Romney: "I'll take a lot of credit" for auto industry revival

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney listens to a question from a supporter at a town hall-style meeting in Euclid, Ohio, Monday, May 7, 2012.
AP

Updated at 3:34 p.m. ET

(CBS News) Mitt Romney has been defending his opposition to the government bailout of the auto industry for years, explaining that his support for a "managed bankruptcy" was indeed the right course.

On Monday, the presumed Republican presidential candidate went so far as to say, "I'll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry's come back."

"My own view, by the way, was that the auto companies needed to go through bankruptcy before government help. And frankly, that's finally what the president did. He finally took them through bankruptcy. That was the right course I argued for from the very beginning," Romney said in an interview with WEWS-TV in Cleveland.

Romney blamed President Obama and the United Auto Workers for delaying the idea of bankruptcy. "I pushed the idea of a managed bankruptcy, and finally when that was done and help was given, the companies got back on their feet," he said.

General Motors and Chrysler were restructured as part of the $85 billion government bailout of the industry, which started under President George W. Bush's leadership and was extended after Mr. Obama took office. Some analysts have claimed more than 1 million jobs were saved by the bailout.

Romney opposed the bailout, and penned a 2008 op-ed titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." He has explained, however, that letting the auto companies go bankrupt wouldn't mean liquidating them, "but allowing them to go to the bankruptcy court to reorganize and come out stronger. That's what happened."

Romney later said "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" was the wrong headline for his op-ed -- "How to Save Detroit" would have been more appropriate, he told the Detroit Free Press editorial board.

Romney says he would have given banks federal loan guarantees so they could loan Detroit the necessary money, instead of having the government offer the loan directly. But the financial crisis created an environment in 2008 in which banks were reticent to give huge loans to the auto companies, and the White House insists the private capital wasn't there to save the companies.

The bailout of the auto industry -- and who should take credit for the industry's revival -- will be a significant issue in the presidential election, given the industry's importance in key states like Michigan and Ohio.

Romney is campaigning in Michigan today for the first time since February. Mr. Obama won Michigan by 16 points in 2008, and the state hasn't voted for a Republican since 1988. Still, the Romney camp could have an opening there, given his ties to the state. Romney's father, George Romney, was the chief executive of American Motors decades ago and later served as governor of Michigan.

The Obama campaign today slammed Romney for his remarks.

"This is a candidate who will literally say anything, who thinks that his record and his statements don't matter, who thinks that he can reinvent himself in front of any new political audience that he's in front of with the magical power of the Etch-A-Sketch," Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt told reporters on a conference call. "There've been a lot of unbelievable statements during this campaign from this candidate, but this may be most preposterous of them all."

In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, United Auto Workers (UAW) President Bob King and former Democratic Ohio governor Ted Strickland blasted Romney for his claims, which King hammered as "out of touch with reality."

"By now you've all heard the ridiculous comments just repeated that Mitt Romney made in Ohio last night in which he tried to take credit for something he opposed with every fiber of his being - emergency rescue for the American auto industry," said King. "Mitt Romney has made a long list of absurd statements but this one might be at the top of that list. This one is hard to believe. The statement is tone deaf and blind to reality."

"Mitt Romney is just plain wrong," King added. "He is out of touch with reality."