“I make no apologies,” Joe Biden told the crowd in Pittsburgh, finally making his declarative pitch after a long and meandering windup. “I am a union man, period.”
The sound bite was both a thank-you and a promise. Addressing a live audience for the first time since declaring his third run for the White House, the former vice president had rented a local Teamsters hall and surrounded himself with laborers to formally launch his candidacy—teachers, steelworkers, autoworkers, and firefighters, who had given him the welcome gift of an immediate endorsement.
Biden wants to be the candidate of labor. But does labor still want him?
The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), which boasts a membership of more than 300,000, quickly threw its support to him. The move was a disappointment to President Donald Trump after the union had stayed neutral in his race against Hillary Clinton in 2016. It was also, however, widely expected: IAFF President Harold Schaitberger is a longtime Biden ally who openly pined for him to run in 2016 and anointed him on Monday as the candidate “who has the necessary experience to win, and who has the mettle to win.”
But Biden will have to work harder for endorsements from other major unions, which are typically more cautious about diving into presidential primaries and see this year’s yawning field of candidates as an opportunity for maximum leverage. Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris in particular have made aggressive plays for labor support and are seen, based on their policies and records, as allies within the broader movement.