CBS's Erica Hill hounded newly-announced Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Friday's Early Show about his 2008 proposal to allow the Big Three auto companies to go into bankruptcy proceedings instead of bailing them out: "Based on what we've seen in the auto industry, weren't you wrong in this case?" By contrast, her co-anchor, Chris Wragge, went easier on DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Hill interviewed Romney just after the top of the 8 am Eastern hour. After an initial question about his 2008 Republican primary loss to Senator John McCain, the CBS anchor raised the former Massachusetts governor's two-plus-year-old proposal and, like her colleague Dean Reynolds did earlier in the broadcast, touted the apparent success of the Obama administration's bailout of Detroit:
HILL: In 2008, you said, and I'm quoting, 'We should let Detroit go bankrupt.' Today, though, the industry is clearly on the rebound- 115,000 jobs added. Money is being paid back. The President, of course, is in Ohio today highlighting Chrysler. You also accuse the President yesterday of making the recession worse. But based on what we've seen in the auto industry, weren't you wrong in this case? Wasn't it right for both the auto industry and for the American economy to help that industry?
Once Romney gave his initial answer, explaining what he meant in his New York Times opinion piece, Hill pressed him in an attempt to concede his supposed error:
HILL: The companies actually had to go through bankruptcy- but sir, the companies actually had to go through bankruptcy before that bailout.
ROMNEY: Yeah, that's exactly what I said. The headline you read, which said, 'let Detroit go bankrupt,' points out that those companies needed to go through bankruptcy to shed those costs, and the federal government put in, I think, $17 billion into those companies before they finally recognized, yeah, they need to go bankrupt, go through that process, so that they're able to get rid of their excess costs.
HILL: So then- just to be clear, so then are you saying the President took your plan? I'm just- I'm trying to follow here because they did actually go through bankruptcy in 2009. You called the whole process, of everything that was happening, tragic. You said it was a sad circumstance for the country. But yet, it's turned out fairly positive, a lot of folks would say, especially in Detroit.
ROMNEY: Erica, I think you're misunderstanding. What I wrote early on was absolutely right. I said these companies shouldn't be given money up-front by the federal government, like they were by the way, both by President Bush and by President Obama. Instead, they should go through a bankruptcy process, and if they did, they could come out stronger and well. And that's precisely what ultimately happened. So I'm very proud of the fact that, in fact, we called it like it was and that is these companies needed to go through a bankruptcy process, come out through bankruptcy, go back to work, get jobs for the people who had would otherwise have lost jobs, if these companies just trailed on down. And, by the way, we could have saved billions of dollars had we moved to bankruptcy from the very beginning.
Wragge's interview of Rep. Wasserman Schultz immediately followed the Romney segment. The CBS personality first simply asked her for a response to the would-be Republican presidential candidate:
WRAGGE: You just heard the Republican front-runner, Mitt Romney, speaking with Erica [Hill] moments ago, and earlier in the broadcast, said that President Obama has failed America and there he was just kind of going off on a bit of a tangent of- the President putting America on the road to ruin. What are your thoughts and your response to that?
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, Mr. Romney seems to have a puzzling definition of failure. If you look at the track record of President Obama, he has taken this economy from the precipice of disaster and turned things around. And now, we've had 14 straight months of private sector job growth. The manufacturing industry has had job growth for 14 straight months. We were literally bleeding 750,000 jobs a month before he took office. And because of the Recovery Act, because of the investment that we made in the auto industry- I mean, we're going through some revisionist history here that Mr. Romney seems to have, because it was the investments that we made and the bankruptcy combined- and I think the auto industry executives would say that they couldn't have gotten through to the other side and been profitable without both....Fifty percent of the Recovery Act was tax cuts. We've given 17 tax- different tax cuts to small businesses, because that's the engine of job growth, and we continue to move the economy in the right direction. So, I think the American people are going to continue to be responsive to that....
The anchor then actually pressed the DNC chair a bit about whether Mr. Obama should actually be held responsible for the economy at this point in his presidency:
WRAGGE: Also, let me ask you this then: two-and-a-half years into his first term, is this now President Obama's economy in both good and bad terms? Because even you mentioned there the last 14 months of seeing all this growth and whatnot, and I know the party line for a number of months has been, we inherited this, the Bush administration did this. So is now the Bush administration now off the books, and now, can you sit there and say that this is now all the responsibility of this president, both good and bad?
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, there's no question that President Obama inherited, you know, the worst economic disaster of any president in generations. But his policies have continued to- I mean, literally, have helped the economy do a 180, and now, we have continued for 14 straight months to create private sector jobs. We continue to be on the right track, and we need to make sure that we focus on deficit reduction and cutting spending, but do it in a way that makes sure that people engage in shared sacrifice, so that we're not slashing and burning education; so that we're not limiting our ability to out-educate and out-innovate and out-build our competitors; and so that we can make sure that we can really have some prosperity for the long term.
And what the Republicans want to do is end Medicare as we know it, which Governor Romney supports; pile all the hurt on the backs of people who can least afford it in the middle class; and continue to give tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires. That's just unacceptable....
Instead of pursuing her on this answer, Wragge returned to issue of Romney's candidacy and asked whether his explanation about the Massachusetts proto-ObamaCare law which passed under his term as governor passed muster: "Let me ask you this: his argument is, you know what? This is what the people of my state needed at the time, and it was good for the state of Massachusetts at the time. But now, he feels that's not necessarily the best case for the nation...[W]hat's wrong with that? What's wrong with it being good for one state, but not good for the entire country?"
The CBS anchor concluded the interview by raising the Rep. Anthony Weiner controversy. Wragge did repeat his question twice, after the Florida Democrat stated "I think it's a personal matter and that's where it should be left," but probably because his time was up, didn't pursue the matter further other than interjecting, "It's a public matter, though, too."