Labor Balks: White House Jabs Won’t Deter Movement

Union officials bruised by Lt. Gov. Bill Halter’s loss in Arkansas were beyond irritated when the White House took an anonymous swipe at the labor movement for trying to unseat his Democratic rival, Sen. Blanche Lincoln. But the punchline is that they say they’re more determined now — even if it means the Democrats lose the House this fall.

An unnamed White House official called Politico’s Ben Smith to criticize labor’s involvement in the Democratic primary, saying they’d “flushed $10 million” on a “pointless exercise.”

“If even half that total had been well-targeted and applied in key House races across this country, that could have made a real difference in November,” the official told Politico. That’s right in line with what national Democrats were telling me right after Halter kept Lincoln to under 50 percent in the May 18 primary, forcing the runoff which she won last night.“There is going to be a lot of egg on their face,” one Democrat told me. “When Democrats are fighting for their lives all over the country and to think this is how they are spending all their money? Come on.”

But the AFL-CIO’s Eddie Vale said the nasty Arkansas race — where Lincoln complained about labor’s involvement — just proves that unions aren’t lockstep with the Democrats in Washington and the White House.

“This is our job to be more aggressive and fighting for our membership. We’re dead serious and we’re only going to support folks that support our issues,” Vale said, adding the loss has stiffened labor’s resolve. “If we can do it in Arkansas then we can do it in other states.”

Vale said that labor might stay out of races, even if they are targeted elections the DCCC needs to keep the House. Vale pointedly asked me to use his remarks on the record, saying he was “proud” to talk about labor and not wanting to “hide behind” an anonymous quote.

“I’m surprised the White House would anonymously come after the backbone of what supported a lot of Democrats for decades now,” Vale said.

An official with Service Employees International Union last night offered a similar message. “If we tucked our tail and went home after every loss, we would be useless as an ally, or opponent, of any candidate,” the official said.

The official said the SEIU will keep getting involved in races and targeting candidates who don’t support the labor movement, whether the White House likes it or not. The message: “If you are not our friend, we are not your friend.” The official said President Obama’s team should know that labor activists were there with him on health care, the stimulus bill and his agenda. “I hope they don’t get too caught up in a victory that they did very little to help bring about,” the official said, referring to Lincoln prevailing. “Instead of trying to take credit for a race that they were almost totally absent from, they have a lot of work that they could be doing on issues, and 2010 races, where we stand on the same side,” the official said.

SEIU won’t be endorsing Lincoln during the general election, and the other groups are likely to sit out as well. Vale said Arkansas members will consider it in a coming meeting.