In his speech yesterday to the United Auto Workers, President Obama made a pointed reference toward a Republican presidential candidate when he said, “Some even said we should ‘let Detroit go bankrupt.'”
It got the predictable reaction from the labor audience, some nine months out from the presidential election.
But was it a “campaign speech”? “Not at all,” claims the White House.
Spokesman Jay Carney was grilled in the afternoon about Obama’s reference and the campaign flavor of the speech.
“I know that you were asked if it was a campaign speech, and you said not at all,” one reporter asked. “But repeatedly the president drew a contrast with Republicans in the speech. I mean, talking about ‘these folks trying to rewrite history,’ ‘these folks who said let Detroit go bankrupt.’ Who is it that said, ‘let Detroit go bankrupt’?”
“Well, I think a number of critics of the president’s decision said that in a variety of ways,” Carney replied.
“Any names of particular folks come to mind?” another reporter pressed.
“You can — I mean, there’s a whole list of people, Ed, who opposed this policy and who oppose it now, although try to alter the way that they suggest that they opposed it,” Carney responded.
“I think one of the reasons why people seem so surprised that you’re saying that the UAW event wasn’t political was because there were at least five specific references to Mitt Romney, although he wasn’t mentioned by name,” Jake Tapper asked later in the briefing. “Two of them were specific quotes from an op-ed he wrote in November 2008. So I guess the question is just this disingenuousness that, no, what are you talking about?”
“Well, look, Jake, first of all, I think many individuals in our public life opposed the auto bailout,” Carney said. “There’s no question.”
“But only one wrote an op-ed called, ‘Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,'” Tapper responded.
“Perhaps — I didn’t read every op-ed. But certainly that sentiment was shared by a number of –”
“You never read that op-ed?”
“I’m not saying I didn’t — I’m not saying — I said I didn’t read every op-ed,” Carney said. “So others may have also certainly shared that sentiment if not the same sentence.”
“All right, but why quote a Republican presidential candidate but refuse to mention his name? I mean, what’s the kabuki there?”
“There’s no — look, you guys have decided that that’s the most important issue — … But what’s your point?” Carney said.
And later, another question: “In his speech today, the President criticized those who had suggested that Detroit be allowed to go bankrupt. Without trying to pull you into the Mitt Romney debate, but in point of fact, they did go through bankruptcy.”
“Well, I want to be clear,” Carney said. “I do understand that former Governor Romney did suggest that that should happen. I’m not suggesting — I’m not pretending otherwise. But the point was that a lot of folks opposed it and took that position at the time.”