At UAW Conference Obama Defends Auto Bailout

Feb 28, 2012

In a speech to a convention of United Auto Workers, President Obama vigorously defended his administration's bailout of the auto industry.

Without naming his Republican opponents, a combative President Obama took shots at their opposition to the bailout.

"It's been funny to watch some of these folks completely try to rewrite history, now that you're back on your feet," Obama said. At first, Obama said, Republicans opposed the auto bailout saying it would mark the end of the American auto industry. Then, he said, after the bailout turned out to be a success, they said his administration did it to bail out the union.

"Now, they're saying we were right all along," he said. "Even by the standards of this time, that's a load of you know what."

With the Michigan primaries today, the auto industry bailout has come back into the spotlight. As we reported earlier, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is even running a robocall campaign that criticizes former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for opposing the auto bailout.

President Obama touted the fact that the industry is back on its feet.

"I placed my bet on the American worker and I'll make that bet any day of the week," said Obama.

The president also touched on the broader issue of income inequality. He criticized Republicans for what he said was their way of thinking of "hard working men and women" as a special interest."

"I keep on hearing these same folks talk about values all the time," he said. "You want to talk about values? Hard work-- that's a value. Looking out for one another, that's a value. The idea that we're all in it together and I am my brother's and sister's keeper that's a value.

"They're out there talking about you like you're some kind of special interest that needs to be beaten down.

"Not to put too fine a point on it. They are wrong," he said. "That's the philosophy that got us into this mess. We can't afford to go back to it. Not now."

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

President Obama told unionized auto workers today the gamble he took in rescuing their industry is paying off. The president delivered a feisty and partisan speech at an autoworkers convention, just as Michigan voters go to the polls to choose his Republican opponent.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I placed my bet on the American worker. And I'll make that bet any day of the week.


CORNISH: NPR's Scott Horsley reports that support from the UAW and other unions could be crucial for President Obama's re-election campaign.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: In the weeks leading up to today's Michigan primary, Republican presidential hopefuls have been criticizing President Obama for his decision to rescue Chrysler and GM. Mr. Obama pushed back today at an autoworkers' meeting in Washington. He says a million people would have lost their jobs, factories would have been shuttered, and whole communities would have suffered had it not been for the government's auto rescue.

OBAMA: That wasn't originally what I thought I was going to be doing as president.


OBAMA: But you know what? I did run to make the tough calls and do the right things.


OBAMA: No matter what the politics were.


HORSLEY: The risky government rescue looks better in hindsight. The big three automakers are profitable and hiring again. The industry has added some 200,000 workers. And Mr. Obama crowed about the good-looking American cars now rolling off the assembly line, like the Chevy Volt that he almost test drove at a GM plant in Hamtramck, Michigan.

OBAMA: Even though Secret Service wouldn't let me drive it.


OBAMA: But I liked sitting in it.


OBAMA: It was nice. I'll bet it drives real good.


OBAMA: And five years from now, when I'm not president any more, I'll buy one and drive it myself.


HORSLEY: The friendly union audience seemed happy to keep Mr. Obama out of that driver's seat for the time being, if that's the price of keeping him in the White House.


AUDIENCE: Four more years. Four more years...

HORSLEY: The UAW is already running voter registration drives in auto plants. And union president Bob King says his 400,000 members will be actively involved in the president's re-election campaign.

BOB KING: We don't have the money that the opposition has, but we do have the heart and we do have the people.

HORSLEY: UAW support for the president is hardly surprising. Many autoworkers owe their jobs to the government rescue he engineered.

Not so long ago, though, other unions were less enthusiastic about Mr. Obama. After campaigning hard for his election in 2008, some were frustrated by the lack of progress on key priorities such as Card Check, a law that would have made it easier to unionize new workplaces.

With the 2012 election now approaching, though, unions in general are beginning to rally around the president. Berkeley labor expert Harley Shaiken suggests that's partly the result of Mitt Romney's fiercely anti-union rhetoric, along with efforts by some Republican governors to limit collective bargaining rights.

PROFESSOR HARLEY SHAIKEN: The offensive against labor that began in Wisconsin and spread to Ohio and elsewhere is now coming home to roost in terms of an energized and very positive labor movement supporting the president.

HORSLEY: The union that represents state and local government workers has already spent one-and-a-half million dollars on ads targeting Romney. And the leader of just one UAW local is promising to make more than 40,000 phone calls on the president's behalf.

Mr. Obama welcomed that support today.

OBAMA: As long as you've got an ounce of fight left in you, I'll have a ton of fight left in me.


HORSLEY: The presidents says autoworkers have already shown the rest of the country what's possible by never giving up and by emerging from the Chrysler and GM bankruptcies stronger than before.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.