CHICAGO - A senator who will help determine whether the auto industry gets a $15 billion bailout said yesterday that the head of General Motors should step down, telegraphing what could be a congressional demand for a top-line shake-up in Detroit in exchange for financial life support.
Rick Wagoner, the chief executive of GM, "has to move on," said Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. He spoke on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"I think you have got to consider new leadership," Dodd said. Asked if that should be a condition of any bailout, he added, "I think it is going to have to be part of it."
"I think it's clear GM is in the worst shape," Dodd said before specifying the need for Wagoner to step down.
In response, GM spokesman Steve Harris said the company appreciates Dodd's support for the loans, but added, "GM employees, dealers, suppliers and the GM board of directors feel strongly that Rick is the right guy to lead GM through this incredibly difficult and challenging time."
Last week, the Associated Press asked Wagoner if he would resign at the request of Congress, to which he replied, "It's not clear to me that experience in this industry should be viewed as a negative, but I'm going to do what's right for the company and I'm going to do it in consultation with the board."
GM's board recently has been meeting three times a week by telephone.
But the shots kept coming yesterday. President-elect Barack Obama accused auto executives of a persistent "head-in-the sand approach" to long-festering problems. In an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," Obama said Congress was doing "the exact right thing" in drafting legislation that "holds the auto industry's feet to the fire" at the same time it tries to prevent its demise.
The criticism of industry leaders deepened as negotiators for the White House and Congress narrowed their differences over a plan to extend roughly $15 billion in short-term loans to any Detroit automaker that needs them. Analysts say General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC, in particular, are at risk for running out of money in the next few weeks, and that Ford Motor Co. may need help if the economy deteriorates further.
Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, whose state is ground zero for the battered industry, told "Fox News Sunday" he was confident an agreement would emerge within the next day.
Democratic leaders have said they hope to pass the measure this week.
While Levin declined to predict its approval, support among rank-and-file lawmakers presumably would improve dramatically if both White House and Obama were to signal their backing once the legislation is complete. *