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AFL-CIO Democratic Forum
August 8, 2007
"The president of Canada" and other factual bobbles.
Seven Democratic presidential candidates appeared Aug. 7 in a nationally televised forum at Chicago's Soldier Field, sponsored by the AFL-CIO. Once again, we found some claims that were wrong and others that were questionable.
Sen. Joseph Biden said none of the others "has a better labor record than me." Actually, they all have better AFL-CIO "lifetime" ratings than Biden.
Sen. Barack Obama attempted to revise his own earlier remarks about invading Pakistan, claiming: "What I said was that we have to work with" Pakistan's president. But the record shows Obama didn't actually say that.
Obama also said he would call "the president of Canada" about trade matters. Actually, that nation doesn't have a president.
Sen. John Edwards said the North American Free Trade Agreement "has cost us a million jobs." That million-job estimate is disputed.
The event was moderated by MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and televised live on that national cable channel. The candidates who appeared were Sens. Joseph Biden of Delaware, Hillary Clinton of New York, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Barack Obama of Illinois; former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina; Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio; and Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico.
Best Labor Record?
Sen. Biden claimed to have the best labor record of all the candidates present that evening:
Biden: Look at our records. There’s no one on this stage, mainly because of my longevity, that has a better labor record than me.
Actually, the opposite is true. All the candidates on the stage had a better "lifetime" labor record than Biden, as measured by the AFL-CIO's ratings of Senate and House votes. The AFL-CIO's latest listings show Biden voting its way 85 percent of the time over his entire Senate career – the lowest lifetime rating of all the candidates on the stage that night.
Source: AFL-CIO "Voting Record By Member of Congress"
It is true that Biden has served in Congress longer than any of the others on the stage, with a voting record that stretches back to 1973. That's two years longer than Connecticut's Chris Dodd, who has a 91 percent lifetime AFL-CIO rating.
Despite this, Biden spokeswoman Annie Tomasini defended the senator's claim to having an unequaled labor record. "Sen. Biden enjoys comparable ratings to his opponents during comparable periods of time," she said. And in any case, the AFL-CIO's "ratings do not equal a track record of getting legislative and practical results for labor," she added.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
It's true that Biden’s recent AFL-CIO ratings are more pro-labor than in the past. In 2005 Biden's record was 93 percent, which is better than Clinton's 86 percent, but still not equal to Obama's perfect 100 percent rating for that year. In 2006 Biden tied Clinton and Obama, with all of them voting with the AFL-CIO 93 percent of the time.
Biden’s ratings in earlier years are weighed down by votes of which the AFL-CIO disapproved. In 1997 Biden joined a majority of Senate Democrats and voted to end a filibuster on a bill that would have allowed the president authority to negotiate trade deals on a "fast track." The AFL-CIO launched what it called “one of the biggest…grassroots campaigns ever” against that legislation. Biden received only a 57 percent rating that year. In 1998, he joined 14 Democrats in voting for an amendment that would, among other things, extend the stay of nonimmigrant agricultural workers in the U.S. That year Biden received an 88 percent approval rating.
(Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, who didn't appear at the event, claims to have a 100 percent lifetime voting record with the AFL-CIO, but we were not immediately able to confirm this directly with the labor federation.)
Obama's Historical Revision
Sen. Obama rewrote history when he defended his controversial remarks about invading Pakistan if necessary to eliminate al Qaeda.
Obama: I did not say that we would immediately go in unilaterally. What I said was that we have to work with [Pakistan’s President Pervez] Musharraf.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
That's not exactly what he said. Obama is referring to an Aug. 1 policy address, in which he made no direct mention of working with Musharraf. Instead, he said he would "take out" al Qaeda if Musharraf failed to act.
Obama (Aug. 1): I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will.
That's the only time Obama mentions Musharraf at all in the speech, as posted on his own campaign Web site.
The "President of Canada"?
Obama also stumbled by referring to a nonexistent world leader:
Obama: I would immediately call the president of Mexico, the president of Canada to try to amend NAFTA
Canada, of course, has no president. It operates under a parliamentary system, and the head of government is the prime minister. Since February of last year that office has been held by Stephen Harper, leader of Canada's Conservative party.
Edwards' Dubious Million-Job Figure
John Edwards made this claim about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA):
Edwards: It’s cost us a million jobs.
That's a disputed estimate. Other economic studies have produced far lower numbers. The million-job figure comes from the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank in Washington with ties to the labor movement. EPI economist Robert Scott has estimated that the growth of exports since 1994 has supported an additional 1 million jobs in the U.S., while imports have displaced domestic production that would have supported 2 million jobs, leaving a net loss of 1 million. Scott's estimate has been criticized by Gary Clyde Hufbauer and Jeffrey J. Schott of the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics, which has ties to Wall Street and the corporate world. They state that Scott's estimate assumes that NAFTA is to blame for 100 percent of the growth in the trade deficit between the U.S. and both Canada and Mexico and that it ignores other factors. They also say that by Scott's own estimate, half the jobs were lost to Canada, not Mexico, the country that draws the loudest complaints from NAFTA opponents in the U.S.
For the record, whatever the effects of NAFTA, the U.S. has gained nearly 26 million jobs since the agreement took effect on Jan. 1, 1994, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Missing Candidate
Former Sen. Gravel was the only Democratic presidential candidate who didn't appear at the forum. The AFL-CIO didn't invite him because he failed to return its questionnaire on time, which was distributed to all Democratic and Republican candidates. According to CNN.com, Gravel said, “It’s our mistake, but they are using our mistake to deny me an appearance before the AFL-CIO group and I had a 100 percent voting record for twelve years as senator and four years in the state legislature.”
- by Brooks Jackson, Emi Kolawole and Justin Bank, with Carolyn Auwaerter
"Remarks of Senator Obama: The War We Need to Win," Washington, DC, 1 Aug 2007.
Scott, Robert E.,"NAFTA’s Legacy: Rising trade deficits lead to significant job displacement and declining job quality for the United States,"(Chapter 2 of "Revisiting NAFTA Still not working for North America's workers,") Economic Policy Institute, Washington DC 28 Sept 2006.
Hufbauer, Gary Clyde and Schott, Jeffrey J., "NAFTA Revisited: Achievements and Challenges," Institute for International Economics, Washington DC October 2005: 84.
Mooney, Alexander, “AFL-CIO set to begin presidential endorsement process,” CNN.com, 17 July 2007.
Setser, Brad, "Estimating the Currency Composition of China's Reserves," RGE Monitor, May 2007.
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