Acting on a clear mandate from the AFT’s membership, the AFT executive council passed a resolution endorsing Vice President Joe Biden for president. After more than a year of member engagement on the endorsement process—with more than 300,000 AFT members nationwide participating in candidate events, town halls, polls, regional conferences and other efforts—new membership polls show strong support for Biden.
Dedicated to a transparent process that focuses on the needs of AFT members and the communities they serve, the AFT’s endorsement decision has been guided by three criteria: selecting a candidate who shares the union’s values, who has the support of our members, and who can ultimately defeat President Trump in November. Biden—a long-term partner of the AFT whose wife, Jill Biden, is an educator and whose family through tragedy has come to revere healthcare professionals—meets those criteria.
Several weeks ago, the AFT determined that three candidates—Biden, Sanders and Warren—shared our values. Over the past several days, membership polls revealed that a majority of members (60 percent) in every AFT constituency now support Biden, who leads his nearest competitor by a 2-to-1 ratio. Seventy-five percent of the Democratic membership supports the AFT making an endorsement in the primary. And in recent weeks, Biden has won an impressive lead in the delegate count. With 60 percent of delegates already apportioned, he has 1,180 delegates of the 1,991 needed to secure the nomination.
A real leader in a time of real need
The decision to endorse now, in the midst of a global pandemic, was driven by the urgent need for a leader with courage and compassion.
“Before the COVID-19 epidemic, the 2020 election was about the soul of our country. Now it’s about our soul, our safety, our health, our security and our economic well-being,” says AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Joe Biden is the experienced and empathic leader our country needs right now. His character was forged getting up and going to work every day and trying to make life better for his family, facing the ups and downs so many of us face; it was tested by unspeakable loss and grief in life; and it was nurtured through public service, a love of people and the belief in the dignity of every human.”
Highlighting the ways Biden’s priorities match those of the AFT, Weingarten continues: “Biden is with us on investing in public education; making college a reality for everyone; fixing the broken Public Service Loan Forgiveness program; making healthcare a human right, not a privilege for the wealthy; prioritizing clean energy and environmental justice; and building an economy that respects the value of workers’ voices. His whole career has been devoted to building a pathway to the middle class for the millions of people facing an affordability crisis daily. It’s time to give him the chance to do that as president.”
Conversations among AFT leaders have focused on the urgency of this moment, when the coronavirus pandemic has gripped the nation and revealed glaring weaknesses in the current president’s judgment and leadership ability.
“In this moment of worldwide crisis, the contrast with Trump is clear,” says Weingarten. “Our country is navigating the greatest challenge we have battled in generations, and it is essential that we rally around a candidate who can show courage, conviction and compassion in the face of uncertainty.
“Throughout this national emergency, the president and his administration have failed to secure testing and personal protective equipment to safeguard our frontline healthcare providers; have attempted to conceal the severity of the virus and downplay the public health risks; and have refused to deploy the full arsenal of the federal government’s resources, leaving the difficult work of leadership to our nation’s governors. Now more than ever, we need a standard-bearer who is actually looking out for us, and who has a proven track record of steering the country successfully through economic and social upheaval.”
Throughout the campaign season, beginning more than a year ago, Weingarten has directly interacted with candidates, swinging their focus to issues most important to AFT members, including public education, public healthcare, working families and the public good. The union also created countless opportunities for members to interact with candidates at town hall meetings, to discuss their campaigns at debate watch parties, conferences and campaign gatherings, and to register their own opinions and preferences on membership surveys. In February, the AFT urged members to throw their support behind any one of the three candidates who had surfaced as hewing closest to union values: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
“The ‘how’ a nominee was selected was as important as the ‘who,’” says Weingarten, stressing that no one should be left on the sidelines during an election that is widely considered to be the most important of our lifetimes.
With all the pieces in place, and the urgency of replacing Donald Trump driven by deep concern over the safety of our nation, the ‘how’ has come to selecting ‘who,’ says Weingarten: “Given everything that is going on, that person now is Joe Biden.”
A long-term partner who listens
Shortly after the AFT executive council voted to endorse Biden, council members were surprised and heartened to have Joe and Jill Biden join the council’s virtual meeting. By phone, the Bidens offered their heartfelt thanks and reinforced their commitment to AFT members and the children, families and communities they uplift. Getting right to the matter at hand, Vice President Biden declared that, “I am going to be a president who leads with science and who listens to experts.” Touching on an important update to his education policy platform, Biden emphasized that college should be tuition-free for families that earn less than $125,000 per year. Jill Biden, a lifelong educator, also expressed her thanks and shared her vision, saying “What makes this nation great is the people who come together with kindness and courage to make it great.”
Weingarten reminded Biden of the good work they had done together during the Obama administration, thanking him for listening and acting on critical issues like the improper use of student test scores in teacher evaluations. Summing up what she has heard from countless members, Weingarten expressed the AFT’s commitment to Vice President Biden becoming President Biden, saying “With your courage, conviction, compassion and empathy, you will lead this country in a better direction. We are now Team Biden!”
[Virginia Myers, AFT Media Affairs]