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Caucus Co-Chairman: Blue Collar Workers ‘Feel More Disconnected’ to Dems Than Ever Before

Shipyard workers listen as President Trump speaks aboard the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford at Newport News Shipbuilding on March 2, 2017. (Steve Earley/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)

WASHINGTON – Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas), co-chairman of the Blue Collar Caucus, told PJM that he is ready to work with Republicans on trade and labor issues but argued that the White House has not followed through on President Trump’s campaign rhetoric about the North American Free Trade Agreement and other topics.

Veasey and caucus co-chairman Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) were asked if there are areas of common ground with the Trump administration that they could try to tackle together.

“I’ve heard a lot of campaign rhetoric but I haven’t really seen any real initiatives come out of the White House. We’ve been talking about trying to do something about NAFTA. A lot of people feel that NAFTA really hurt their jobs. We’re waiting to hear something from the administration on that – nothing. You look at the Chinese dumping cheap steel, you know, different issues like that. I mean, there ought to be some ways Democrats and Republicans ought to be able to work together on some of these labor issues but we’re really not hearing that,” Veasey said after a meeting on Capitol Hill with labor leaders on March 28.

“I think you are going to see more and more coming from Brendan and myself and other members of the Blue Collar Caucus and the Democratic Caucus on how important it is that we address some of these working issues, but we really do need the White House to step up because so far it’s just been a bunch of campaign rhetoric and no sort of follow-through at all when it comes to working families, nothing,” he added.

Boyle said part of the caucus’ mission is to hold Trump to his campaign promises that helped him win the presidential election. Trump won states historically won by Democratic presidential candidates such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

“Every month, the Blue Collar Caucus will be holding a special hour on the House floor talking about here are the things that President Trump promised during the campaign – not about any other issues than specifically economic issues,” Boyle said. “And we’ll have right there the report card, so that way we can differentiate between the rhetoric and the actual results. And so that’s another part of our caucus as well – keeping the administration honest to what it promised during the campaign. Trade is one and manufacturing is another.”

In his first address to a joint session of Congress, Trump urged Congress to work on a $1 trillion public and private investment package for the nation’s infrastructure. Boyle said the American Society of Civil Engineers recently issued a “report card” that said the U.S. needs an estimated $4.6 trillion worth of infrastructure work.

“I’m also a pragmatist. I recognize that getting to $4 trillion would be enormously difficult, but to even begin to make a serious dent in that it needs to be a trillion dollars on the low side,” Boyle said. “And it needs to be credible, not just something with a number that then cites a program that actually isn’t going to be actionable.”

PJM asked both Boyle and Veasey if they think Trump’s executive order on energy, which lifts President Obama’s moratorium on federal coal leases, would help the economy.

“I was a supporter of the Obama rules in this regard but I would say, though, kind of per the great conversation we just had with about some 15 or 16 colleagues of ours and also some of the most important labor leaders in the country, was a discussion of how we can reconnect with blue collar workers who have always been the heart and soul of the Democratic Party but feel more disconnected from us today than at any point – despite the point that on the vast majority of the issues we’re on their side and our opinion polls show that,” Boyle said.

“It was a very good dialogue frankly, from my time I’ve been here in Congress, have not had that sort of exchange with so many members and the leaders of organized labor. They appreciated us coming and listening. One of the plans moving forward is go out throughout the country and actually go to the work sites themselves and talk directly to workers,” he added.

Veasey said natural gas has put coal in a tough situation.

“I supported President Obama and his plans to clean up the air and it has absolutely nothing to do with the price of coal. I’m from Texas. I’m from an energy-producing state. After advances made in hydraulic fracturing and other techniques that help make natural gas production much more efficient – it basically has made it really tough on coal. We’re still going to need coal to do things like produce steel for bridges and infrastructure and what have you,” he said.

“I think you are also going to see more advances in making coal clean in the future, but the reality is right now coal is in a tough situation because of natural gas. And you’re going to see that even when Trump releases some of these restrictions and what have you that have been put in place,” Veasey added. “You are still not going to see the promises fulfilled that Donald Trump made because of the price of natural gas and the abundance of it not just here in America but in places all over the world.”

Boyle was asked if he would meet with Trump to discuss issues important to blue collar workers.

“I’m always open to have dialogue with anyone who is willing to work to improve things for the American people – that said, given the goal of the Blue Collar Caucus is to reorient policy within our caucus to make sure we better reconnect with those workers in the blue collar economy – which, by the way, are still a significant percentage of our economy – I don’t envision Donald Trump necessarily wanting to be part of that conversation,” he said.

The group of labor leaders at the meeting with members of the Blue Collar Caucus included Bob Martinez, president of the International President of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; Josh Nassar, legislative director of United Auto Workers; James Boland, president of the International Union of Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers; Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America; Bill Samuel, director of government affairs at AFL-CIO; and Austin Keyser, director of political and legislative affairs at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.