The Clinton campaign was frustrated with the delayed endorsement from the nation's largest labor union, but felt confident that Bernie Sanders would never win support thanks to Hillary's support from top executives over rank-and-file members.
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka announced on Feb. 17 that his 12.5 million member organization would remain neutral in the closely contested primary battle between Hillary Clinton and insurgent socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I, Vt.). Trumka said that the AFL-CIO would not endorse until one candidate reached two-thirds support among the group's member unions.
The announcement proved a setback for the Clinton campaign, which had made overtures to Trumka beginning in the spring of 2015.
Clinton labor outreach director Nikki Budzinski attempted to assure campaign Chairman John Podesta and other senior advisers that the vote was close, but that Clinton had failed to clear the threshold. She assured them that they were "very damn near close to 60%" and would urge member unions which had already endorsed, such as the American Federation of Teachers, to put pressure on Trumka.
"Sanders will never receive AFL-CIO endorsement. Its impossible," she said (sic). "We should let the affiliates that have endorse speak to how they feel about the AFL-CIO silence on this (which I don't think will be positive for the AFL-CIO)."
The campaign had pressured AFL-CIO in the past. When an Iowa chapter spokesman disparaged Clinton and praised Sanders in a Mother Jones article, the campaign convinced national leaders of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a member-union, to threaten the state operation.
"There is a lot of Iowa AFL-CIO in this article that is pro-Bernie. Lee Saunders called Trumka today with AFSCME Council 61 President Danny Homan and informed him that AFSCME (the largest AFL-CIO union in the state of Iowa) is withholding all per capita indefinitely in the state of Iowa," Budzinski said in a Feb. 1 email. "The Iowa AFL-CIO printed a retraction of their statements in the article today."
The Clinton campaign doggedly pursued the AFL-CIO endorsement and was in frequent communication with Trumka to gain insight into an endorsement.
However, members of Clinton's inner circle privately complained about his leadership and his praise for Vice President Joe Biden. Several called him "annoying" in a Sept. 6 email chain. By the following week, national political director Amanda Renteria was urging Hillary Clinton to call Trumka to apologize for snubbing him at a meeting. She wanted Clinton to acknowledge his help in securing the endorsement.
"I would call and say, I'm sorry we missed you but it was great to see your staff (he's already mad at her …. this could soften it and/or be a little message that we know what he's doing)," she said.
Budzinski outlined the strategy for receiving the endorsement before the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire primary in October 2015.
She told Podesta that the group should push for 50 percent threshold and then work with union leadership to "have a delegation of Presidents come to Trumka and ask him to call the vote for HRC"—which would have violated the 66 percent threshold that is the union's official process. Trumka evidently spurned the proposal. Budzinski informed the group in November that the endorsement would come "definitely post Iowa/NH," probably in late-February.
Budzinski laid the blame for the delay at Trumka's feet in a memo circulated on Nov. 2, 2015.
"The decision for Trumka is timing and if he feels that it is important for the AFL-CIO to jump in early and be an early active partner prior to the Iowa caucus, or if he will drag his feet and wait until much later in the primary calendar to move forward with an endorsement," the memo said. "Many unions (including the AFT) feel that Trumka will have to be compelled by his affiliates to take a leadership role in an early AFL-CIO endorsement process. He is not motivated."
The memo noted that because Clinton had locked up a number of larger union endorsement early, including AFT and AFSCME, that it could deny Sanders a two-thirds majority—a similar tactic the campaign effectively pursued with super delegates. Therefore, she wrote, "the only play Sanders would have is to get aligned unions to block an earlier HRC endorsement."
Sanders' strategy appeared to work: the AFL-CIO did not endorse Clinton until June when she had already locked up the nomination.
Trumka, who held two get-out-the-vote rallies with Ohio union members and canvassers on Tuesday, did not return request for comment. Budzinski did not return request for comment.
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