In a stop in Philadelphia for the AFL-CIO’s annual constitutional convention, President Joe Biden led off with a plea for the November midterm election: Pennsylvanians concerned about labor issues should elect Lieutenant Gov. John Fetterman to the U.S. Senate.
Biden said he’d spoken to Fetterman, who is recovering from a stroke, via Zoom on Monday. “If you’re in a foxhole, you want John with you, man,” he said. “There’s no bigger, stronger voice for working people in this state than John.”
Fetterman’s campaign says he has his own labor hopes for Biden and congress. Reached for comment, a spokesman said the Democratic nominee wants to see the PRO Act passed — a bill that would make it easier to unionize, which is stalled in the Senate — and that “we should be ramping up production across industries, increasing capacity and supply to bring down prices.”
The coming midterms loomed over the rest of Biden’s speech, too.
Pennsylvania’s election is the Democrats’ likeliest shot to pick up a seat in the U.S. Senate and free themselves from some of the gridlock that has plagued Biden’s agenda. But the election is also clouded by rising prices for food, gasoline, and other necessities — inflation that has hurt Biden’s poll numbers.
In response, Biden has been trying to highlight the ways his administration is trying to bolster unions and help working people, even as he takes heat for rising prices.
“When you do well, everybody does well,” he said. “If investment bankers — they’re not all bad guys, they’re not bad — but if they went on strike, not a whole hell of a lot would happen. But guess what? Guess what? I tell this to my buddy, if the IBEW went on strike, everything shuts down.”
Like Fetterman, Biden touted his support for the PRO Act, and also for creating jobs by updating infrastructure and investing in green energy projects — saying that his bipartisan infrastructure law was “about more than rebuilding our infrastructure, it’s about rebuilding the middle class.”
The president said his administration is working globally to release stores of oil and grain. He also pitched the idea that cost savings for working people could come from other areas, like caps on the price of insulin, federally-funded childcare — part of the stalled Build Back Better plan —and tax credits to help people pay to make their homes more energy efficient.
He said that given the presidency and majorities in Congress, Republicans would support ending or dramatically restricting federal programs — referencing a fringe plan from Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, to sunset almost all federal laws after five years if Congress doesn’t extend them.
And he repeatedly slammed the previous administration for its tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefitted the very rich over the middle class, and blamed Republicans for his inability to roll them back. Some members of his own party also resisted the rollback.
“Look, we can do all this,” he said. “All I’m asking is for the largest corporations and the wealthiest Americans to begin to pay their fair share in taxes. I’m deadly earnest.”
The speech also comes as the administration could be on the brink of conflict with labor unions over how to address inflation.
Recently, Biden has reportedly considered easing some Donald Trump-era tariffs in an effort to bring down prices — specifically, exempting some consumer goods from tariffs against China, according to Axios.
Labor unions have balked at that idea. Earlier this month, United Steelworkers President Thomas Conway publicized their position, filing a comment with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative on behalf of the Labor Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations and Trade Policy, urging the administration to extend all the tariffs against China.
“Too many U.S. companies have failed to take needed actions to address the threat posed by CCP policies,” he wrote. “Many continue to outsource production, and research and development, undermining U.S. competitiveness and national security interests. … Our government must act in the national interest to strengthen our economy for the future.”
Despite any potential policy disagreements, Biden got an enthusiastic reception from the assembled workers and organized labor advocates in the Philadelphia Convention Center.
As she introduced him, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler called Biden “the most pro-union president in the history of the United States.”