As Democratic candidates for president, including U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, were getting ready to participate in a nationally televised debate in Detroit, Republican Vice President Mike Pence came to Ohio and made a statement about the padlocked General Motors Lordstown plant that grabbed newspaper and television headlines locally, statewide and even around the country.
But what Pence said was either intentionally inaccurate or was based on his being poorly briefed about what’s actually happening.
The vice president was on a visit to the Magna seat plant in Lancaster when he was asked by a reporter about the empty 53-year-old Lordstown complex. Here’s what he said:
“Workhorse, I learned, just this week, secured financing to move forward to keep jobs in that community, and we’re going to continue to look for ways to support that.”
It’s true that the news stories based on Pence’s statement to the press did not indicate whether he was asked to clarify what he meant when he said the Cincinnati-based designer and builder of battery-electric vehicles and aircraft had “secured financing.”
That’s an important point because in June the New York Times reported that Workhorse had raised $25 million to help it fill orders already on its books. The Times made it clear the money was not to go toward the purchase of GM’s Lordstown plant.
Workhorse has said it intends to take a minority stake in a company that Steve Burns, the company’s former chief executive, said he formed to buy the massive Lordstown facility.
On Friday, the Detroit News reported that Burns has named the new company Lordstown Motors Corp. and that he’s working to secure financing for the purchase of the Mahoning Valley plant.
But here’s the most significant fact about the deal, which was touted in May by President Donald Trump: Burns has said he needs to raise about $300 million to acquire and restart the plant that until March produced the highly successful Chevrolet Cruze.
Thus, when Vice President Pence grabbed the press’ attention by talking about Workhorse securing financing, he should have been asked this question: Are you referring to the $25 million the company has borrowed to build and deliver vehicles that have been ordered, or have you been told by the company that it has the $300 million it needs to finalize the deal with General Motors?
It’s noteworthy that neither GM CEO Mary Barra, who has gone out of her way to put a positive spin on her decision to shutter the Lordstown complex, nor former Workhorse CEO Burns has said anything about the company having the $300 million in the bank.
The fact that GM is closing manufacturing plants in America – despite Trump’s promise to force the Big Three American carmakers to close facilities abroad and create jobs at home – should have been a major issue in Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate.
The gabfest in Detroit, where GM is idling an engine plant, featured 10 of the 20 candidates who qualified to participate in the live broadcasts on CNN. The second debate with the other 10 candidates took place Wednesday night.
We were waiting for Congressman Ryan, whose candidacy for president remains stuck in neutral, to take on Trump over the closing of the GM plants in Lordstown and Detroit. Two other facilities in the U.S. and one in Canada are also on the chopping block.
As we’ve noted on several occasions, Ryan, who has been in Congress since 2003, needs to separate himself from the pack if he’s to have any chance of qualifying for the fall debates.
The threshold is much higher than the first and second events, which means the chances of Ryan participating are slim at best.
Yet the congressman insisted to Vindicator Politics Writer David Skolnick that he believes his message of economic dislocation in old industrial regions like the Valley resonates with the voters.
We aren’t sure if Ryan is reading the political tea leaves correctly, but what we do know is that he has been on the front lines of the Valley’s battle with GM over the closing of the Lordstown plant.
Ryan had the opportunity to go after the president with guns blazing, but instead got into a verbal battle with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, one of the frontrunners for the Democratic presidential nomination, over health care.
And if that wasn’t distraction enough, Ryan grabbed media attention when he failed to place his hand over his heart during the singing of the national anthem. He was the only one of the 10 who failed to do so.
We do not believe it was a sign of disrespect, but his error overshadowed his performance in the debate.