GM hot seat shifts to Senate

A day after being grilled by lawmakers in the House for more than two hours, General Motors CEO Mary Barra will have to face the Senate on Wednesday.

The GM chief is scheduled to testify before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee on consumer protection and product safety, as Congress continues its investigation of the Detroit-based auto company’s handling of widespread recalls of millions of its vehicles, after a dangerous ignition failure was detected.

The Senate committee will be led by Democrats, but Barra is likely to face the same pressure as she did in Tuesday’s House hearing, where lawmakers in both parties accused GM of taking too long to recall the defective cars.

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The cars in question are, in some cases, more than a decade old, and Democrats and Republicans wasted no time pointing to the timeline in Tuesday’s House and Energy Commerce subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing.

“GM knew about this problem in 2001,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.). “They were warned again and again over the next decade, but they did nothing.”

Republicans were equally as eager to rake Barra over the coals for the GM’s handling of the recalls.

“As soon as the Chevy Cobalt rolled off the production line in 2004, customers began filing complaints about the ignition switch,” said Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), the chairman of the House subpanel.

“According to GM's public statements, it wasn't until December 2013 the company finally put the pieces together and linked the problems with the airbags with the faulty ignition switch almost 10 years after customers first told GM the Cobalt ignition switch didn't work,” Murphy said.

Barra told lawmakers in the House she was “deeply sorry” for the accidents that have been linked to the faulty ignition switches, which have caused more than 10 deaths.

She took pains to distance herself from decisions that were made at the auto company before she took over as chief executive, even as she painted her as a responsive leader.

"This is an extraordinary situation. It involves vehicles we no longer make, but it came to light on my watch, so I'm responsible for resolving it,” Barra told the panel. “When we have answers, we will be fully transparent with you, with our regulators and with our customers.”

Wednesday’s hearing in the Senate is scheduled to be led by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).