A new book by White House auto czar Steven Rattner reveals that the White House was hands-on in day-to-day GM decision-making even as President Obama fibbed to the public that “our goal is to . . . take a hands-off approach, and get out quickly.”
The Washington meddling ran the gamut from personnel decisions to financing options to a veto of GM’s proposal to abandon its Detroit headquarters, Rattner discloses in Overhaul: An Insider’s Account of the Obama Administration’s Emergency Rescue of the Auto Industry.
GM proposed moving out if its Detroit’s Renaissance Center HQ to its sprawling suburban tech center, arguing that the move would save money and would symbolize a commitment by top brass to be more involved in the company.
But the “hands-off” White House snuffed the idea, opting to protect Detroit — a key political constituency of the Democratic Party. “Are you out of your mind?” Rattner quoted Brian Deese, who has been heavily involved in auto policy, as saying. “Think what it would do to Detroit.”
The Detroit News has the details:
The White House even commissioned an outside analysis of the impact a move would have on Detroit property values, Rattner wrote. The answer: an estimated “double-digit hit on already deflated real estate prices.”
Leaving the RenCen “made a lot of strategic sense,” Rattner wrote. But Michigan native Gene Sperling, a U.S. Treasury Department official, was one of many who fought the idea.
“It’s over for Detroit if you do this,” Sperling yelled in a meeting, Rattner recalled. “Don’t do this to (Detroit Mayor) Dave Bing… He’s a good man trying to do a good thing.”
The request was passed up the chain to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, “and word came down that the move would be a bridge too far,” Rattner wrote.