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If the hometown of Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan has had an icon during his lifetime, it was a sprawling General Motors auto assembly plant.
For decades, the Janesville, Wis., plant gave thousands of people a comfortable living. In 1970, the year Ryan was born, it employed 7,000.
Ryan stirred memories of the factory on Aug. 16, 2012, attacking President Barack Obama during a campaign speech in Ohio.
"I remember President Obama visiting it when he was first running, saying he'll keep that plant open. One more broken promise," Ryan said.
He made the same point Aug. 29 during his speech to the Republican National Convention in Tampa:
"My home state voted for President Obama," he said. "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. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight."
Did Obama make such a promise as a candidate and break it after becoming president?
Actually, the plant closed before he even took office.
In 1918, General Motors bought a farm implement manufacturing plant in Janesville, a city of 60,000 near the Illinois border. Production of Chevrolets began there in 1923. Employment peaked at 7,100 in 1978, but a series of five layoffs occurred over the next 30 years.
By December 2008, when President George W. Bush authorized nearly $14 billion in loans to General Motors and Chrysler, both of which were near financial collapse, GM had already warned it might close the Janesville plant because of sagging sport-utility vehicle sales. The plant was effectively shut down on Dec. 23, 2008, when GM ceased production of SUVs there and laid off 1,200 workers. (Several dozen workers stayed on another four months to finish an order of small- to medium-duty trucks for Isuzu Motors.)
So, the plant closed while Bush was still in office, about a month before Obama was inaugurated.
We asked Kevin Seifert, spokesman for Ryan's U.S. House campaign, for evidence that Obama promised to keep the Janesville plant open and failed. (Ryan will be on the November 2012 ballot both for his House seat and as Mitt Romney's running mate.)
Seifert cited this portion of a February 2008 campaign speech then-Sen. Obama gave at the Janesville plant:
"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. The question is not whether a clean energy economy is in our future, it’s where it will thrive. I want it to thrive right here in the United States of America; right here in Wisconsin; and that’s the future I’ll fight for as your president."
That's a statement of belief that, with government help, the Janesville plant could remain open -- but not a promise to keep it open.
Seifert also referred us to Brendan Buck, a spokesman for the Romney-Ryan campaign. Buck cited a Detroit News article on the same speech, saying the article made clear that "it was the takeaway from the event that (Obama) was pledging to keep the plant open if he got his bailout."
That might have been Buck's interpretation. But the article reported that Obama, who later provided an $80 billion auto bailout, had pledged to help keep the Janesville plant and others like it "viable." That's not quite the same thing as pledging keep the Janesville plant open. We find nothing in the article that he explicitly promised to keep it open.
Ryan said Obama broke his promise to keep a Wisconsin GM plant from closing. But we don't see evidence he explicitly made such a promise -- and more importantly, the Janesville plant shut down before he took office.
We rate Ryan's statement False.
Talking Points Memo, "Paul Ryan slams Obama for not saving auto plant that closed under Bush," Aug. 17, 2012
National Review, "Janesville: Ryan vs. Obama," Aug. 21, 2012
USA Today, "Fact-checking Ryan's claim on Obama, GM," Aug. 12, 2012
New York Times, "Paul Ryan and the auto bailout," Aug. 17, 2012
Daily Kos, "Paul Ryan blames Obama for GM plant closed in 2008 under Bush," Aug. 17, 2012
Daily Kos video
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "A year after GM plant closure, Janesville says afloat however it can," Dec. 13, 2009
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Workers punch out," Dec. 22, 2008
Associated Press, "GM plant in Janesville closing for good," April19, 2009
Email interview, Paul Ryan campaign spokesman Kevin Seifert, Aug. 23, 2012
Email interview, Romney-Ryan campaign spokesman Brendan Buck
Janesville Gazette, text of Barack Obama speech in Janesville, Wis., Feb. 13, 2008
Detroit News, "Obama pledges to help auto plants," Feb. 14, 2008
New York Times, "House approves automaker rescue bill," Dec. 10, 2008
PolitiFact, "Obama campaign movie says auto bailout money had run out when he took office," March 19, 2012
FactCheck.org, "Obama 'Road' fim takes some detours," March 21, 2012
Wisconsin Historical Society, Janesville General Motors plant
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