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Biden seeks support from union leaders as he tries to reassure worried Democrats

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden met with the executive council of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest union federation, on Wednesday to shore up support among a critical constituency while rejecting continued calls to step aside in the 2024 campaign.

“I think of you as my internal NATO, it’s not a joke” The 81-year-old Democrat he told the crowd gathered at the headquarters.

Hours later, in the Oval Office, when a reporter asked him about a written opinion article by George Clooney in which the actor implored Biden to drop out of the 2024 race, the president responded with “AFL-CIO!”, paused, clenched his fists and added, “Go, go, go.”

The AFL-CIO said the president had been contracted to attend the meeting for more than a year, but his participation now carries much greater scrutiny after his Poor performance in the debate against Donald Trump raised fears about his ability to compete in the November elections. His meeting with union leaders also coincides with the NATO Summit in Washington, where Biden is discussing geopolitics with other world leaders.

Biden spoke with a microphone in his hand and no teleprompter in sight. He thanked union leaders for their support and outlined his plans for the future, seeking to allay questions about his reelection campaign. Biden is close to many union leaders who were in the room and considers AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler a personal friend.

“I said I’m going to be the most pro-union president in American history,” Biden told the cheering crowd. “Well, guess what? I am.”

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In announcing Biden, Shuler told the room that he has supported jobs, manufacturing and creating good, unionized jobs in clean energy. He made it clear to the president that he had the union’s support.

“You have always supported us, we support you,” Shuler told the president.

The council is made up of more than 50 officials from the unions that make up the AFL-CIO, and the group represents 12.5 million union members.

So far, unions are sticking with the Biden administration, despite widespread fears that his age hurts his candidacy after his shaky performance in the June 27 debate. The AFL-CIO said Thursday that Biden’s “fighting spirit” was evident in the exchange with union leaders.

Still, some statements of support are also diplomatically worded to suggest a degree of flexibility should Biden decide to withdraw, saying they stand by the Biden-Harris administration and not just Biden personally.

The AFL-CIO said it voted unanimously Thursday to “reaffirm” its support for “President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the leaders of the most pro-union administration of our lifetimes.”

After Biden was interviewed by ABC News last week following his poor debate, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, posted on X: “Biden is an incredible president and tonight we saw that he is on top of the details. He has my support and we are ready to keep working to make Biden-Harris a winner in November.”

Some union leaders have been more specific in their support for Biden and his continued candidacy.

United Steelworkers International President David McCall said ahead of Wednesday’s meeting that his union “proudly supports” Biden and said his “record of delivering results for workers speaks for itself.”

Kenneth Cooper, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, also strongly supported Biden, saying his union members “couldn’t ask for a stronger advocate.”

Wednesday’s meeting was a test of whether Biden’s emphasis on policy and loyalty to Democratic constituencies such as labor unions can overcome doubts about his candidacy.

Throughout his tenure, Biden has tied his administration to the idea that unions built the middle class. He visited a picket During the auto strikes, he supported the steelworkers union in opposing Japanese steel By taking over US Steel, he saved himself Pensions for unionized workers as part of its pandemic relief and sided with unions on a new rule to make more workers eligible for overtime pay.

Biden is so conscious of unionized workers that he recently canceled a planned speech for the conference National Education Association in Philadelphia after union staff announced a strike and formed a picket line.

A person familiar with labor movement thinking said there is an acknowledgement that Biden lost some ground among voters after the debate, but unions have found that one-on-one conversations about Biden’s agenda are more important to members and their families than their age and health. Their argument is that Biden’s agenda has directly helped unionized workers, while Trump’s plans could leave them worse off.

The AFL-CIO has raised 42 specific objections to Trump’s tenure from 2017 to 2021. It noted that the Republican, who recently proposed making tips paid to workers tax-free, had also implemented as president a proposal to allow bosses to pocket their employees’ tips, among other concerns about his tax cuts and efforts to restrict unionization.

Trump has also tried to appeal to union members, having met in January with officials of the truckers’ union and later saying that although Republicans generally do not get the endorsement of unions, “in my case it is different because I have employed thousands of Teamsters and I thought we should come and pay our respects.”

The former president has cast himself as a champion of blue-collar workers, and Teamsters President Sean O’Brien later said there’s “no question” Trump has some support from union members. O’Brien is scheduled to speak at the Republican National Convention next week in Milwaukee at Trump’s invitation.

In 2020, AP VoteCast found that 16% of voters came from union households, and 56% of them supported Biden. Biden and Trump essentially split nonunion households in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, meaning the Democrat’s advantage with union households was likely a critical factor in his victory.

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