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Retiring Sen. Reid backed auto bailout, Detroit

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid — who was a key supporter of the $85 billion auto bailout but sparred with automakers over higher fuel efficiency standards — said Friday he will not seek re-election in 2016.

The move means the Nevada Democrat is likely to be succeeded by someone with close ties to the auto industry: Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who represents auto facilities and has worked with automakers and the United Auto Workers union. He has met often with U.S. auto CEOs — and was also a strong advocate of the auto bailout.

Reid was a forceful advocate for saving General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC in 2008 and then argued that the entire industry could have disappeared.

"Isn't it a good thing today in America that we have an automobile manufacturing sector? If it had been up to them, General Motors would be gone. If it were up to them, Ford Motor Company would probably be gone. Chrysler definitely would be gone," Reid said on the Senate floor in July 2010 chiding Republicans. "We decided that they need help, just like New York City needed help 25 years ago."

But he took them to task as well. Reid in 2009 said Obama had sent GM and Chrysler "back to the drawing board. ...We will not give these companies a blank check," Reid said, praising "his administration for showing a firm resolve in its negotiations with GM and Chrysler."

Reid lost patience with U.S. automakers in 2007 for trying to block a measure to dramatically hike fuel efficiency standards, which ultimately passed with bipartisan support. In June 2007, Reid lambasted automakers for resisting the increases.

"We don't believe you anymore," Reid said in flatly rejecting arguments from automakers. "We've had enough."

Reid also had a soft spot for Detroit, once holding up a copy of Time magazine on the Senate floor in October 2009 featuring a photo of the battered city.

Waving a copy of the magazine with the cover story "The Tragedy of Detroit," Reid defended legislation to provide Michigan, Rhode Island, Oregon and his home state of Nevada extra help in the Senate on health reform.

The health reform bill would provide 100 percent funding for the expansion of Medicaid rolls in the four states.

"I make absolutely no apologies for helping Michigan, Rhode Island, Oregon and my state of Nevada," he said.

"Who can say that Michigan is not bleeding? Who can say its Medicaid program doesn't need a hand? Detroit needs a little boost. ... The state of Michigan is in trouble.

"The cover of Time magazine shows a dilapidated city, dilapidated streets, the debris covering the road and windows knocked out of abandoned buildings. It looks like a ghost town."

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said in a statement Friday that "there is no question that the Senate is losing a giant."

"There is nobody I would rather have at my side in a fight, or as my friend, than Harry Reid — whether it's health care, immigration reform, or saving our American auto industry, you know that Harry will not stop until the job is done," she said. "Harry has shown a level of strength and ability to lead that will always be remembered in the halls of Congress and in every corner of Nevada."

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, also added in a statement that "Reid has been a champion for the people of Nevada throughout his long career in public service."