- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2002

President Bush and Republican leaders are aggressively courting Teamsters President James P. Hoffa and other Republican-friendly unions in a divide-and-conquer campaign aimed at one of the Democrats' most powerful political constituencies.
The White House has been lengthening its list of union allies, from the Teamsters to more than a dozen other labor groups, in a stepped-up offensive to pass Mr. Bush's energy bill calling for oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But labor union lobbyists now say that the Bush-labor union partnership is just the beginning of a broader working alliance with the administration and Republican leaders on other parts of Mr. Bush's agenda in the months to come.
The administration's all-out drive to woo individual unions around issues of "common ground" has been accelerated over the past year, but no union leader has been courted as assiduously as Mr. Hoffa in the past month or so.
"We have developed a very cordial working relationship with the White House. We're working on a number of areas the recession, job creation, as well as energy," said Bret Caldwell, Mr. Hoffa's chief spokesman.
"The White House has been very receptive to the union. Hoffa met with Bush in the campaign in the summer that led to a familiarity with each other and a true liking of each other. Jim Hoffa respects the president and thinks he is a very good person. They've spoken on a number of occasions. It's business," Mr. Caldwell said.
Mr. Bush paid a visit to Teamsters headquarters on Jan. 17 the first Republican president to do that since President-elect Ronald Reagan dropped by in 1980. That was followed by an elegant reception for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, 30 Republican lawmakers and Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao at the Teamsters' headquarters on Capitol Hill on Jan. 23.
Beginning his second term as Teamster president, Mr. Hoffa has been a frequent visitor to the White House and was prominently seen on NBC's recent television special about a day with the president. Mr. Bush also invited the head of the 1.4 million-member union to be one of his guests in the House gallery during his recent State of the Union address.
"Bush visits the Teamsters. Hoffa stars in Tom Brokaw's life in the White House. What's next? Having him stay over in the Lincoln bedroom or down at Camp David for the weekend?" said Scott Reed, a Republican adviser and lobbyist for the Teamsters.
"He said after he filled his first term that the Teamsters will no longer be the ATM machine for the Democratic Party. He's looking for common ground with the White House and leaders on the Hill to help his union," Mr. Reed said.
The administration has been just as eager to help the Teamsters. Mr. Bush met last month with the Teamsters, Carpenters and other unions to explore issues on which they could agree. When one of the union officials objected to a candidate for an opening on the National Labor Relations Board, Mr. Bush made sure another nominee was chosen.
When Mr. Bush signed his tax-cut bill last year, it included a pension reform provision, Section 415, that the Teamsters and other building trade unions wanted. When logging unions complained last year about Canadian dumping of timber in U.S. markets, Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans brought pressure on Canada to ease union concerns.
In return, the administraton is getting broad union support for its energy bill, which Democratic Majority Leader Tom Daschle has blocked in the Senate. Labor union strategists say that this cooperation will also soon extend to some other issues being discussed in private on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Hoffa has been the most visible labor supporter of the ANWR drilling plan, which will provide thousands of jobs for his members. But union support for drilling in ANWR is much broader than that.
Each Tuesday morning about 15 unions meet on the sixth floor in the building trades department of the AFL-CIO's headquarters to discuss strategy on the bill and other administration legislation.
The Maritime Union, the Seafarers, the Carpenters and the Teamsters are among those who attend the weekly meetings. Andrew Lundquist, the White House's point man on energy, also attends, along with key Republican officials from the Interior and Energy Departments and the Senate Energy Committee.
White House and Republican strategists hope there will ultimately be a big political payoff in the 2004 election if not before.
"There are huge mutual advantages to union leaders and their members and huge political advantages to the Republican Party to work together. There's tons of room for agreement," said Rich Bond, a longtime Republican lobbyist who represents the Carpenters and Service employees' unions.
At the top of Mr. Hoffa's wish list is an end to the government's 13-year supervision of his union. He has been lobbying the Justice and Labor departments to end the federal oversight, and there is growing support in Congress and the administration to do that.
"They're looking at it. They're looking at it very closely," said a Republican strategist who is advising the administration on labor relations.
Could Mr. Hoffa end up endorsing Mr. Bush in 2004? "It's possible. The Teamsters have a history of endorsing Republicans. They endorsed Reagan twice, Richard Nixon and Bush's father," said Republican strategist Frank Donatelli.
"Many of Hoffa's members are socially conservative, pro-gun rights, pro-life, very patriotic, and strong on defense. Bush lost two big states, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and clearly organized labor made the difference in those two states," he said.

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