McCain reverses course, heads to Mississippi for debate

WASHINGTON — Republican John McCain will participate tonight in the first presidential debate after all, reversing his decision two days ago to suspend his campaign while Congress negotiates a proposed $700 billion bailout of Wall Street.

A statement released Friday morning by McCain's campaign said he was "optimistic that there has been significant progress toward a bipartisan agreement" and that "the McCain campaign is resuming all activities and the senator will travel to the debate this afternoon."

No agreement on a bailout had been reached as of mid-day Friday, and negotiations were continuing. An "agreement in principle" announced Thursday morning by most of the parties involved collapsed when House Republicans balked and offered up a last-minute alternative that already had been rejected by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Democrats and many Senate Republicans.

McCain's announcement that he'll debate in Mississippi Friday night at 9 p.m. EDT came after Democrat Barack Obama had made clear that he intended to appear at the debate with or without McCain, and after the debate commission indicated it would not reschedule the debate.

McCain's announcement Wednesday that he wouldn't debate until the bailout talks produced a deal was met with immediate accusations that he was trying to duck the debate to avoid questions about his recent comment that the U.S. economy was fundamentally sound, or about the global economic crisis occurring during a Republican administration.

Moreover, McCain has never been a leader in the Senate on financial policy, is not a member of the Senate Banking Committee that's negotiating the bailout terms and had not been involved in those negotiations until Thursday, when they blew up. At McCain's request, President Bush called McCain and Obama to the White House on Thursday to talk about the financial crisis along with congressional leaders.

The statement from the McCain campaign said that "following the debate, he will return to Washington to ensure that all voices and interests are represented in the final agreement, especially those of taxpayers and homeowners."