- The Washington Times - Friday, January 18, 2002

President Bush yesterday enlisted the support of labor leaders, traditional allies of the Democratic Party, to pressure Senate Democrats into passing his energy bill, which would create union jobs.
Mr. Bush visited Teamsters headquarters in Washington for a round-table discussion with the union's president, James P. Hoffa, along with leaders of carpenters, seafarers and building trade unions. The leaders, who represent several million rank-and-file workers, all support the president's energy plan.
"This energy bill that we're working on is a jobs bill," Mr. Bush said as he sat next to Mr Hoffa. "That's why we're linked up on this issue.
"We got Republicans sitting around this table, we got Democrats sitting around this table," he added. "We've probably got some people who don't care about politics sitting around the table."
The president argued that his energy bill, which called for oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska, would create union jobs and thereby mitigate the effects of the recession.
Many Democrats and environmentalists oppose drilling in ANWR, but Ed Sullivan, president of the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Department, says limited oil exploration will not harm the environment.
"It's not like the old days, with derricks," Mr. Sullivan told Mr. Bush. "It can be done safely, environmentally."
Doug McCarron, president of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, said his members were "hunters and fisherman and campers who feel strongly about preserving our environment. And the best approach to this is a balanced approach. We need jobs and we also need a strong environment."
Mr. Bush agreed.
"When we explore for power, U.S. power, U.S. energy in ANWR, we're not only helping us become less dependent on foreign sources of crude oil and foreign sources of energy, we're creating jobs for American workers, jobs so that men and women can put food on the table," the president said.
Mr. Bush's visit to Teamsters headquarters came a week after the administration eased financial oversight of the union. The union ultimately wanted an end to all governmental oversight, which was imposed years ago to combat corruption.
In a wry reference to the union's scandal-plagued history, Mr. Bush quipped: "There's no telling what kind of conversations have gone on at this table."
Mr. Hoffa, who was credited with cleaning up the union, endorsed Al Gore for president but had become increasingly allied with Mr. Bush. He began yesterday's meeting by joking that another item had been added to the agenda the Heimlich maneuver.
The union bosses roared with laughter over the reference to the president's fainting spell after choking on a pretzel on Sunday. Mr. Bush, whose facial scrape from the fall appeared to be healing, quipped: "Scrub the menu."
Turning serious, the son of the legendary Teamsters president said he wanted the Senate to vote on Mr. Bush's energy bill as soon as possible.
"All we want is an up-or-down call to make sure American people get what they want," Mr. Hoffa said. "It is being held up in the Senate."
The energy bill, which also calls for increased development of nuclear power, has passed the Republican-controlled House but is stalled in the Democrat-controlled Senate. The White House wants the Senate to vote on the measure next month.
"The energy bill that's now stuck in the Senate, that can't get voted on in the Senate, will be good for America, be good for our foreign policy, be good for our national security, and more importantly, be good for jobs," the president said.
But Democrats have a fresh weapon in their fight against the energy bill. Some are complaining the bill has too much input from Kenneth L. Lay, chairman of Enron, whose bankruptcy has touched off a flurry of congressional investigations.
At the White House yesterday, reporters continued to probe for connections between Mr. Bush and Mr. Lay, who made significant campaign contributions to both parties. The questions have dominated the last three White House press briefings.
Mr. Fleischer reiterated that the administration had done nothing wrong. To the contrary, when Mr. Lay hinted to several Cabinet members that he would like a government bailout, the secretaries declined.

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