Monday, June 11, 2007

Clinton sings right song to labor crowd

By Susan J. Demas
The Enquirer

DETROIT –- Hillary Rodham Clinton seized the opportunity Saturday in front of a riveted labor crowd to distinguish herself from her chief presidential rival, fellow U.S. senator Barack Obama.

Clinton, 59, bypassed criticizing the Big Three automakers for low fuel efficiency standards, in contrast to Obama, who last month at the Detroit Economic Club laid into automakers for blocking a transformation of U.S. energy and environmental policies.

Unlike Obama, D-Ill., Clinton would not commit to a Senate bill to raise by 2020 fuel efficiency standards to 35 m.p.g., also known as CAFE standards.

Instead, the Democratic frontrunner from New York called for a “win-win” strategy of the government and auto industry teaming up to invest in new technologies, buoyed by a national health care system she said would take a significant financial burden off employers. Clinton fingered soaring legacy costs for “dragging down the Big Three” in a global market.

“People keep telling me they’re worried about me taking this up again,” said Clinton, referring to her failed health plan during the first term of her husband, President Bill Clinton. “Worried? I can’t wait to take it on again.”

The 90-minute town hall before about 700 union members was part of the AFL-CIO’s eight-part series with leading Democratic presidential hopefuls in cities across the country. It concludes with a multi-candidate forum Aug. 7 in Chicago.

Hillary Clinton stressed her choice to appear in a city famous for its union history.

“When I was asked where I wanted to go, I said one place,” she said, pausing for effect. “Detroit.”

Delivering a 20-minute domestic-focused speech at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union hall, Clinton called for laws making it easier for workers to organize, universal pre-kindergarten and fairer student loans.

The forum then was opened to audience members. UAW member Dave Berry, 43, said he is still grappling with the aftermath of Ford Motor Co.’s shuttering of its Wixom plant in May.

“We understand what it takes to be competitive,” said the Fowlerville resident. “We understand what the customer wants.”

His experience underscored the recent exodus of more than 80,000 Big Three workers from plants, many in Michigan. Berry blamed U.S. trade policy, and asked what Clinton would do to change it.

Clinton vowed to take a “hard look” at every trade agreement, saying as president, she would appoint a trade prosecutor.

Earlier at the town hall, she blasted the Bush Administration for an $800 billion trade deficit, calling China the United States’ “banker.”

“We are borrowing money for body armor for our troops,” said Clinton, who also vowed to end the Iraq war once she’s in the Oval Office.

Organized labor remains a powerful force in a changing Democratic Party, boasting a $100 million get out the vote drive in 2006. The nation’s largest labor organization likely will endorse a candidate by the end of the year, said Mark Gaffney, Michigan AFL-CIO president.

Clinton’s speech seemed to hit all the right notes with the crowd, which gave her two standing ovations. Gaffney also said workers respond to U.S. Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., who plays up his labor roots.

“Don’t count (Obama) out,” Gaffney said of the AFL-CIO’s endorsement. “But he probably doesn’t have as good a chance as other candidates who understand manufacturing better.”

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