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A new book says President-elect Barack Obama's economic team "quietly urged" the Bush administration to rescue the U.S. auto industry.

In "Believer: My 40 Years in Politics" (Penguin Press), former White House senior adviser David Axelrod writes at "our quiet urging, (President George W.) Bush had agreed to provide just enough loans from the (Troubled Asset Relief Program) to keep GM and Chrysler alive for a few more months." Those conversations took place in the run-up to Bush's December 2008 decision to give $25 billion to automakers and their suppliers during the final weeks of his presidency.

Axlerod says that later, during a March 2009 meeting when Obama was deciding whether to extend a new bailout to Chrysler LLC — as part of a tie-up with Fiat SpA — that "fresh polling data showed that a majority of voters (in Michigan) opposed any federal aid for the auto companies. Nationally, the numbers ran three-to-one against a bailout. I wasn't urging the president to walk away, but I wanted him to understand what he was walking into."

During that meeting, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs — a former aide to Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing — "spoke powerfully about specific towns in the industrial Midwest that, wholly dependent on the auto industry, would be wiped out by the collapse of GM and Chrysler."

Obama said he understood the polling. "People look at these automakers, who have made a series of bad decisions over a long period of time, and ask why the American taxpayer should throw them a lifeline," he said, according to Axelrod.

But Obama said a million jobs were at risk including in the supply chain. "We'd lose two iconic American companies. I mean, we invented the auto industry. That's a big deal. No blank checks."

The Obama administration has sought to distance itself from the Bush administration actions, and Obama has repeatedly argued that taxpayers recovered all of the money he infused into the auto industry — by not counting the Bush administration's initial $25 billion.

In a Detroit News interview in January, Obama noted the government recovered all but $9.3 billion of the auto bailout, but said his administration had recovered $70 billion — more than the $57 billion his administration invested. Obama's tally didn't include the money extended by the Bush administration.

"It's been a good deal for the American taxpayer. It's been a good deal for autoworkers. It's been a good deal for America and it saved about a million jobs," Obama said in that January interview.

Asked then if Bush's administration was to blame for the losses, Obama declined to "second guess" the actions of the Bush officials.

Obama's team put a plan together, he said, "that was not just writing a check but insisting on collaboration between management and workers and suppliers and dealers and shareholders, where everybody had to make some sacrifices. There was clear-eyed recognition that we couldn't sustain business as usual. That's what made this successful. If it had been just about putting more money in without restructuring these companies, we would have seen perhaps some of the bleeding slowed but we wouldn't have cured the patient."

In a trip to Michigan last month, Obama highlighted what was one of his toughest decisions made in the early months of his presidency when he visits Ford Motor Co.'s Michigan Assembly plant in Wayne.

"The auto industry has led a resurgence of manufacturing in America. The quality of the cars has gotten so much better that we are competitive — not just in SUVs — but up and down the line. The branding of American cars is back to where it should be. Michigan's unemployment rate has fallen faster than the overall unemployment rate," Obama said.

The auto industry — including manufacturers, dealers and suppliers — has added more than 400,000 jobs since the industry hit bottom in June 2009 and auto sales in 2014 hit 16.5 million — their highest level since 2006.

In the January interview, Obama said, "The question was not, 'Do we intervene?' The question was, 'Do we intervene in a way that actually spurs the sort of restructuring that gives American automakers the chance to get back in the game.'"

dshepardson@detroitnews.com

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