Obama, Clinton and the Teamsters

What did Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton say about their opposition to federal oversight of the union?


Alex Koppelman
May 6, 2008 3:50AM (UTC)

Monday morning, the Wall Street Journal reported that before he received its endorsement, Barack Obama had told the International Brotherhood of Teamsters that "he supported ending the strict federal oversight imposed to root out corruption."

The Journal's Brody Mullins and Kris Maher also wrote that "it's an unusual stance for a presidential candidate. Policy makers have largely treated monitoring of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters as a legal matter left to the Justice Department since an independent review board was set up in 1992 to eliminate mob influence in the union."

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Some reporters speculated that there may have been a quid pro quo involved, with what Obama said being essentially traded for an endorsement. And the Clinton campaign criticized Obama, suggesting that he had one public message on the issue and one private message. "What I find troubling is a statement in a newspaper that says the position is lift it, and then a candidate going on TV and saying something different," Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson told Ben Smith.

Turns out that there likely was no explicit trade -- an Obama spokesman has now pointed out that Obama made his statement to the Teamsters in the summer of 2007, and the endorsement came in February of 2008 -- that there's really little, if any, difference in what Obama said publicly versus what he said privately, and that Clinton herself has taken a similar position to Obama's. Smith reported on Clinton's endorsement meeting with the Teamsters, which was held last March. During the meeting, she referred to "the world's longest consent decree" and said:

I am of the opinion that based on what I’ve seen over years of observation, this union has really done a tremendous job in turning itself around. That’s my observation. At some point the past has to be opened. If you screw up in the future, that’ll be a new day, right? That’s the way the system works. But you gotta – you can’t go around dragging the ball and chain of the past. And I think that’s true for anybody, any organization, any individual, you know, and so I would be very open to looking at that and to saying, what is it we’re trying to accomplish here? And seeing what the answers were because at some point turn the page and go on.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama Hillary Rodham Clinton War Room

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