Obama: GOP candidates would have let auto industry 'go under'

Obama: GOP candidates would have let auto industry 'go under'
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President Obama on Wednesday knocked the Republican candidates vying to replace him next year for being "dead set" against bailing out the U.S. auto industry in 2008 and 2009. 

"It's strange to watch people try to outdo each other in talking about how bad things are. But remember...these are the same folks that would've let this industry go under," he said during a speech to the United Auto Workers union in Detroit.  

"This is the crowd that was dead set against betting on you and your hard work and your professional and your skills," Obama added. 

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Obama spoke after visiting the North American International Auto Show in an effort to tout the U.S. auto industry's turnaround under his watch.

He cast the federal government's $80 billion bailout of General Motors and Chrysler as a fundamental difference between Democrats and the Republicans who are running for the White House.

"These are some of the same folks who back in Washington called our plan to save the auto industry 'the road to socialism,' " he said. "They said it was going to be a 'disaster;' said 'they'll run it into the ground.'Those are quotes by the way, I'm not making that up. Look it up."   

The auto bailouts began in 2008 under former President George W. Bush, but the Obama administration placed conditions on the assistance in 2009, including the high-profile removal of GM's general manager. 

Ford was the only major U.S. automaker that did not take a bailout from the federal government when the money was distributed in 2008 and 2009. 

The auto bailouts were a central issue in Obama's 2012 reelection bid, when Democrats reminded voters often of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s 2008 op-ed arguing against the bailout, titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”  

Obama sought to paint the 2016 Republicans with the same brush on Wednesday.

"When I hear, today, some of these folks running for president, who can’t bring themselves to admit what you guys have accomplished, I don’t want you to take that seriously," he told the autoworkers.  "Because when you ignore the progress we’ve made, then you’re not going to make good choices about where we need to go in the future."

The industry, as well as the administration's highway safety regulators, are under fire after widespread recalls at companies including General Motors and airbag manufacturer Takata. The recalls, which began in 2014, involved parts that were first found to be defective years ago.

The issue of car safety returned to the spotlight after recent revelations that German automaker Volkswagen had been cheating federal pollution emission standards.

Critics have attributed the spike in recalls to lax oversight of the auto industry by the Obama administration.

The Department of Transportation said last week it has reached a "historic" agreement with U.S. automakers on a set of principles for safety improvements after the spike in recalls in recent years. 

The agreement calls for automakers to work together with federal regulators to achieve four goals: enhancing and facilitating "proactive safety," enhancing "analysis and examination of early warning reporting data," maximizing "safety recall participation rates" and enhancing "automotive cybersecurity."

Obama said little about the series of auto recalls on Wednesday, but he touted his administration's pledge earlier this week to spend $4 billion on testing self-driving cars.

"When I was over at the auto show, I saw plug-in hybrids and electrics and fuel-efficient cars that can protect our planet, save people money at the pump. You’re working on self-driving cars that one day could prevent accidents and save lives," he said.  

"This year, my administration is going to take steps to get more of those cars on the road," Obama continued. "Right here at GM and UAW, we’re teaming up to train American workers for the good-paying jobs of the future." 

-This story was updated with new information at 5:53 p.m.