DETROIT (CBS Detroit) - President Barack Obama says General Motors and Chrysler would be history if he hadn't bailed out the then-struggling automakers seven years ago.
After a quick tour of the North American International Auto Show Wednesday, the president stopped to speak to auto workers at the UAW GM Center for Human Resources — taking credit for a resurgence in the industry.
When he wanted to help U.S. carmakers, the president said, many were opposed.
"...We could've done nothing, thrown in the towel, walked away from this industry entirely — and a lot folks suggested we do that. They'd deny it later, but that's what they said at the time," Obama said."Think about what that would've meant for America. GM and Chrysler would not exist today."
He estimates more than a million Americans would've lost their jobs.
"Suppliers and distributors that get their business from those companies would have died off, and if that happened Ford could've gone down, too...Production stopped, factories shuttered, proud companies chopped up, sold off for scraps. And all of you, the men and women who build these companies with your hands, would've been hung out to dry."
His bailout plan, the president said, wasn't even popular in Detroit. "But I said at the time that I didn't run for president to be popular. I ran for president to do what needed to be done, and I placed my bet on you."
"And after visiting auto plants across the Midwest and seeing what you've done firsthand, let me tell you, I would make that same bet any day of the week," the president said, "because factories are humming, business is booming, the American auto industry is all the way back, all the way back!
He said what he saw at the auto show proves that you can care for the environment and create jobs, and "the best cars are made in Detroit."
In a lengthy speech, Obama touched on a range of issues, beginning with the water crisis in Flint.
"...I know that if I was a parent up there, I would be beside myself that my kids' health could be at risk," Obama said. "That's why I declared a Federal Emergency in Flint, to send more resources on top of the assistance we've already put on the ground."
He said the federal government will have Flint's back as the city works through what he called a "terrible tragedy."
"It is a reminder of why you can't shortchange basic services that we provide to our people," Obama said.
As dozens of Detroit teachers protested outside — bemoaning shoddy classroom conditions and demanding input in the governor's reform plan — the president pledged his support for educators.
"We should recruit and support and pay teachers properly," he said.
Earlier, the president dined with Mayor Mike Duggan and Shinoa watch company founder Tom Kartsotis at a local brewery. A visit to Flint isn't on the schedule.
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