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Gibbs Walks Back Disparaging Union Remark, Labor Remains Displeased

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The labor community remained peeved with the White House on Wednesday even after
Press Secretary Robert Gibbs gently retreated from disparaging remarks anonymous officials had offered the night before about the money unions spent in the Arkansas Senate primary.

At Wednesday's daily briefing, Gibbs was asked about the provocative statement an unnamed senior administration official made following Sen. Blanche Lincoln's victory, in which the official accused unions of flushing $10 million "down the toilet" by supporting Lincoln's challenger, Bill Halter.

"I don't think that the President would necessarily agree with that characterization made by somebody here," Gibbs remarked. "I think we would certainly agree that we are likely to have very close elections in many, many places throughout the country in November. And while the President may 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 people who cared about an agenda that benefited working families and those that didn't, that money might come in more handy then."

"I think that everybody that supported one of the Democrats will have an obligation to now -- as the President would and has in races that the nominee that he has supported hasn't one -- now support the Democratic nominee," Gibbs added.

Union officials hinted strongly Wednesday that they would sit out Lincoln's general-election match against Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.) as retribution of sorts for the senator's voting record and her disparagement of big labor during the campaign. And they did so under the rationale that they were not, in fact, an arm of the Democratic Party. Union dues, said one high-ranking aide, are meant to advance workers interests.

So it was that Gibb's last line -- in which he talked about the need to support the party nominee -- touched a particular nerve and prompted AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale to blast out the following email statement: "If the White House thinks everyone has obligation to support someone just because they're a Democrat, they are still really missing the point of last night."

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