Roy Blunt: McCain is with the House GOP in trying to protect American taxpayers; Update: Video added

He stops short of saying McCain supports their plan, but that’s not really the point. If it ever was.

Blunt, seen as a seasoned hand who will smooth differences between the camps, didn’t say if the Arizona senator backed their market-based approach [“Certainly… he might be supportive”] — but suggested McCain agreed the whole process needed to be slowed down.

“Everybody else seemed to be rushing for a deal and John McCain came back and said, ‘Wait a minute, I think the House Republicans have the taxpayers in mind and I’m with them,'” Blunt, the minority whip said.

He also indicated that many in his caucus would be satisfied with the addition of some of their proposals “here and there,” and said “almost all” — but not every — member of the House GOP believed the economy was on the brink of collapse.

That’ll make for a lovely Democratic talking point this weekend if House Republicans continue to balk while the economy, now by their own admission, teeters at the abyss.

Maverick’s playing chicken with Pelosi here, obviously. If she can be spooked into pushing the bill through the House without the support of the House GOP, he gets the best of both worlds. Wall Street gets bailed out, (hopefully) averting a collapse for which Republicans would surely be blamed, and he gets to play the populist fiscal conservative by crowing about how he couldn’t in good conscience support a bill that taxpayers oppose by majority or near-majority numbers. If she isn’t spooked and decides to call his bluff by walking away, then Monday’s going to be a mighty interesting day at the stock market. Although I suppose in that case McCain could lean on Boehner et al. over the weekend to change their minds and support the plan in return for a few face-saving cosmetic changes, with Maverick himself remaining in opposition but softening his criticism of the bill to make things easier on Pelosi. Something’s going to pass; the political fallout of inaction is simply too risky for all parties involved.

Exit question: Where does this leave The One? Will we find out tonight that, surprise surprise, he’s developed some eleventh-hour misgivings about the burden on taxpayers too?

Update: If you believe ABC, it’s not McCain who’s playing chicken with Pelosi. It’s Blunt, claiming support from McCain that may not really exist.

McCain, who had threatened to skip tonight’s presidential debate unless a deal was set, was even more blunt when he met with the Republican Party’s leadership caucus this morning.

“We need a deal. We need a deal. We need a deal,” he said according to a senior House leadership aide.

How long will this standoff have to drag on before Maverick has to take a side?

Update: Here’s Blunt. If he’s spinning what McCain actually said, he’s really painting him into a corner.

Update: A fair point from TNR. Public opposition to the bailout might be partisan-driven, and as party positions on the deal shift, so might those polls.