Teamsters Defy 11th-Hour Clinton Pitch

Feb 20, 2008 7:29pm

ABC News’ Sunlen Miller and Teddy Davis Report: The Teamsters’ decision to back Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., on Wednesday came one week after former President Bill Clinton personally asked the union’s president to back his wife’s presidential bid.

Bill Clinton spoke with Teamsters President James Hoffa on Feb. 13 when the two men attended the same event in Washington, D.C.

On that day, Hoffa was awarded the Israel Legacy Award by the Yitzhak Rabin Center. Clinton was the event’s keynote speaker.

"He wanted us obviously to back Hillary but we didn’t have the poll at the time," said Hoffa, referring to his conversation with the former president.

Once the Teamsters finished polling its own members over the weekend, it showed, according to Hoffa, that Obama had more support than Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.

It also showed Obama doing better against Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee.

The Teamsters are not releasing details of the poll.

One key issue that soured the Teamsters on both Clintons is trade.

While Sen. Clinton called for renegotiating NAFTA on Feb. 15th, the Teamsters blame former President Bill Clinton for pushing the trade deal.

"We’ve lost two million jobs because of NAFTA trade agreements," said Hoffa. "Bill Clinton was for it, and we oppose NAFTA."

Hoffa heralded Obama on Wednesday for wanting to renegotiate NAFTA.

"The first thing he is going to do," added Hoffa, "is contact the president of Mexico and the Prime Minister of Canada, and say let’s start renegotiating this trade agreement. I think that’s innovative thinking, that’s the kind of thinking we need."

Hoffa also praised Obama for wanting to take away tax breaks for companies that move jobs out of the U.S., a position he shares with Clinton.

In the past, the Teamsters have deviated from most Democrats and some Republicans by backing President Bush’s plan to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (A.N.W.R.).

Hoffa said on a conference call with reporters that he has not discussed the ways in which his position on the issue differs with that of Obama.

Like Clinton and McCain, Obama opposes ANWR drilling.

"I don’t think that that’s one of the issues in this race right now," Hoffa told ABC News. "We are not pushing ANWR at this time. That is an issue that we talked about almost five years ago. That is not a current issue in these debates and we have not talked about that with the senator."

A Teamsters spokesman told ABC News that the union still sees drilling in the Arctic refuge as a jobs creator but said that the union’s current priorities lie elsewhere.

"Obviously, we still believe that it would create a lot of jobs," Teamsters spokesman Bret Caldwell told ABC News. "But it’s not a political priority. It’s not going to be a political priority, and it’s not going to be something that we are focusing on in this campaign. We have to pick and choose what we focus on."

With the Teamsters behind Obama, the Illinois Democrat now has the support of the four largest unions which belong to the "Change to Win" labor coalition. Those familiar with "Change to Win’s" plans expect Obama to win the coalition’s endorsement on Thursday. Read more here.

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