WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top U.S. labor leader Richard Trumka on Tuesday called Vice President Joe Biden a “champion of working people” but he declined to say whether he thought Biden should enter the 2016 presidential race.
Biden has been huddling with senior advisers to evaluate the possibility of challenging Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton for the party’s White House nomination.
“He would be a good candidate. He would be a good president,” Trumka told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “The next phase of his illustrious career in public service is a decision for him and for his family.”
Referring to the death in May of Biden’s 46-year-old son, Beau, Trumka said Biden has “a lot on his shoulders.”
Biden and Trumka met privately last week.
Clinton is already facing pressure from Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, a socialist who still lags her in polls but has been drawing large crowds.
Biden’s entry into the race could further divide organized labor. Clinton has secured endorsements from the American Federation of Teachers and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The National Nurses United is backing Sanders, while many large unions are undecided.
Trumka said the AFL-CIO, an umbrella organization of 56 unions representing 12.5 million workers, would likely stay neutral in the Democratic presidential race until after the early nominating contests in states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.
But he also said that union workers were looking for candidates who could spell out a clear path for improving the economy and boosting wages. Trumka also expressed frustration that Clinton has failed to offer a firm position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that the Obama administration is negotiating.
“Her narrative right now, when you say ‘I don’t know whether the TPP is good or bad,’ and then you don’t articulate what a good one would be, I think that lessens the energy” from workers for Clinton’s candidacy, Trumka said.
The AFL-CIO opposes the trade pact, which was conceived when Clinton was secretary of state. It says provisions of the deal would depress wages and create unsafe working conditions.
Clinton has said she is waiting to review the final deal, and that it must be good for workers and strengthen national security.
Trumka said Sanders was connecting with voters because he is able to articulate their concerns.
“If Hillary does a good job, workers will respond,” he said.
Reporting by Amanda Becker; Editing by Caren Bohan and Dan Grebler