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Rob Portman Smacks Down CNN's Obama-Friendly Talking Points

CNN's Soledad O'Brien threw Democratic talking points at Sen. John Portman (R-Ohio) on Monday's Early Start, but the Romney surrogate was ready as he defended the campaign's Jeep ad.

"Was it a mistake then to run that Jeep ad which ran in Toledo, Ohio?" O'Brien pressed. "[I]t was deemed by PolitiFact to be false," she added, despite the claim's accuracy that plans were indeed made to build Jeeps in China.

"I think the ad is correct in the sense that Jeep is planning to move some production to China," stated Portman. O'Brien challenged him with a quote from the head of GM denying that jobs were being outsourced to China.

"They have nothing to do with Jeep. And I don't know why General Motors made that statement," retorted Portman. "It is true, I believe, unless something has changed, that Fiat is planning on beginning production in China for Jeeps that will be sold in China."

And according to an October 22 report in Bloomberg News, Fiat, the majority owner of Chrysler,  planned to "return Jeep output to China" and "may eventually make all of its models in that country." Fiat later stated the opposite, that "Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China," but the Romney campaign ad was based on the report.

O'Brien followed up that the ad's false "implication" was "that jobs were taken from the United States and being moved to China." However, even though the ad ended saying that "Mitt Romney will fight for every American job," it could also have meant that although jobs weren't taken from the U.S. and outsourced to China, the extra production of Jeeps in China could have been done in the U.S.

PolitiFact based its "Pants on Fire" rating off of the other implication drawn from the ad, that jobs were outsourced to China.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on November 5 on Early Start at 6:47 a.m. EDT, is as follows:

[6:47]

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Was it a mistake then to run that Jeep ad which ran in Toledo, Ohio? As you know, Christine earlier was talking about how the exit polling is going to really examine in the state of Ohio the impact that the auto bailout has in the vote eventually. We're showing a little bit of this ad.

As you known it was deemed by PolitiFact to be false. The GM of -- the head of GM came out and said that this was not the case. And you know, the head of Fiat also said this was untrue, that Jeep's not moving production to China. So, I'm curious, you know, if you look back at that and say probably shouldn't have done that?

Sen. ROB PORTMAN (R-Ohio): Well, I don't know that they're saying that, Soledad. I think the ad is correct in the sense that Jeep is planning to move some production to China. I think that's what they've said, and that's Fiat, not General Motors.

O'BRIEN: Well, here's what General Motors said. I'll tell you – you know, I'll just give you the verbate and then you can answer me. He said this. This is Greg Martin, and he said this on October 31st. "We've clearly entered some parallel universe during these last few days. No amount of campaign politics at its cynical worst will diminish our record of creating jobs in the U.S. and repatriating profits back to this country." It's actually worse than the way I paraphrased it. From Fiat they said this, "I feel obliged to unambiguously restate our position..."

(Crosstalk)

PORTMAN: Soledad, just for a second on that -- on that first one, that's General Motors. They have nothing to do with Jeep. And I don't know why General Motors made that statement. But, of course, it had nothing to do with the ad, because the ad doesn't even mention from General Motors, so –  

O'BRIEN: Here's -- Jeep said this. "I feel obliged to..."

PORTMAN: Okay. Let's hear from Jeep.

O'BRIEN: "...unambiguously restate our position. Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China. Period."

PORTMAN: Well, I think what Fiat was saying there, and by the way, we love the fact that Fiat has invested in Ohio. As you know, I supported a rescue package at the time, and I think it was the right thing to do. But I think if you were to ask Fiat about whether they're going to start production in China, that they would say yes to serve the Chinese market. That's what they've said in the past, and that's what that ad indicates. So –

O'BRIEN: The ad says this –

PORTMAN: – I think there's a little disconnect here.

O'BRIEN: No, I don't think so. The ad says this, "Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler..."

PORTMAN: That's correct.

O'BRIEN: "...to Italians who are going to build jeeps in China."

PORTMAN: That's correct.

O'BRIEN: The implication being that jobs were taken from the United States and being moved to China. So, PolitiFact said it was untrue. The GM jumped in. That's why GM responded. And the head of Jeep also – rather the head of Fiat –

PORTMAN: Soledad --

O'BRIEN: Yes, sir?

PORTMAN: Soledad, two things. One, it is correct that Barack Obama and the administration took the two companies to bankruptcy. That's correct. It is true that Jeep now makes all of their Jeeps in the United States of America. And they actually export Jeeps to China, into the Asian market. It is true, I believe, unless something has changed, that Fiat is planning on beginning production in China for Jeeps that will be sold in China. Bill Clinton's been talking about it on the campaign trail in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

O'BRIEN: But not moved from the United States to China, which is his point.

PORTMAN: Hold on, hold on. Hold on. But that's not what the ad says. The ad says is that Jeep is going to begin production in China. So, look, I don't think that's frankly the major point here. The major point is, who would be better for these companies going forward? But both of these guys, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney had a plan.

They were different plans. You can debate as to which one would have been better for the companies. But both of them had plans that included taking the companies through bankruptcy and having federal assistance, and that was something that PolitiFact corrected the President on, as you know, during the debate.

The second debate when he said that there was no federal help, PolitiFact said, no, that's wrong. There was federal help in the Romney plan. But the bigger issue for me is who's going to be better for these companies going forward? And as a U.S. senator who gets lobbied a lot by the auto companies as to what they're looking for, they're looking for regulatory relief because they want to be able to compete globally.

They want tax reform very badly along the lines of what Mitt Romney has proposed, not what the President has proposed because their corporate, rate as you know, is the highest in the developed world. They're looking for lower energy costs, which is one of the Mitt Romney marquee proposals, talking about how we get more stable and affordable energy. And they're also looking for better worker retraining.

O'BRIEN: It will be –

PORTMAN: – and fairer trade and a level playing field. So, those are the proposals that you know, as an autoworker and as a manager of one of these companies, that's what -- that's what you're looking for. So –

O'BRIEN: And I think the exit polling --

PORTMAN: – I think that's probably the most important issue.

O'BRIEN: And it'll be interesting, the exit polling as Christine pointed out, to see what people thought of that ad and what their take was in the whole framing of this. I think very interesting.

-- Matt Hadro is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center