Forty-eight hours before the vote that splits Al Gore and organized labor, the vice president made his case Monday for the China trade bill to union workers. Despite that big difference, he jabbed a finger at his heart and appealed for their “intensity” to help him win the White House.
“I know that one of your legislative priorities is to urge members of Congress not to support permanent normal trade relations with China,” Gore told about 150 members of United Food and Commercial Workers in Washington to lobby Capitol Hill on trade and other matters.
“You know that I don’t share that view. I strongly support normal trade relations with China because I believe it is right for America’s economy and right for the cause of reform in China,” said Gore, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has accused Gore of reticence on the trade issue, which divides Gore and the millions of union workers he is counting on to deliver votes for him in November.
In fact, the Bush campaign was so certain that Gore would say nothing about the impending House trade vote in his address to the 1.4-million-member UFCW that spokeswoman Mindy Tucker issued a statement one hour earlier saying, “Before union audiences, his support disappears.”
“He backs away from his supposed support for free trade when it is politically expedient,” Tucker said.
But Gore faced the difference of opinion head on, if not too enthusiastically. Reading from his text in even tones to a silent audience, Gore said, “I respect the depth and strength of your feeling, but I’m also proud that on other great issues, you and I stand together--virtually on all of the other ones.”
He spoke about his support for increasing the minimum wage, expanding Medicare to cover prescription drugs and banning permanent striker replacements.
The AFL-CIO, which has endorsed Gore and is undertaking a massive get-out-the-vote campaign on his behalf, has made defeat of the China trade bill its top legislative priority for the year. Labor argues that free trade costs American jobs and does nothing to ensure labor rights overseas.
George Becker, president of the United Steelworkers of America, has warned that the union’s rank and file probably won’t mobilize for Gore in the fall if he continues to champion the agreement to give China permanent normal trade status.
Well aware of such concern, Gore emphasized areas of agreement and asked for more support for his campaign.
“There’s a second factor that is often more important in determining the outcome of elections than where people stand on the issues,” Gore said. “You can call it commitment, you can call it intensity. But what it all has to do with is how strongly do you feel about the decision our country is going to make in November.”
Republicans, he said, want desperately to take back the White House, keep control of Congress and try “to take over the Supreme Court even more.”