Six days after outgoing AFL-CIO President John Sweeney told a press breakfast in Washington that the President and Vice President had assured him they would make a major push in Congress for organized labor’s cherished Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), the White House confirmed it.
During the regular press briefing at the White House yesterday, I referred to Sweeney’s remarks at the Christian Science Monitor breakfast September 2 and the retiring labor chieftain’s assurance that President Obama would take up the fight for EFCA “once he gets healthcare reform.”
Given that the President has appeared to downplay a push for the measure in Congress, I asked, was Sweeney correct in saying he was committed to a major congressional effort behind EFCA and its controversial “card check” provision (which opponents warn would undo the secret ballot in union elections).
“I would point you to what the President said at a rather boisterous labor rally yesterday,” replied Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, sounding a bit incredulous that I somehow overlooked an address that made headlines nationwide, “where he reiterated his support for that.”
(While Obama did in fact mention his support of EFCA at the close of his Labor Day speech, he actually did not call for an all-out effort behind it. Declaring that “labor is not part of the problem. Labor is part of the solution,” Obama told his audience this is “why I support the Employee Free Choice Act — to level the playing field so it’s easier for employees who want a union to form a union. Because when labor is strong, America is strong. When we all stand together, we all rise together.”).
So does this mean, I pressed Gibbs, “he will get behind it all the way after the health care debate?”
“I’m certainly not going to stand up here and contradict the President less than 24 hours after,” Gibbs told me.
Specter Switch Might Ignite EFCA
At the same Monitor breakfast in which John Sweeney predicted strong White House support for congressional package of EFCA, I asked the retiring AFL-CIO President how he could be so optimistic about EFCA’s chances when former supporters such as Pennsylvania’s Sen. Arlen Specter have changed their views from support to opposition to the measure.
“Have you talked to Sen. Specter lately?” shot back Sweeney, suggesting that the five-term senator — once the only sponsor Republican but later opposed to the bill — may has indeed signaled another flip-flop since he became a Democrat earlier this year.
Sure enough, in June newly-minted Democrat Specter told a union rally in Pittsburgh: “I think you will be satisfied with my vote on this issue about union organizing and about first contract.”
Two months later (August 14, 2009), Netroots Nation printed this exchanged with the senator, who faces a strong Democratic primary challenge from two-term Rep. Joe Sestak next May:
Q: In stitching these together then, is it fair to say that on the climate legislation, on Employee Free Choice, on a public option health care plan, these are all areas where you would be voting with the majority for cloture to have these up and down votes?
Specter: “ Yes, no doubt about those three issues at all”.
When I reached stalwart conservative former Rep. (and likely Republican nominee) Pat Toomey on the campaign trail, I asked him his reaction to the remarks of both the White House’s Gibbs and Specter regarding EFCA.
“It does surprise me that the White House would confirm it is pushing ahead with something so undemocratic, so unpopular, and so bad for the economy as EFCA,” Toomey told me, “But, then again, nothing surprises me about this White House anymore.”
As for Specter switching back to supporting EFCA, Toomey said, “I’m not surprised about that either.”
Six years ago, with strong support from then-President Bush and then-Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-Penn.), Specter narrowly (51% to 49%) survived a strong primary challenge from Toomey.
Joe K, Top GOPers Out of Massachusetts Race
“Joe Kennedy’s making too much money and didn’t want to explain his oil company’s ties to Venezuela and Hugo Chavez,” was how a friend of mine from Massachusetts who follows politics closely tersely explained the former congressman’s Labor Day announcement that he would not run for the Senate seat of his late uncle Edward Kennedy.
Whatever the reason, it has been pointed out numerous times in the national press that it is now almost certain that, for all but two years since John Kennedy won the seat in 1952 (that was when family friend Benjamin Smith held the seat until Ted was old enough to run in 1962), the Bay State’s now vacant Senate seat will not be held by a Kennedy.
At this time, the “Big Three” among Democrats for the December 8 primary are State Attorney General Martha Coakley (who has formally announced for the seat) and Reps. Steve Lynch and Mike Capuano (both of whom have taken out the papers for campaign committees).
Among Republicans, hopes that former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling would run were dashed last week following reports that the baseball superstar was a registered independent in Medfield, Massachusetts. Under state law, Schilling (who had been encouraged to make the race by John McCain) could not run as a Republican unless he had changed his voter registration by August 5.
Bay State GOPers were also dealt a surprise when former Lieutenant Governor and ’06 nominee for governor Kerry Healey announced she would not run in the race to succeed Kennedy. Healey cited “family reasons” — which, my cynical friend told me, “means her husband did not want her to spend his money on a race in which, in all likelihood, she could barely manage the 36% she got for governor in ’06.”
Left for the “great mentioners” on the GOP side are State Sen. Scott M. Brown, self-styled moderate-conservative, and ’06 Senate nominee Jeff Beatty, a much-decorated veteran.