DETROIT – Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and a California Democrat, says her bipartisan delegation to the North American International Auto Show likes what they’ve seen on the show floor from a rebounding Detroit Three.

“What we see here today is a renaissance,” Pelosi tells a luncheon gathering here of political and corporate power brokers. “That’s a word that gets used a lot, but it is a rebirth. It is so exciting for our country.”

Pelosi, who attended the show at the invitation of Michigan Congressman auto industry champion John Dingell, says she’ll report her finding back to colleagues in Washington. She also brings two Obama cabinet members – Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, as well as manufacturing czar Ed Montgomery.

Pelosi claims a gathering with so many officials, “says something is happening here that is very important. We believe in the viability of the auto industry.”

A longtime critic of the auto industry for its perceived foot-dragging but a key player in securing a lifeline of taxpayer loans to General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC, Pelosi says the contingent also is “very excited over what we’ve seen.”

Pelosi defends the controversial decision to fund the bankruptcies and turnaround initiatives at GM and Chrysler, calling the industrial, technological and manufacturing base of the U.S. too great to let fail.

“We had to stop the erosion of that base,” she says, adding she expects the government will be paid back not just for the loans but also in technology the U.S. would have lost with the industry’s collapse.

“The auto industry is essential to our economic success and our national defense.”

The Pelosi delegation visits the displays of GM, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler prior to the luncheon and then spends the afternoon looking at technology from Michigan-based companies and driving electric vehicles from various auto makers.

jamend@wardsauto.com