Hillary Clinton did not join other top Democratic presidential candidates Thursday at a union forum in Iowa – despite already struggling to win support among the labor movement.
“She will not be appearing,” Lance Coles, spokesman for the Iowa AFL-CIO, told the Washington Examiner. The only reason the Clinton camp gave was that there was a scheduling conflict. Instead she met with home care workers in Los Angeles.
The Iowa AFL-CIO hosted the forum as part of an ongoing effort by unions to determine what candidate to endorse. Despite Hillary deciding not to go, her Democratic rivals Bernie Sanders, Jim Webb, Martin O’Malley and Lincoln Chafee did. Hillary has already lost support among many union leaders for not taking a firm stance on trade.
“If you want to be the leader of the free world, why wouldn’t you tell people what your opinion is about issues that are critical to the working people of this country?” Iowa AFL-CIO President Ken Sagar told Bloomberg. “It doesn’t make sense to me. But hey, I’m just a working guy out here in Iowa.”
The most obvious point of contention is an international trade initiative known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The deal seems to be President Barack Obama’s baby, but many within his own party have opposed it. Also opposed to the deal, unions have helped make it an important campaign issue.
The reluctance to take a firm stance against the deal has made many union leaders uneasy about Hillary. It has even opened the door to those like Sanders, a self-described socialist, to win union support. During the forum, Sanders and O’Malley made clear their opposition to TPP.
“My own view in terms of the TPP is I think we scrap it, I think we go back to the drawing board,” Sanders said during the forum according to Bloomberg. Though still taking a firm position on it, Chafee told the unions he had to reluctantly support the trade deal as to not seem like a flip-flopper.
“I did everything I knew how to do to get Clinton to speak out on fast track, and she wouldn’t,” Larry Cohen , the outgoing president of the Communications Workers of America, told The Huffington Post last month. “We begged her to speak out.”
Cohen joined many smaller unions in endorsing Sanders. Cohen even said he plans to volunteer for his campaign. Unions have a lot of political influence and in a critical swing state like Iowa, their support or the lack thereof could mean a lot. Especially during the primary.
National unions did have a chance to question Hillary last week during a private meeting hosted by the AFL-CIO. After the meeting, however, Hillary only reaffirmed her reluctance to take a position on TPP. She says she is waiting to see the details once the deal is finalized.
Despite his own union’s hesitance toward Hillary, last month AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka sent a memo to the leaders of associated unions telling them not to endorse Sanders.
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