Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Wednesday insisted that President Barack Obama made a mistake by saving the U.S. auto industry because "the president gave those companies" to the United Auto Workers (UAW) labor union.

During a CNN debate in Mesa, Arizona, the former Massachusetts governor admitted that he had supported Wall Street bailouts while calling for the car companies go bankrupt in a New York Times op-ed.

"I don't want to save any Wall Street bank, I just don't want to make sure we lose all of our banks," Romney explained. "My view is this: We have to have industries that get in trouble go through bankruptcies."

"I wrote my piece and I said, 'Look, these companies need to go through managed bankruptcy.' And the head of the UAW said, 'We can't go through managed bankruptcy. The industry will disappear if that happens.' And the politicians, Barack Obama's people, 'Oh, no. We can't go through managed bankruptcy.' Six months, they wrote, I think it was $17 billion in checks to the auto companies and then they finally realized I was right."

He added: "Because they put that money in, the president gave the companies to the UAW. They were part of the reason the companies were in trouble. Giving these companies to the UAW was wrong."

The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn has called that claim "a pretty skewed version of the truth."

"[T]he unions had by 2009 already made major concessions in order to help the companies restructure... Then, during the bankruptcy, the unions agreed to further concessions still, on pay, vacations, job security, health benefits, and work rules. As a result, traditional Chrysler and GM hourly employees have seen no annual raises since 2003 and will see no raises until at least 2015, when they bargain the next contract."

Watch this video from CNN, broadcast Feb. 22, 2012.