Trump, AFL-CIO's Trumka to give dueling trade speeches Tuesday

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 28, 2016 6:06 AM

By Emily Stephenson and Amanda Becker

(Reuters) - Both Republican Donald Trump and the head of the biggest U.S. union federation, a top ally of Democrat Hillary Clinton, will double down on the trade issue in dueling speeches on Tuesday in the battle for blue-collar voters in the November presidential election.

In a visit to the Rust Belt states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, plans to attack Clinton's record on trade, questioning her commitment to fight for American workers, a campaign aide said.

    Trump has seized on Britain's vote to leave the European Union to bolster his argument that voters are rising up against establishment leaders, saying Americans would reject the "global elite" and support his presidential candidacy.

    In a trade speech in southwestern Pennsylvania on Tuesday, Trump will tie Clinton to trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which unions oppose, and will discuss his own trade agenda, including his plans to label China a currency manipulator, the aide told Reuters. Trump will visit Ohio later in the day.

Clinton's campaign called Trump's remarks an attempt to distract from "his dangerous economic policies."

In a speech promoting Clinton, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka plans to deliver a counterattack on Trump over the trade issue at a Washington conference on Tuesday.

    "Donald Trump talks a good game on trade, but his first and only loyalty is to himself," Trumka will say, according to prepared remarks released by the AFL-CIO, a federation of 56 unions that collectively represent more than 12 million workers.

When the AFL-CIO formally endorsed Clinton's presidential campaign earlier this month, Trumka warned of "dire consequences" posed by Trump's candidacy.

Trump has broken with the Republican Party to criticize U.S. trade deals and threatened to slap tariffs on imports from Mexico and China. While his rhetoric has drawn criticism from many economists, who say such practices could spark trade wars, Trumka has said it could appeal to some rank-and-file union members.

Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, struggled with these voters in her primary race against U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who criticized her for supporting trade deals and said she was too close to Wall Street.

Trump, a real estate mogul, has made similar arguments against Clinton, making blue-collar voters a potential weakness for the former U.S. secretary of state, particularly in the Rust Belt. Democratic President Barack Obama won Pennsylvania and Ohio twice, but each state has been hard hit by manufacturing job losses and could be at the center of the Nov. 8 election fight.

Matt Grossmann, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, said union members tend to be more conservative than their solidly Democratic leadership.

"The long-running Democratic strategy has been to say, 'We empathize with people like you and the Republicans are out for the rich.' I don't see any reason why you would change strategies," Grossmann said. "The unions may enjoy running against a developer."

Trumka will acknowledge on Tuesday that Clinton was pushed to reject the pending 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership during her primary campaign after pressure from progressives within her party, including Sanders, who now says he will vote for Clinton in November although he has not withdrawn from the race.

Clinton has said she will evaluate each trade deal on its merits. At a rally in Ohio on Monday with U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a leading critic of trade deals, Clinton said if elected to the White House she would appoint a trade prosecutor to "end the abuse" of U.S. workers.

(Additional reporting by Adam DeRose; Editing by Caren Bohan and Leslie Adler)