In Sunday’s Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton assailed Senator Bernie Sanders for opposing, in January 2009, the release of Troubled Asset Relief Program funds that were used in part to bail out General Motors and Chrysler. “When it came down to it, you were either for saving the auto industry or you were against it,” Clinton said. “I voted to save the auto industry.”
Sanders objected strenuously to the charge, and said Monday that Clinton “went out of her way to mischaracterize my history.” He said his vote against releasing the TARP funds was based on opposition to the Wall Street bailout and how it was conducted, and pointed to an earlier vote in December 2008 in which he supported direct help for the automotive industry.
Eight Democratic senators voted the same way as Sanders that day, and three—Jeanne Shaheen, Maria Cantwell, and Ron Wyden—are still in office.
When The Nation reached out to each senator on Monday, both Cantwell’s and Wyden’s offices pushed back on the idea that their vote was “against” saving the auto industry, and echoed Sanders’s broader concerns about what was happening at the time with TARP money. Shaheen’s office did not reply to several requests for comment.
“Sen. Wyden opposed TARP because it failed to provide strong consequences for managers and equity owners of failing firms,” said Keith Chu, a spokesman for the Oregon lawmaker. “In his view, the best way to prevent future bailouts was to ensure those who carried out reckless business practices and those who profited from them paid a high price for destabilizing the US economy.”
Chu declined to comment specifically on Clinton’s characterization of the vote, but did point to a contemporaneous statement from 2009 in which Wyden said he opposed releasing remaining TARP funds because “compensating—with hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars—the very investment bankers who took these outrageous credit risks is no way to restore confidence in our markets or the federal government.”
Chu also noted that Wyden supported the 2008 bailout of the auto industry. (Wyden was on a plane during the vote, which was hastily called, but released a statement at the time saying he would have supported it.) Wyden endorsed Clinton in January.
Cantwell’s office also declined to directly enter the fray between Clinton and Sanders, but a spokesman directed The Nation to 2008 statement where Cantwell explained why she opposed TARP: “I am not supportive of a structure where the government only gets companies’ bad assets.”