Hillary Clinton locks down major union endorsement

ByBrian Tumulty, Gannett News Service

WASHINGTON -- The day after her Democratic opponents for the presidential nomination ganged up on her at a Philadelphia debate, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was back in Washington talking about bipartisanship on a dais with first lady Laura Bush, attending a Senate hearing on nuclear waste disposal and attending an afternoon endorsement by one of the nation's largest labor unions.

As front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton appeared unfazed by the debate, telling a reporter she "was prepared" and joked, "I used to play touch football with my brothers." The New York senator left it to her campaign to point out that 26 of the 52 questions at the debate were about her.

At a morning news conference to announce bipartisan Senate and House legislation that would make permanent the historic preservation efforts begun by Laura Bush and Clinton while she served as first lady, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., referred to the debate.

"I wasn't sure you'd get here today," Domenici told Clinton. "It was all against you and you looked terrific."

"It might have been a little bit difficult for me to be here, but I wouldn't have missed it," Clinton responded when she took her turn speaking at the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, which once served as headquarters for the National Woman's Party. She said the bipartisan legislation "is a way of saying we can work together."

Clinton used the Senate hearing on nuclear waste disposal to reiterate her opposition to using Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a permanent repository, a point she repeated later in the day in a campaign conference call with reporters in Nevada, one of the early primary states.

Clinton showed her feistier side at the news conference to accept an endorsement from the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.

"I'll go 10 rounds with anybody," Clinton joked as she accepted a pair of red boxing gloves from AFSCME President Gerald McEntee.

At the moment, Clinton's biggest challenge for capturing the Democratic nomination appears to be the hotly contested Jan 3 caucuses in Iowa, where AFSCME considers itself the largest labor union with about 30,000 members, many of them state employees.

Clinton told the union audience she would "cut 500,000 private contracting jobs" during her first year as president. She didn't say whether any of the 500,000 federal contractors would be replaced with new federal employees, who presumably might swell the ranks of federal government unions.

"There is no evidence that they're saving us money, that they are doing the job we that we expect them to do," Clinton said. "There are now more private contractors being paid with our tax dollars than there are civilian and military employees combined. And I don't think most Americans know that. We are just looking at the tip of a very dirty iceberg."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events