Fact Check: Did Ryan get Obama’s GM speech right?

Posted at 1:09 PM, Aug 30, 2012

(CNN/by the CNN Wire Staff) — Paul Ryan on Wednesday night told a story about then-presidential candidate Barack Obama telling automotive workers that government can help keep their plant going — an account that Ryan reportedly got wrong previously.

Did the Wisconsin congressman get it right as he accepted the GOP nomination for vice president at the Republican National Convention?

Ryan discussed Obama’s February 2008 speech at the General Motors plant in Janesville, Wisconsin — a plant that eventually closed. According to Ryan, Obama had said that “if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.”

The statement:

“When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory. A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: ‘I believe that if our government is there to support you, this plant will be here for another hundred years.’ That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day.”

The facts:

First, some context. Ryan reportedly recalled this event incorrectly just days ago, during an August 16 speech in Ohio.

Ryan reportedly alleged that Obama said he’d “keep that plant open,” and therefore broke his promise because the plant closed.

“That plant was shut down in 2009. I remember President Obama visiting it when he was first running, saying he’ll keep that plant open,” Ryan said, according to the Janesville Gazette. “One more broken promise.”

The Detroit News pointed out that Obama made no such promise in the February 13, 2008, speech, and indeed, we’ve seen no account suggesting that Obama did. Here is the quote at issue, according to an account kept by the Council on Foreign Relations:

“I know that General Motors received some bad news yesterday, and I know how hard your governor has fought to keep jobs in this plant. But I also know how much progress you’ve made — how many hybrids and fuel-efficient vehicles you’re churning out,” Obama said. “And I believe that if our government is there to support you, and give you the assistance you need to re-tool and make this transition, that this plant will be here for another hundred years.”

By “bad news,” Obama apparently was referring to GM’s February 12, 2008, announcement that it had a $38.7 billion adjusted net loss for 2007.

So, back on August 16 of this year, it does appear Ryan was wrong for saying Obama promised to keep it open.

The News and the Gazette went further, reporting that the plant halted production in December 2008, and saying that Ryan essentially was criticizing Obama for failing to save a plant that closed before Obama took office.

However, while December 2008 saw the end of the vast majority of the plant’s work, the Gazette itself has reported that the plant didn’t close fully until April 2009. Here’s a timeline:

June 2008: GM announces that the Janesville plant will stop production of medium-duty trucks by the end of 2009, and stop production of large SUVs such as the Chevy Tahoe and Suburban and the GMC Yukon in 2010 or sooner, depending on market demand.

December 23, 2008: SUV production ends, and more than 2,000 GM workers are laid off, according to the Gazette. Medium truck production continues.

April 23, 2009: The plant’s medium-duty assembly line, which produced an Isuzu line, closes, ending vehicle production at the plant and resulting in the loss of 57 production jobs, according to the Gazette.

GM then put the plant on standby, meaning it could reactivate the facility if it decides it needs to ramp up production.

Now, compare Ryan’s Wednesday night statement with the one he gave on August 16. On Wednesday, Ryan said nothing of Obama making a promise, but rather quoted him.

The quote is truncated (in Ryan’s prepared remarks released to the media, an ellipsis replaces the missing words, “give you the assistance you need to re-tool and make this transition”) but essentially is correct.

The only thing Ryan appears to have gotten technically wrong in Wednesday’s version was saying that the plant didn’t last another year. It did last another year — more like 14 months — if the Isuzu line and its 57 workers count.

So, though Ryan might have been incorrect in the August 16 telling, he cleaned it up for Wednesday’s convention. Obama said what Ryan said he said.

But to fairly evaluate Obama’s statement, at least two pieces of context — missing from Ryan’s account — would be useful: First, that Obama wasn’t telling this plant that he’d save it from a pending closure. He wasn’t addressing a plant that he knew to be closing, because the closure announcement didn’t come until four months after his speech. Second, although the plant’s last bit of production stopped early in Obama’s presidency and the plant remains closed, the closure was planned before Obama became president.

Verdict: True, but incomplete.

CNN’s Emily Smith and Jason Hanna contributed to this report.

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