Lawmakers visiting Detroit auto show drive Tea Party protesters

Lawmakers visiting Detroit auto show drive Tea Party protesters

Detroit will become a political battleground on Monday as lawmakers and activists descend on the city for its international auto show.

A delegation of Democratic lawmakers, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), will travel to Motown on Monday for the opening day of closed-door previews for the media, industry officials and other VIPs. They will be met, though, by conservative "Tea Party" activists, who plan to rally against the show.


The scene will represent one of the highest-profile demonstrations of the political battle over the bailouts for Chrysler and General Motors, nearly a year after the U.S. government provided tens of billions of dollars to prop up the companies.

Pelosi will travel to Detroit along with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and a bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers with an interest in the auto industry. The group comes at the invitation of Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), a longtime advocate for the auto industry.

“We want to see firsthand the innovative technologies the industry is investing in to create the jobs of the future and to ensure our national competitiveness," Pelosi said in a statement ahead of her visit. "We go to Detroit with our commitment to continue to preserve our manufacturing base, which is essential to our economic and national security."

The delegation will tour the GM and Chrysler exhibits at the show with the CEOs of both companies, and will also tour Ford's exhibits with that company's executives. Ford has managed to avoid turning to the government for help through its own restructuring efforts. The delegation will also tour alternative energy exhibits, followed by a press conference at the end of the day.

But while Democrats may be looking for signs of progress in the troubled industry, conservatives will look to paint the show as an example of government intrusion into the industry.

Activists plan a rally to protest the Democrats' visit and the government's support for the companies.

"What Michigan needs is a responsible auto industry that can become profitable, self-sustainable and efficient in ways that provide more private jobs and economic success," the Tea Partiers said in a Facebook invitation to their rally. "Please join us in Detroit on Monday, January 11th, to make a peaceful yet clear statement against Government takeover of America."

In the past year, the Obama administration gave Chrysler and GM billions from the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program approved by Congress in 2008. The U.S. lent GM roughly $52 billion in aid over the past year, in exchange for the company's restructuring, which, in turn, led to the termination of two of its top executives in the past year. The government is now the majority stakeholder in GM. The government also gave Chrysler about $7 billion in assistance, which will finance the historic automaker's acquisition by the Italian automaker Fiat.

The bulk of Republicans had opposed the bailouts to the companies, which they derided as a handout, as well as the Obama administration's large labor constituency associated with the companies. Democrats had defended the bailouts as a necessary if distasteful measure to maintain a traditional staple of the American manufacturing sector.

The arguments over those bailouts and evidence of whether the companies are making progress toward returning to profitability will be showcased Monday at the show, considered one of, if not the, premier auto show in the world.

Freshman Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) told the Detroit News that he hoped the leaders' visits would help dispel negative impressions about the companies.

"I certainly confront a lot of misinformation on a regular basis," he said.

The yearly auto show, which showcases the newest models and concepts from foreign and domestic automakers, opens to the public on Saturday, Jan. 16.