Trumka Would Welcome Biden Into 2016 Race

Trumka Would Welcome Biden Into 2016 Race
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AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka wants the Democratic National Committee to bless additional presidential candidate debates this year, and believes “the field is still wide open” for Vice President Biden to enter the race.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Trumka called Biden “a good friend” and a “champion of working people” who has “a lot on his shoulders” while weighing his political options in consultation with his family. “He would be a good candidate. He would be a good president,” he added.

Trumka met privately with the vice president last week, and will see him in Pittsburgh during Labor Day events Sept. 7.

In the next breath, Trumka described Hillary Clinton as an “experienced” public servant who would make “a great president.” But he said the former secretary of state “has to come up with a narrative for working people,” one that workers and voters believe she would fight to deliver as president.

“If she does, she could catch fire, too,” he said, repeating a phrase he used to describe Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ populist resonance on the stump among younger voters and working people.

Trumka faulted “any candidate” in general, and Clinton in particular, for not being specific about trade positions and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is being negotiated among a dozen nations. Despite organized labor’s intense lobbying to defeat the administration’s free-trade efforts on the grounds that it would cost American jobs, Congress agreed in June to grant President Obama and future presidents authority to complete a trade deal under terms that prevent lawmakers from amending the pact in final form.

Clinton, who generally embraced free trade as the nation’s top diplomat at the State Department, has declined as a candidate to take a position on the TPP until a final accord is reached.

To straddle the trade fence during a presidential campaign, Trumka warned, “lessens the energy” among union workers and voters who want to know where contenders stand, “good or bad.”

“She has to speak to worker needs,” he continued during a breakfast roundtable hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “When you say, `I don’t know whether TPP is good or bad,’ and then you don’t articulate what a good one would be, I think that lessens the energy that the workers derive from that,” he continued. “I think her narrative really has to speak to the wants and the needs of workers out there.”

The same is true for all candidates, he added.

“Elizabeth Warren does a magnificent job of articulating the needs of workers [and] people respond to it. I think Bernie does a great job of that, and people respond to it. I think Hillary has done a good job at times, and workers have responded to those times.” 

The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations, a collection of 56 unions boasting 12.5 million members, will “probably not” endorse a presidential candidate prior to the Iowa and New Hampshire primary contests early next year, Trumka added, but “it is conceivable that could happen.” Affiliate unions are trying to assess where their members stand, he added, and members are encouraging candidates to be specific about proposals to battle income inequality, raise wages, and bolster workers’ rights.

“No matter who wins, we’ve won” if all candidates are talking publicly about issues of interest to America’s workers, Trumka said.

To date, Clinton has secured backing from the million-member American Federation of Teachers and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, while the 185,000-member National Nurses United endorsed Sanders.

The labor leader noted that in the wake of Democrats’ lackluster showing in the 2014 elections, union members faulted Democratic candidates for having “no coherent” economic message, and 80 percent said both political parties offered “too much to Wall Street and too little for Main Street.” In the absence of candidate specifics in 2015 and 2016, those default impressions will take root, Trumka said.

Because many voters are searching for candidates with policy ideas accessorized with passion, the Democratic National Committee would be wise to add more sanctioned televised debates beyond the four scheduled before the Iowa and New Hampshire contests, Trumka told RealClearPolitics. It’s an argument former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley aggressively raised before party leaders at a DNC summer meeting in Minneapolis last week, and Sanders also has argued for more debates.

The first Democratic presidential debate is scheduled Oct. 13 in Nevada, followed by Nov. 14 in Des Moines, Iowa. The third event is to take place Dec. 19 in Manchester, N.H., followed by a Jan. 17 debate in Charleston, S.C. Two additional debates are approved by the DNC in Miami and Wisconsin later in February or in March.

“I think the more the better, because people have to talk about issues … and I think that’s good for democracy,” Trumka said, noting that AFL officials are also DNC members and have made their views known to party leaders. Asked if organized labor is actively advocating for more, he said, “We have and we will.”

Trumka did not mince words when it came to leading GOP presidential contenders, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (“There is no there there”), real estate developer Donald Trump (he promotes ideas that are “dangerous, un-American and racist”), and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (he “hurt workers” while advocating for smaller government and spending cuts as a former House Budget Committee chairman).

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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