When candidate Obama was campaigning in South Carolina in 2007, he said he was proud to wear the “union label” and that if workers were denied rights to organize or collectively bargain when he was elected, “I'll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself, I'll will walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States of America.”
But as the protests over collective bargaining rights drag out in Wisconsin, President Obama has yet to join the demonstrators outside the Capitol building in Madison, and it appears his administration is trying not to get involved in the fight.
White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett says what’s happening in Wisconsin is not a national fight. “Let’s not turn what’s really a Wisconsin issue into a Washington issue,” Jarrett told Fox News in an interview Tuesday.
But as the battle drags on in Wisconsin, the White House finds itself trying to explain why the president seemed to enter the fray when he told a local reporter in Wisconsin the collective bargaining issue in the Badger State seemed like “an assault on unions.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who was not working for Obama in 2007, but was on the job last week when the president made the “assault” comment to WTMJ in Milwaukee, says the president used the interview as an opportunity to be heard on an issue, but refused to elaborate on either the 2007 statement or the president’s most recent comments. Instead, Carney chose to focus on how the whole country should be “living within their means.”
“He believes very strongly that the way to achieve that, just like the way to achieve it here, is that people, you know, need to come to the table, work together, share the sacrifice, and, you know, produce the result that the people of those states want and, again, extrapolating to the larger picture here, the -- the whole country, you know, do the things that -- that we need to do to live within our means so that we can invest in the future. And I think that's true on the state level,” Carney said at Thursday’s White House briefing.
The president is now facing criticism from some within his own party about his unwillingness to be more engaged in the Wisconsin battle. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., asked Obama to travel to Madison and stand with the unions, but Carney says there are currently no plans for any travel to that state.
“I think that the president has different means of -- of speaking out on issues and -- and being heard. And, clearly, he did -- you know, he made his -- his viewpoints known on the situation in Wisconsin, the need for people to come together,” Carney told reporters Thursday.
But if Carney wasn’t aware of the 2007 statement on Thursday, he was able to elaborate on Friday at the White House and show that even if the president isn’t going to make more statements or even travel to Wisconsin, he supports workers.
“I would just say that whatever shoes he's wearing, he is always standing with America's working men and women, and America's middle class,” Carney said.
And if some in Congress want the president to focus on Madison, the Republican governor of Wisconsin is content for Obama to keep his focus on Washington and balancing the federal budget.
“We're focused on balancing our budget, it would be wise for the president and others in Washington to focus on balancing their budget, which they're a long way from doing," Gov. Scott Walker told Fox News.