2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden appeals to labor unions, blue collar workers at rally

Biden opened his campaign in the marquee battleground state of Pennsylvania.

April 29, 2019, 6:08 PM

Former Vice President Joe Biden opened his third presidential campaign in his native state of Pennsylvania by setting a pro-labor tone early in the marquee battleground state.

"I am a union man," Biden said to a crowd chanting "we want Joe" at a union hall in Pittsburgh. "If I'm going to beat Donald Trump in 2020, it's going to happen here. With your help, I think we're going to be able to do that."

Taking the stage in the heart of the Keystone state, Biden’s message was one of inclusivity for the middle class. The former Delaware senator boasts a decades-long career as a fixture in American politics -- one that led him to one of the highest offices in the country as vice president under former President Barack Obama – and a long-standing bipartisan appeal among working-class and Midwestern voters.

A woman sells buttons outside the Teamster Hall Local 249 before a rally by former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden at the Teamster Hall Local 249 in Pittsburgh, April 29, 2019.
Gene J. Puskar/AP

Biden also took aim at Trump's economic policies and Republican tax cuts and also sought to distinguish between measures that benefit "Wall Street bankers, CEOs, and hedge funds managers" versus the plight of the middle class.

"The middle class is hurting. Fifty-three percent of the folks in America don't think your children have the same standard of living they had," Biden told the crowd. "There was a $2 trillion tax cut last year, did you feel it? Of course not."

And, in rhetoric reminiscent of Obama-era campaign language with an appeal for a more hopeful and inclusive vision of America, Biden sought to appeal to diverse coalitions.

"The major moral obligation of our time is to restore, and rebuild, and respect the backbone of America, the middle class," he said. "As we rebuild it we need this rebuilding to be all inclusive, opening the doors to opportunity for all Americans no matter their race, their gender, who they love. No matter who or where they're from, no matter whether or not they have a disability. All America has to be included as we rebuilt."

Biden began to outline a framework for his policy platform including implementing a $15 minimum wage, reversing Trump's tax cuts, providing affordable post-secondary job training, instituting a public option plan for Medicare, investing in clean, renewable transportation and medical research, and closing tax loopholes.

“We need to reward work in this country, not just wealth,” he said.

For Biden, courting the union vote will be crucial to clinching the Democratic nomination. Long known as “middle-class Joe,” Biden’s strategy centers on striking a chord with the core of his base: working-class America. He also seeks to reclaim those voters who stood behind both Presidents Barack Obama in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016 -- including in Pennsylvania, a must-win for Democrats in the upcoming presidential election.

Biden’s overtures to labor began far before he formally entered the 2020 field, but last month, he emphasized his support for workers when he stopped at a Stop & Shop employee rally in Massachusetts during the strike and before the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ conference.

Monday's rally is Biden’s first as a presidential contender -- after he jumped into the race last week. The event, against the backdrop of a local union banquet hall, comes on the heels of Biden securing the first major labor union endorsement of the 2020 race, from the International Association of Firefighters Monday morning.

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks outside of Gianni's Pizza, in Wilmington, Del., April 25, 2019.
Jessica Griffin/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP

“He's one of the staunchest advocates for working families,” IAFF President Harold Schaitberger said in a video. “We know as president he will stand up for all the patriotic Americans who want nothing more than to earn a decent pay, send their kids to college, have affordable health care and a decent and secure retirement.”

Trump immediately ripped into the endorsement, claiming that the union is exploiting their members with “high dues” in a series of tweets earlier Monday.

IAFF endorsed Trump in 2016 but Schaitberger told ABC News’ Senior Washington Reporter, Devin Dwyer, “Biden wasn’t in the ballot. That’s a big distinction from then and now.”

Biden dismissed the president’s criticisms of labor leader, writing in a tweet, “I'm sick of this President badmouthing unions. Labor built the middle class in this country.”

Biden formally entered the race on April 25, releasing a video posted on social media in which he sought to carve out his own lane amid a crowded Democratic primary by taking direct aim at President Donald Trump and staking his candidacy on a "battle for the soul of this nation."

In the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll released Sunday, Biden wades into the 2020 field as the early frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, but with a decided tilt toward older voters that could define the party’s 2020 contest as a generational showdown.

In an open-ended question, 17 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents support Biden, with 11 percent for Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and 5 percent for South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden appears on ABC's, "The View," in New York, April 26, 2019.
Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC

Biden topped his Democratic rivals with an impressive fundraising haul in the first 24 hours of his campaign, raising $6.3 million in the first day, his campaign announced in an email to supporters.

The campaign said 96,926 people donated to the campaign from all 50 states. The average amount of online donations was $41, and 97 percent of online donations made were less than $200. Biden's campaign declined to say how many of their donations were made online.

In the lead up to his formal entry, Biden faced controversy after several women accused him of making them uncomfortable with what they considered inappropriate touching. He posted a video acknowledging that "social norms are changing" and promising he would be "much more mindful," calling it his "responsibility."

On Friday, Biden was asked about the allegations during an appearance on ABC’s “The View.”

"Here's the deal. I have to be much more aware of the private space of men and women," he told the co-hosts Friday. "And I am much more cognizant of that."

Biden told “Good Morning America” co-anchor Robin Roberts during an interview on Monday which will fully air on Tuesday that he takes “responsibility” for Anita Hill’s treatment when she testified before the Senate Judiciary committee during Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearing.

“I believed her from the very beginning, but I was chairman. She did not get a fair hearing. She did not get treated well. That's my responsibility,” Biden said.

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