By Sam Youngman - 09/15/09 06:35 PM EDT
President Barack Obama on Tuesday sought to cement his relationship with Big Labor, firing up the AFL-CIO by promising to deliver on issues near and dear to its membership.
While Obama made brief mentions of his support for a public health insurance option and the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), he did not mention his administration's move this week to impose tariffs on Chinese tires in response to a petition from the United Steelworkers union.
On Air Force One on Tuesday, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) applauded Obama's move and said the Chinese "have too much at stake to launch any kind of trade war."
"The Chinese always respond that way. You can expect it," Brown said. "The president showed courage. The president did the right thing. The Chinese are always going to complain. Exports are such a more important part of their economy to us than the other way around."
On the same flight, White House spokesman Bill Burton said the president was "confident in his decision."
Despite the omission of the tariffs in his remarks, Obama won seemingly nonstop applause from the union members in Pittsburgh, as he again worked in his campaign slogan of "Fired up, ready to go." Obama reverted to the same line last week when addressing the Ohio AFL-CIO's Labor Day picnic in Cincinnati.
The president made brief mention of the public insurance option and EFCA — two issues that have Obama's support but look increasingly unlikely to land on his desk.
On EFCA, the president won applause for repeating his support, saying "if the majority of workers want a union, they should get a union."
The president also spoke sparingly of the embattled public health insurance option as he continued to refuse to draw any lines in the sand on the issue.
Obama did speak to the group with a great sense of urgency on healthcare, repeating his warning to Congress that "the time for bickering is over" and at one point leading the crowd into a chant of "We can't wait!"
The welcome the crowd showed the president demonstrated that Obama continues to be enormously popular with a group that helped him get elected.
But observers and some labor officials have questioned how long that honeymoon will last when push comes to shove on Capitol Hill over union issues.
Outgoing AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, in introducing Obama, said that "our labor movement is proud of its choice for president."
Sweeney said that while Obama has been "subjected to some of the most vile attacks in modern politics," the union has supported him.
"The president knows that we in this room are the wind at his back," Sweeney said. "We are answering the lies with truths."
Obama's remarks to the AFL-CIO came shortly after he addressed a General Motors plant near Youngstown, Ohio. The president was then scheduled to travel across Pennsylvania to Philadelphia for two fundraisers for Republican-turned-Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter.