AFL-CIO head: Obama must 'go bold' on immigration

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Thursday he expects President Obama will take executive action on immigration, but warned that if he doesn’t “go bold,” he risks alienating the Democratic base while invigorating Republicans.

Trumka also said that workers were frustrated with the president and Democrats more broadly for failing to focus on issues important to them.

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The president “started off really well with focusing on income inequality” at the end of last year, Trumka said, but he “hasn’t stayed aggressive enough” on those issues — and the failure to engage there has workers turned off on the midterms.

Speaking to reporters at a breakfast briefing hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Trumka said he's sure the president is “gonna do something" on immigration, but to be "worthwhile," it might also have to be sweeping.

“If he goes mild, he’ll energize the right, but he won’t energize the center or the left,” he said.

“Unless he goes bold — then he’ll again energize the right the same amount, but he’ll also energize the left. And that needs to happen in order for this election to elect enough people to be able to pass comprehensive immigration reform, because … the broken system is a major drag on our economy and a major drag on wages.”

Trumka said bold action could include “affirmative action with workers to let them come out of the shadows,” and shifting control over enforcement from the states to the federal government, among other moves.

He suggested Hispanics have been alienated by changes Obama has made to appease Republican calls for stronger enforcement at the border.

“What he did do is undermine the support he had in the Latino community because those communities really believe they’re under attack right now and under assault,” Trumka said.

Such support is key for Democrats as they look to the midterm elections, where a tough political climate and the president’s persistent unpopularity has most prognosticators predicting losses for the party in both chambers of Congress.

On Thursday, Trumka warned not only of disaffection with Democrats from Hispanics, but also from labor. He said he was underwhelmed by what few moves Obama has made on issues key to labor, such as his emphasis on increasing the minimum wage, and that workers want to see more talk about those issues from now through November.

“Is it enough? No. We’d like to see a lot more. And the economy needs a lot more. So I think there’s a ways to go,” he said. “Our members, I think, are frustrated because of all the chitter chatter from the Washington group and a lot of other groups about issues that really don’t affect their lives.”

Trumka said that, “if you listen to the ads, most of what the debate is about this election, it’s about everything but things that concern [workers].”

“And as a result, it has a tendency, I think, to dampen their enthusiasm and their participation,” he warned.