Behind the Scenes

Paulson on McCain's Crazy Gambit

Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson recounts the high-pressure days in September 2008 when the entire financial system teetered on the edge of collapse in his new memoir, On the Brink, excerpted in The Wall Street Journal. Paulson recalls making the case to Congress for the Troubled Asset Relief Program when an aide passed a note saying John McCain was suspending his campaign in order to work on the crisis. Paulson thought it was crazy, and feared McCain’s gambit would send the economy into a tailspin. But it was McCain’s own campaign that faltered when he didn’t deliver at the meeting he had planned. Democrats set up their own political trap, with Obama saying a deal was almost ready when McCain sailed in to kill it. President Bush then asked McCain to speak, but, bizarrely, he demurred. The meeting devolved into chaos. Finally, Obama again asked for McCain’s thoughts. “As he spoke, I could see Obama chuckling,” Paulson says. “McCain's comments were anticlimactic, to say the least.” Congressional leaders began talking over each other. “It got so ridiculous that Vice President Cheney started laughing. Frankly, I'd never seen anything like it before... Finally, the president just stood up and said: ‘Well, I've clearly lost control of this meeting. It's over.’”