Striking a conciliatory election-year tone, President Obama told an audience of labor union officials that he hasn’t been “a perfect president” but had always stayed true to his pledge to work on their behalf.
“When I was running for this office, I told people, I’m not a perfect man — Michelle can tell you that,” he said Monday, veering from prepared remarks at the the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department Legislative Conference and reiterating a few moments later that he’s “not a perfect president.”
During his 2008 campaign for president, Mr. Obama relied heavily on unions for millions of dollars of support, as well as labor’s national get-out-the-vote grassroots network. Mr. Obama has sometimes been at odds with labor during his three years in office but will need all the support he can get from unions ahead of the November election.
In recent weeks and months, Mr. Obama’s been working to mend fences. In February, Mr. Obama delivered a blistering attack on Mitt Romney when he spoke before United Auto Workers, highlighting his GOP rival’s opposition to the auto industry bailout.
In Monday’s speech, Mr. Obama was clearly trying to rebuild his union ties.
“I made a promise I’d always tell you where I stood, I’d always tell you what I thought, what I believed in, and most importantly, I’d wake up every single day working as hard as I know how — to make your lives a little better,” he said.
“And for all that we’ve gone through over the last three-and-a-half, four years, I have kept that promise,” he continued. “And I’m still thinking about you, and I still believe in you. And if you join me, we’ll remind the world why it is that America is the greatest nation on Earth.”
Even before the president delivered the remarks, Mr. Romney’s campaign issued a release slamming Mr. Obama for pandering to the labor unions.
“Nearly 23 million Americans are struggling for work in the Obama economy, but the president has repeatedly sided with his well-funded allies in big labor over American workers,” said Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul.
Mr. Obama’s campaign supported legislation that would make it easier for workers to form unions and stacked the National Labor Relations Board with union sympathizers, the Romney campaign argued. It also gave union leaders unfettered access to the White House. The AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka has visited the Obama White House at least 71 times, the campaign said, citing press reports.
During Monday’s remarks, Mr. Obama quickly pivoted from his self-deprecation to an attack on Republicans for obstructing his agenda.
“Republicans in Congress would rather put fewer of you to work rebuilding America than ask millionaires and billionaires to live without massive new tax cuts,” he said.
Republicans, he argued, aren’t willing to shift their priorities from protecting the wealthy from more tax hikes to making investments that will benefit average working Americans. Republicans in Congress have blocked several Democratic attempts to increase infrastructure and transportation spending, Mr. Obama said.
“If we’re smart about it, we can also afford to make the investments that will help our country and the American people in the short-term,” he said. “I think that’s a no-brainer. But apparently, Republicans disagree.”