LOS ANGELES (CBS / AP) — Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann accused the Obama administration Friday of abusing its power by steering a $535 million government loan to a now-bankrupt solar energy manufacturer.
The Minnesota congresswoman said the soured deal with Fremont-based Solyndra Inc. amounted to “crony capitalism,” and predicted President Barack Obama’s jobs bill would open the way for more suspect spending.
The Treasury Department announced Thursday it launched an investigation into the Solyndra deal, the first renewable-energy manufacturer to receive a loan guarantee under the federal stimulus law. The White House, since signing off on the loan in 2009, has frequently touted Solyndra as a model for its clean energy program.
But the company has since laid off more than 1,000 people and filed for bankruptcy. Solyndra executives raised more than $100,000 for Obama and Democrats.
Vice President “Joe Biden came out and he said that Solyndra is exactly what the stimulus was designed to do. Those were his words,” Bachmann said at a rally that attracted about 200 people in Costa Mesa, part of a two-day campaign swing in California.
“They ran out of money by September. What a deal. And so president Obama said ‘You’ve got to pass my jobs bill,’ so we can have more of the same? Wow. That’s inspiring,” she said.
Bachmann’s appearance came during a string of events and fundraisers, as she tries to regain her stride in a GOP presidential contest dominated by Rick Perry and Mitt Romney.
“She’s struggling for survival,” said Republican National Committeeman Shawn Steel, who is not aligned with any candidate. “Right now, it’s a two-person race.”
She discussed her opposition to gay marriage on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” and later brought party activists at a California Republican convention to their feet with a speech denouncing Obama’s leadership on issues from foreign policy to domestic energy development.
In a speech that amounted to an introduction to California Republicans, the tea party favorite called for building the nation’s military strength and overturning Washington’s health care overhaul.
She suggested hostility in the Middle East was being fanned by an indecisive White House, and repeatedly mentioned Ronald Reagan, the former actor who made his home in the Golden State.
Bachmann was lifted earlier this summer by a victory in the closely watched Ames, Iowa, straw poll—an early gauge of candidate strength—but she’s trying to reverse a slide since the Texas governor entered the campaign and replaced her as a leading contender for the nomination.
She’s coming off a bumpy stretch in which she shuffled senior staff, saw her standing in polls erode and, this week, was put on the defensive after suggesting that a vaccine against the human papillomavirus, known as HPV, was linked to mental retardation, a claim disputed by medical experts.
She sought to turn around the criticism Friday by again faulting Perry for signing an order requiring middle-school girls in his state to get vaccinated against HPV. She has sought to raise doubts about Perry’s leadership, suggesting he the decision was an example of government overreach.
She said in Costa Mesa it’s wrong “to abuse executive authority with unilateral actions.”
On Leno’s stage, she attempted to clarify her remarks on HPV and mental retardation, saying she was repeating a story told to her in Tampa after a candidate debate. “I wasn’t speaking as a doctor. I wasn’t speaking as a scientist. I was just relating what this woman said. … I wasn’t soliciting that information. She gave it to me.”
Perry has said he made a mistake, but categorized his support for the mandate under the same moral conviction that makes him opposed to abortion.
Leno used the “Tonight Show” interview to parry with the conservative congresswoman over gay marriage, and questioned her about a clinic she owns with her husband that offers a disputed treatment that seeks to help patients overcome homosexual urges.
Leno said he doesn’t understand so-called reparative therapy, referring to it as “pray the gay away.”
The Republican presidential candidate told Leno that when she first heard to phrase she thought it was “a midlife crisis line, ‘Pray away the gray.”’
Bachmann says the clinic doesn’t discriminate and if the therapists can’t deal with an issue patients are referred elsewhere. She called the business “a Christian counseling clinic” that “does a great job,” according to a transcript.
Most Republican hopefuls are skipping the Golden State’s GOP convention because Democratic-leaning California is likely to play a token role in selecting a Republican presidential nominee.
An independent Field Poll of California Republicans released this week echoed national surveys that found Texas’ Perry and Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, are dominating the contest.
Bachmann notched a meager 6 percent in the California survey, which also found unfavorable views of her have risen since a June poll.
The conservative Bachmann, who counts evangelical Republicans, home-school advocates and members of the tea party movement among her supporters, stops over on the same weekend the state party considers rewriting its platform in what supporters call an attempt to broaden the party’s appeal, especially with Hispanics and independents.
Moderates want to push the party toward the center on immigration, guns and gay rights. The proposed changes—opposed by the party’s conservative wing—retreat from opposition to same-sex adoption, domestic partner benefits and child custody, avoid any mention of overturning Roe v. Wade and drop demands to end virtually all federal and state benefits for illegal immigrants and establish English as the official language of government.
The state GOP is also planning to outline a new effort to recruit Latino voters, an acknowledgment of the state’s changing face. Hispanics accounted for about 80 percent of the increase in registered voters in the state over the last decade and the weak showing of GOP candidates in recent statewide races has been attributed, at least in part, to a lack of Hispanic support.
Bachmann has taken a tough line against illegal immigration— she supports building a wall on the border with Mexico and has suggested more troops should patrol the nation’s southern boundary. In a debate earlier this week, she distanced herself from Perry after he said Texas offered incentives for illegal immigrants to contribute to their communities, including in-state tuition rates for higher education. Bachmann said taxpayers shouldn’t pay for benefits for those who have broken U.S. laws.
In California, the GOP has been withering. Democrats control the Legislature, hold every statewide office and enjoy a growing registration advantage—the GOP is in danger of slipping under 30 percent of registered voters statewide and independents outnumber Republicans in 14 of the state’s 53 congressional districts.
The nation’s most populous state does not hold its presidential primary until June, four months after the Iowa caucuses in early February. The late date makes it unlikely the state will have a significant role selecting the party nominee, unless the campaign turns into a closely fought, extended contest.
In national elections, the state is considered a Democratic stronghold—the last Republican to carry California in a presidential election was George H.W. Bush, in 1988. President Barack Obama won the state by 24 points in 2008 and even Romney, who owns a home in La Jolla, is snubbing the California event.
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