Democratic presidential candidates U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) touted unions as a key part of their strategy to win the White House and implement economic policies beneficial to working class people during a forum with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) in Madison Heights.
“We got lost in the last election on this, brothers and sisters, we have to have an optimistic economic agenda for your members and for this country,” Klobuchar said. “And that means, of course, number one, making sure our unions are strong. Because when unions are strong, our economy is strong. You help not just your workers, you help all workers.”
“If we get organized, if we build a grassroots movement, if we persist, we have the chance to change the course of American history. Here’s what I’ll promise you: I’ll fight from the White House, you’ll fight from right here, and together we will hold this government accountable and make the changes we need to make,” Warren said.
Warren said that her biggest priority for the economy would be passing anti-corruption legislation, rattling off a list of other policies she supports – including a $15 minimum wage, health care for all, universal child care – but arguing that none of that is possible without cracking down on corruption.
“I get the practical realities of Washington,” Warren said. “If we don’t fight back against the corruption, then what we’re going to get is we’re going to get some laws that have great names. All things are now rainbows and unicorns is going to be the first law that’s going to be passed, another one will be named chocolate chips and brown sugar.
“They’ll have great names, but they’ll have loopholes carved out for big oil so we’re just caught in the same climate crisis. Loopholes that’ll be carved out so it turns out a few workers have a better chance to organize but not all of them. Carveouts on health care; carveouts on every piece of this.”
Both candidates shared stories of how unions shaped their lives from a young age.
Klobuchar focused on her grandfather, who was an iron ore miner in Minnesota.
“Unions saved his life,” Klobuchar said. “Those mines back then, my dad still remembers seeing the caskets lined up in the church. But then unions came in and they made sure that things were safer, and they made sure those miners were in better working conditions.”
Klobuchar also noted that both her father, a reporter, and her mother, a teacher, were union members.
Warren told the story of her uncle, who was a UFCW member as far back as the 1930s.
“My Uncle Stanley, starting back in the 1930s, was a union meat packer. He had a little house, and a nice car, and a retirement savings, and he used to say over, and over, and over: this is what a union does for you,” Warren said. “I’ve still got his union card. It was so important to him that he kept it in his papers long after he retired, and when he passed my Aunt Bea kept it in her important papers, and when she was dying she gave me her important papers, and that’s why I’ve kept it.”
Both Klobuchar and Warren joined striking United Auto Workers members at General Motors plants in Michigan earlier this month.
Klobuchar visited the state last as part of a tour of “blue wall” states that flipped for President Donald Trump in 2016, including Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
But Klobuchar noted at the forum that Democrats already made gains in those states in 2018.
“We came roaring back,” Klobuchar said. “We won in Michigan in a big way, where you re-elected my good friend [U.S. Sen.] Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) and you elected a new governor in Gretchen [Whitmer]. I loved her slogan, ‘Fix the damn roads;’ very direct.”
While both candidates stayed mostly focused on union issues during the forum, they faced questions almost exclusively about impeachment proceedings during brief press conferences.
Warren noted that she first called for impeachment following the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on election interference in the 2016 presidential election, but argued that a whistleblower report filed about the president asking Ukraine about fellow presidential hopeful former Vice President Joe Biden is what brought most people around to the idea.
“I read the Mueller report, all 448 pages, and when I got to the end, the documentation, footnotes, the details made it clear that Donald Trump had obstructed justice multiple times; that is an impeachable offense. He now has admitted to soliciting a foreign government to interfere in our 2020 election; that is an impeachable offense,” Warren said.
“I think the episode in July made people made people feel that if this man is not held accountable, he will continue to break the law. And that is a threat to our very democracy.”
Klobuchar also said the whistleblower report should be the focus of impeachment proceedings, citing a Washington Post op-ed published by U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) and six other moderate Democratic freshman with national security backgrounds.
“The focus is on this appearance that our national security, what was written in that editorial with those seven members of Congress, brand new members, came to do the right thing — patriots who served our country and the intelligence forces and in our own military forces — and they came forward and said, ‘You know, we haven’t come out with this before, but enough is enough, this just crossed the line,’” Klobuchar said.
“I would look back at what they wrote in that important piece in the Washington Post and I think that really tells it all and why we are focused on this and what we should be focused on.”
And while Klobuchar noted she first came out in support of impeachment several months ago, she argued that the time has passed to have the Mueller report be the main focus of any proceedings.
“We’ve got a smoking gun of this president calling a foreign leader and asking him to get dirt on someone,” Klobuchar said. “The Mueller investigation was like a blockbuster movie that went on and on and on, and this is actually a much more pointed violation. The reason I keep bringing up Watergate is because, as you remember, that involved a lot of other things that President [Richard] Nixon was doing that were bad and illegal. But it was one thing that people could understand when the truth really came out that they had ordered a group of people paid to go in and break into the Democratic National Committee.”
Klobuchar also responded to Democratic presidential contender Andrew Yang’s argument that impeachment benefits Trump.
“I wish that I lived in that cocoon, but I don’t. I live in the real world here,” Klobuchar said. “I can’t evaluate our constitutional duty to go forward based on what’s going to market the best on TV. I’m sorry; there are some things that are bigger than that.
“Our founding fathers didn’t have Twitter; they didn’t have Facebook, but they made a decision that if you’ve got a case where the president is selling out our country for another country, that that’s impeachable, or at least it’s grounds for impeachment, according to [President] James Madison. I would rather make my decisions based on the law and the Constitution than what gets a bunch of Twitter followers.”
Aaron Squeo, who has been a UFCW member for 26 years, said that he appreciated the presidential candidates focusing on issues during the forum rather than talking only about impeachment.
“Things that are bread and butter issues that were talked about here are the things that I think we need to be discussing,” Squeo said. “The impeachment thing and all that stuff, you know, that’s going to play out; I don’t think they need to focus that much on it. That’s their job when they get back to Washington is to focus on that, but while they’re running for president, I want to hear what their vision is.”