorial bonhomie going around.

There was a very brief Obama-McCain encounter -- Obama walked over toward McCain, standing in the aisle on the Republican side of the floor, and reached out his hand for a shake. But McCain, unlike Obama, didn't spend much time in the Senate chamber and, also unlike Obama, didn't speak about the legislation. (At this point, you'd probably have to consider that part of a strategy of cutting his political losses as far as the bailout plan goes.) McCain had dinner with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell before the series of votes started (a Tex-Mex buffet, other GOP lawmakers told a horde of reporters who gathered outside looking for sad little details), and retreated back to McConnell's office with a few close confidants between votes.

When it came time for the bailout plan, the clerk called the roll and each senator sat at his or her desk to cast a vote -- a rare formal procedure that added a sense of drama to the night. By alphabetical order, Biden was the first of the three national candidates who would have voted, but he was in the Democratic cloakroom when they called his name. When the clerk called McCain's name, he stood briefly, softly said, "Aye," and sat back down. Obama didn't stand up to vote; he barely looked up from his BlackBerry when he answered "Aye." Biden showed up a bit later at his seat in the back row on the Democratic side and called out an "Aye" that they could probably hear in Sedona, Ariz., where Sarah Palin is prepping for their debate Thursday.

And that more or less wrapped up the Senate's share of the 110th Congress and, along with it, the Senate career of either Obama or McCain.

By Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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