NBC's Mitchell Scolds Big Labor for Daring to 'Embarrass' White House

NBC's Andrea Mitchell took up the cause of the White House in admonishing Big Labor for wasting their money on trying to defeat Arkansas Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln in the primary there, as she echoed their concern, on Thursday's Andrea Mitchell Reports, that organized labor essentially aided Republican John Boozman's chances to win in the general election. Mitchell invited on AFSCME President Gerry McEntee to, in essence, reprimand Big Labor's decision to support Lincoln's opponent Bill Halter, when their money could have been better spent on electing Democrats elsewhere, as she scolded: "Why invest so heavily and embarrass the White House here?" [audio available here]

The following is a complete transcript of the exchange as it was aired on the June 10 edition of MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Reports:

ANDREA MITCHELL: Blanche Lincoln's victory was a big setback for organized labor, which opposed her nomination for the Arkansas Senate seat. Labor's decision to try and defeat a Democratic incumbent senator prompted an anonymous White House official to complain, that it had quote, "Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members' money down the toilet on a pointless exercise." Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was only slightly less critical at the briefing yesterday.

(Begin clip)

ROBERT GIBBS: While the President might not have agreed with the exact characterization, I think that whether or not that money might have been better spent in the fall on closer elections between somebody, between people who cared about an agenda that benefitted working families those that didn't, that money might come in more, more handy to then.

(End clip)

MITCHELL: Joining me now, Gerry McEntee, president of the labor group AFSCME, the timeless, ageless Gerry McEntee, 54 years with AFSCME. Amazing.


MITCHELL: Let's talk about that $10 million. So after 54 years with AFSCME and all your labor experience, why would organized labor flush $10 million down the toilet? It doesn't mean to make sense to me.

MCENTEE: Well first of all, I think it hast to be understood that the decision of whom to back as senator in individual states is a decision that's made by organized labor and their members in that particular state. So the State Federation of Labor made the decision-

MITCHELL: Was it a stupid decision?

MCENTEE: No, I don't think it's a stupid decision. I think it's about time that American labor lays down a line in the sand. I mean, you know, we're not a captive of the White House, we're not a captive of the Democratic Party. I mean, we stand, work for workers, and if people - take Blanche Lincoln, for example. I mean she supported NAFTA, CAFTA, jobs from Arkansas going overseas.

MITCHELL: Yeah but so does John Boozman and now you've basically, not you personally Gerry, but organized labor in Arkansas has strengthened the Republican John Boozman. His record. He comes from the Walmart district. He comes from the whole background of being anti-union. He's against the Employee Free Choice Act.

MCENTEE: She doesn't does do better than Walmart either.

MITCHELL: Well Walmart is king in Arkansas, so Bill Clinton was a big supporter of Walmart's. And you know, Hillary Clinton was on their board when she was First Lady of Arkansas, so that, that goes deep. But more to the point, the Republican now has a very good shot at defeating Blanche Lincoln.

MCENTEE: I think he had that before the primary and the difficulty in the primary.

MITCHELL: But could, then why, why spend that kind of money? That money could have been spent as, the White House is pointing out, on candidates across the country? Why invest so heavily and embarrass the White House here?

MCENTEE: Well I don't think it was meant to embarrass the White House. I mean I didn't see her as a captive of the White House, either, I mean in terms of that election. So I didn't, didn't, didn't see it as a...

MITCHELL: Well the broader point though, is that this White House and organized labor are not in synch. And you're making the point that labor is independent but you know what is the relationship with the White House? There were, they did not hesitate to slam labor yesterday morning. By 6:00am I was here and they were sending out the word.

MCENTEE: Well I'm glad to hear you get up that early, though. That's a good thing.

MITCHELL: A lot earlier to be, to be ready and on camera at 6:00am

MCENTEE: Yeah a lot early. Be ready, be ready. I don't, once again, I didn't see it as a battle between organized labor and the White House. It was a battle between a candidate that had not supported working, working families in, in Arkansas.

MITCHELL: But, but Gerry, big picture. What do you think of this White House, this White House political operation and its relationship with labor?

MCENTEE: Well, I think probably that it leaves something to be desired. The relationship. I don't get to the White House very much myself, so I don't know personally.

MITCHELL: Haven't been invited recently?

MCENTEE: I have not been invited recently.

MITCHELL: Have you ever been invited to this White House?

MCENTEE: I'm just trying to think. Yes. I have. I think it was St Patrick's Day, that I was there. But no, we had any number of meetings at the White House during the, the health care situation and negotiated out parts of the health care reform with the White House. But we consider it, I mean, it could be better. There isn't any question about that, but it's, it's not bitter. It's, it's not anything like that.

MITCHELL: So one of the major labor leaders in this country, a big Democrat, is saying that the relationship with the Democratic White House is not quote, "not bitter," but it could be better. Interesting.

MCENTEE: Yeah I think that. I think that's true.

MITCHELL: That's a fair assessment?

MCENTEE: I would say that.

MITCHELL: Thank you very much Gerry McEntee.

MCENTEE: Well thank you. Have me back soon. Please.

MITCHELL: You might come here more often than you get to the White House.

MCENTEE: That's true!

-Geoffrey Dickens is the Senior News Analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here