Hillary Clinton praises GM CEO Mary Barra

Speaking to dealers, Clinton talked about a Fiat she owned and defended the Detroit bailout.

Speaking at a new car dealers convention in New Orleans yesterday, First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had kind words for General Motors' first female CEO.

"It sends a really good signal to little girls - and to little boys," Clinton said of GM CEO Mary Barra's appointment last year.

Barra is the first CEO of a major automaker.

Clinton was something of a controversial keynote speaker choice for the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in New Orleans given that car dealers tend to lean to the political right. However, reports out of the Crescent City indicate that, despite some dealers voicing their opposition ahead of the event, her speech moderated by outgoing NADA chief David Westcott was generally well-received.

To that end, she praised the 2009 federal government's bailout out Detroit automakers General Motors and Chrysler, which was started under Republican George W. Bush but was amplified by current Democrat president Barack Obama.

"This was a tough set of choices those of us in Congress faced," Clinton said. She represented New York at the time the Bush administration began to work toward a bailout. However, as Clinton became Secretary of State shortly after Obama's administration, she is generally not associated with the bailout.

Then Treasury chief Henry Paulson and the Bush administration convinced her that the government needed "to take steps to prevent a collapse that was worse than the Great Depression."

She praised the auto industry's manufacturing and the push toward exporting vehicles assembled here to overseas markets following the bailout and she said that although some dealers were forced to close, "the overall picture turned out to be positive."

The former Senator from New York said of a GM plant she visited in Uzbekistan that it lifted her spirits "to see one of the great American companies planting a flag in Central Asia."

Some dealers did indicate that they skipped the speech because they did not agree with Clinton.

Asked what cars she has owned in the past, Clinton pointed to a $220 1963 Oldsmobile Cutlass she bought in college, as well as a yellow Fiat that was stolen and wrecked in a high speed pursuit.

"I couldn't understand how they could get it to perform, when I never could,” she said. "I was a little proud of it.”

However, Clinton conceded that she has not driven a car since 1996.

"The last time I actually drove a car myself was 1996, and I remember it very well," she said. "Unfortunately, so does Secret Service, which is why I haven't driven since then."

Her father, she said, was a "reliable buyer" of Cadillacs and Lincolns who didn't like the idea of rebuilding Japan and Europe after World War II but changed his mind after the Marshall Plan got bipartisan support.

Clinton made no mention of a run for president, brushing aside rumors. She did, however, briefly address the controversy over the American embassy attack in Benghazi, where she stated that even though "you make the best choices based on imperfect information... but that doesn't mean there's not going to be unforeseen consequences, unpredictable twists and turns."

She called Benghazi her "biggest regret" while in office.

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