Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to the National Automobile Dealers Association meeting in New Orleans. (Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
New Orleans —Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised General Motors Co.’s recent appointment of Mary Barra to the position of chief executive during a speech Monday.
Clinton also said she still doesn’t know if she’ll run for president in 2016, and that her biggest regret as secretary of state was the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. Her remarks were made to about 4,000 auto dealers and other auto industry workers at the annual National Automobile Dealers Association convention.
Barra is the first woman to lead an automaker.
“You could say she broke through the steel ceiling, not the glass ceiling,” Clinton said. “I congratulate GM for doing something that was based on merit, which happened to be selecting a female CEO.
“I was pleased, because we have a lot of women in the corporate pipeline who have been working in their industries for a long time and are now finally in a position where they can be given the opportunity for leadership like Mary Barra,” Clinton said. “I think it sends a really good signals to little girls and little boys.”
Clinton called for continued investment from manufacturers in other areas of the world, saying growth in other countries can be beneficial to the United States.
“Revenues from foreign sales help not only U.S. automakers, but foreign automakers who do business in our country,” she said. “We see the increase in sales lead to investments in R&D and infrastructure.”
Clinton also cited the 80 percent “surge” in automotive exports from the U.S. since 2009.
During a question-and-answer session with outgoing NADA chairman Dave Westcott that followed her speech, she said her biggest regret as secretary of state — a role she filled from 2009 to 2013 — was the attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012 that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya. She called it a “terrible tragedy.”
The former first lady said her proudest moment was when she made the recommendation in 2011 to the Navy SEALs to execute a raid of a compound in Pakistan to find Osama bin Laden.
“I didn’t want to be overly anxious,” she said. “But as I studied the evidence and I talked with (former CIA director) Leon Panetta and with the CIA, I thought we could not get a better combination for taking action.”
She praised the execution of the raid even after one of the helicopters clipped its tail on the walls surrounding the compound, forcing the SEALs to destroy the chopper — but not before escorting the women and children of the compound to safety.
“Here they are, they know they’ve got to get out of there, they are living on borrowed time, people are waking up in the houses nearby,” Clinton said. “And they still took the time to do that.”
Clinton is the latest in a long line of politicians who have spoken at NADA conventions. Others include former President George W. Bush in 2012 and former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton in 2009. Former President Gerald R. Ford spoke to the group in 1988.
Hillary Rodham Clinton dealt with auto issues regularly as a senator and presidential candidate. In 2007, she proposed hiking fuel economy standards to a combined fleetwide average of 55 miles per gallon by 2030. She wrote the bill signed into law that mandates better rear-visibility standards. The Obama administration has been considering requiring rear cameras in all new vehicles in setting the new standards, though it has repeatedly delayed final regulations.