Obama rejects McCain's call to postpone debate

US Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) makes a statement to the press about his campaign following a telephone conversation with his opponent, Republican Senator John McCain, in Clearwater, Florida, September 24, 2008. REUTERS/Jason Reed

CLEARWATER, Florida (Reuters) - Democrat Barack Obama on Wednesday rejected opponent John McCain’s call to postpone the first U.S. presidential debate to work on legislation dealing with the worst U.S. financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Obama made the statement shortly after McCain, a Republican senator from Arizona, called for Friday’s debate to be postponed and said he would suspend his campaign to help work out agreement among lawmakers on a proposed $700 billion financial bailout plan.

“What I’m planning to do now is debate on Friday,” Obama said from the hotel where he has been preparing for the debate.

“It’s my belief that this is exactly the time when the American people need to hear from the person who in approximately 40 days will be responsible for dealing with this mess,” he said. “I think that it is going to be part of the president’s job to deal with more than one thing at once.”

Obama said he had told congressional leaders who are trying to hammer out an agreement on the bailout plan that he was prepared to go to Washington if it would help.

“What is important is that we don’t suddenly infuse Capitol Hill with presidential politics.”

Obama said he called McCain early on Wednesday to suggest the two presidential candidates issue a joint statement aimed at taking a bipartisan approach to the bailout plan.

McCain called him back this afternoon and said he was interested in issuing a statement.

Obama said he was surprised that McCain made the announcement that he was suspending his campaign and wanted to postpone the debate. Obama said he thought the two men would first issue the joint statement before making any other moves.

Reporting by Deborah Charles and Ross Colvin, editing by David Alexander