Mob-aware Hoffa has all Dem bases covered

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has released tapes of its interviews with presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton to support its position that its endorsement of Obama was not contingent on a quid pro quo that he would end a court consent decree designed to end mob influence.

The tapes were released in response to a story in today’s Wall Street Journal that suggests Obama won the endorsement of the 1.4 million-member union after privately indicating he would work to end the 1989 court decree.

During separate interviews with the Teamsters leadership taped on the same day in March last year, both candidates agreed that the court decree should be reviewed by the next administration.

Obama praised the current president of the union, James Hoffa, for his leadership. “I think that the union has been transformed,’’ Obama said. “I think that’s the assessment generally, and the problem is that you have an administration that hasn’t been particularly friendly to unions here and this union in particular. I think if you’ve got someone in the White House who you know, who you trust and who you have a history with, then you’re going to see a change in terms of how we evaluate with these consent decrees.’’

Obama added that there would be “legal aspects’’ to ending the decree, so he wouldn’t want to act as if it would “suddenly happen.’’ Listen to Obama here:

Clinton, in her interview, also praised the union. “I am of the opinion that based on what I have seen over years of observation, you know, this union has really done a tremendous job,’’ she said.

But Clinton did not offer as optimistic a prediction what might ultimately happen to the consent decrees should she become the next president. “I would be very open to looking into that and saying, ‘What are we trying to accomplish here any longer’ and see what the answer is,’’ she told the union leaders. Listen to her here:

Appearing this morning on “Good Morning America,’’ Obama distanced himself from the Journal story, which also referred to private conversations he’s had with a Midwest leader of the Teamsters union.

“I wouldn’t make any blanket commitments,’’ Obama said. “What I’ve said is, that we should take a look at what’s been happening over at the Teamsters and at all unions, to make sure that in fact organized labor is able to represent its membership and engage in collective bargaining.’’

When the Teamsters announced their endorsement in late February, union President James Hoffa said it was done after taking a poll of his membership. Hoffa at the time declined to provide details of the poll, but said in a conference call with reporters that it showed Obama would match up better against Republican John McCain.

Teamsters spokesman Brett Caldwell reiterated the role of the poll in a statement released earlier today, adding that the union “endorsed Senator Obama because of his support of fair trade, the Employee Free Choice Act, the creation of a striker replacement law as well as his sponsorship of legislation on the misclassification of workers and the Employer Patriot Act – among many, many other issues.’’


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