It’s the defining moment of Thursday’s breakdown in negotiations:
In the Roosevelt Room after the session, the Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., literally bent down on one knee as he pleaded with Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, not to “blow it up” by withdrawing her party’s support for the package over what Ms. Pelosi derided as a Republican betrayal.
“I didn’t know you were Catholic,” Ms. Pelosi said, a wry reference to Mr. Paulson’s kneeling, according to someone who observed the exchange. She went on: “It’s not me blowing this up, it’s the Republicans.”
Mr. Paulson sighed. “I know. I know.”
But if it was the Republicans’ fault, why was Paulson pleading with Pelosi?
The answer is that the Democrats have a majority in the House, and that with the bipartisan support in the Senate, and the full backing of the White House, the bailout bill could, in theory, be pushed through even without the support of the House Republicans.
Pelosi, however, made it clear all along that she wouldn’t do that: without bipartisan support, no deal. Politically, her decision makes all the sense in the world: she doesn’t want to let the Republicans have their cake (a nice $700 billion bailout bill) and eat it (the luxury of criticizing Washington pork and being able to say that you voted against it). From an economic perspective, however, Pelosi’s decision could be very harmful. And so Paulson was making a last-ditch, desperate effort to ask her to change her mind — since he clearly felt he was closer to her than he was to the House Republicans. Maybe it’s a Rich Coastal Elite thing.