TACOMA, Wash. - Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards, a textile worker’s son turned wealthy lawyer, pitched himself as an anti-war populist to Puget Sound, Wash., labor groups on Tuesday.
Edwards told a Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO forum in Seattle that Congress should refuse to accept President Bush’s veto Tuesday of a war spending bill that sets a timetable for withdrawal troops from Iraq.
“They ought to do another bill, funding the troops, with a timetable for withdrawal and send it back,” Edwards said. “If he vetoes that one, then they ought to do it again.”
Edwards said the Democrats who control Congress shouldn’t be afraid of charges that they aren’t supporting the troops by getting into a showdown with the president over the funding.
“If the president vetoes this bill, it is the President of the United States that is not supporting the troops,” said Edwards, the former U.S. senator from North Carolina who was the Democratic vice-presidential nominee in 2004.
Edwards voted in the U.S. Senate to authorize the war but has said that was a mistake.
Bush, in vetoing the bill, said Tuesday “it makes no sense to tell the enemy when you plan to start withdrawing.” Democratic leaders in Congress are now weighing their next move.
Edwards was in Seattle Tuesday in order to seek the endorsement of the AFL-CIO. The federation’s approval could give him a major boost as he attempts to catch up in fundraising and polls to his Democratic rivals, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.
He’s spent a lot of time courting union leaders and has made universal health care, trade restrictions and other issues that resonate with labor into centerpieces of his campaign. He has not always come across as a man of the people, saying recently he was embarrassed by the revelation he paid $400 apiece for two haircuts from a Beverly Hills stylist.
But Edwards said Tuesday the gap between rich and poor in America is out of control and unions are the key to building the middle class. He said he’s been walking picket lines and helping union organizing efforts.
Tacoma state Rep. Steve Conway, a Democrat who works for a labor union, said he was impressed by what Edwards had to say in Seattle.
“His promise to use the bully pulpit of the presidency is long overdue,” Conway said. “I was refreshingly pleased to hear a candidate so outspoken.”
Conway said, though, he hasn’t made up is mind whether he’ll support Edwards for president.
Edwards told the union crowd in Seattle that he would use the bully pulpit of the presidency to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to organize unions. Edwards also said there should be a ban on permanent replacements for strikers and a stop to outsourcing public employee work to private companies.
But Kelly Mavis of Seattle, a member of Ironworkers Local 86, wasn’t convinced by Edwards. Mavis said she wanted to hear something decisive from him on what she called infiltration of her trade by non-union workers.
Edwards did get huge applause several times, like when he called for a crackdown on employers who hire illegal immigrants. Edwards also said, though, that people who have been living in the “shadows” need the right to earn American citizenship.
Edwards was in town for the first part of a two-step process to win the coveted endorsement of the AFL-CIO. Each of the Democratic candidates chose a city for such a forum; Edwards picked Seattle, where he was scheduled as keynote speaker later Tuesday night at a dinner for the Washington State Trial Lawyer’s Association.
The second step for endorsement is a forum the AFL-CIO will then host in August for all the Democratic presidential candidates. The federation will likely decide in the fall whether to endorse any candidate. Two-thirds majority support from the AFL-CIO general board is required to secure the endorsement.
The AFL-CIO endorsed John Kerry over Edwards in the 2004 Democratic presidential primary.