AFL-CIO withholds judgment on Clinton

A top AFL-CIO official said Wednesday that organized labor is witholding judgment on Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate.

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AFL-CIO Political Director Mike Podhorzer said unions want to be more unified behind a candidate than they were in 2008, when Clinton and then Sen. Barack Obama battled for the nomination, splitting labor. He also pushed back against the suggestion that workers have “concerns” with Clinton.

But Podhorzer acknowledged labor has questions about what Clinton will emphasize in an expected run for the White House.

“I don’t know that there are concerns,” he told reporters during a briefing at the union’s headquarters in Washington. “People want to see where she’ll be on working family issues, if she decides to run.

“I think that she has, over the last six years, been really focused on foreign policy, and it remains to be seen how she’s going to campaign [on our issues] if she runs,” he said.

The AFL-CIO is the nation's largest union confederation and a major power player in Democratic politics. 

In 2008, major unions were split, with Clinton picking up the backing of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union and the American Federation of Teachers and the United Farm Workers, among others.

Obama took the endorsements of the Service Employees International Union, the Teamsters and Unite Here, which represents hotel and restaurant workers.

The AFL-CIO stayed out of the fight, and didn't endorse Obama until late June 2008, when he'd locked up the nomination and was preparing for the general election. 

If she runs for the nomination, Clinton is the heavy favorite.

Still, she's faced skepticism among progressives who believe she may be too cozy with Wall Street and who are wary of her commitment to populist economic policies and priorities. Podhorzer said labor will be watching to see how Clinton tackles those issues.

Arguably the top pick to take on Clinton for progressives is Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, but the senator has repeatedly insisted she has no plans to run. 

Warren received a hero’s welcome when she spoke at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington in May. Asked whether labor would like any potential candidates in particular to enter the race, Podhorzer said he “wouldn’t say that there’s anybody in particular that has indicated an interest in running that I’m at liberty to talk about.”

But he also said Warren was met with such a positive response from the labor movement because “she was embodying the principles” of the movement.

In July, during the AFL-CIO’s executive counsel meeting, the group codified a process by which to interview and vote on a candidate in 2016, which Podhorzer said they hope will make labor “more unified” behind a single candidate.