Chicagotribune.comBy Rick Pearson, Tribune political reporter
DUBUQUE, Iowa, November 14, 2007 -- Former Sen. John Edwards today linked presidential rival Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, to a "crowd of corporate Democrats" who Edwards said have no more interest in changing Washington's culture than Republicans.
Edwards criticized Hillary Clinton's acceptance of donations from special-interest lobbyists and pointedly reminded a regional conference of the United Auto Workers that it was a Democratic White House under Bill Clinton that failed to advance universal health care but delivered what he said were job-jeopardizing trade agreements.
"That's what I mean when I say it's not going to change anything if we trade a crowd of corporate Democrats for corporate Republicans," Edwards said.
Among Democratic rivals, Edwards has been the most direct critic of the Democratic senator from New York. But his rhetoric has taken on an even harsher tone as the time to Iowa's nation-leading presidential caucus on Jan. 3 draws nearer.
In soliciting labor support by portraying himself as the candidate most attuned to union issues, the former North Carolina senator repeatedly cited Sen. Clinton's continued acceptance of campaign donations from federal lobbyists, which both he and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois eschew.
"The person who has raised the most money from Washington lobbyists, the presidential candidate, is not a Republican. It's a Democrat. The person who has raised the most money from the drug industry, from the health insurance industry is not a Republican. It's a Democrat. The person who has raised the most money—and this is most startling to me—from the defense industry is not a Republican. It's a Democrat," Edwards said. "The answer to every one of those questions is Sen. Clinton."
Asked by reporters afterward if Clinton was a "corporate Democrat," Edwards said, "She is part of a system that includes a lot of corporate Democrats."
Edwards also noted that in the early 1990s, when Hillary Clinton as first lady failed in trying to construct a universal health care plan, Democrats controlled the House and Senate as well as the White House.
"We were in charge of every branch of government and those (special-interests) still killed universal health care," he said. "And we didn't get what we needed—universal health care. Man, we got something we didn't need. We got NAFTA. And NAFTA, just to remind you, did not pass and was not pushed by a Republican administration. NAFTA passed in a Democratic administration."
Organized labor has been highly critical of the North American Free Trade Agreement pushed by President Clinton, and subsequent free-trade agreements, contending they have led to huge job losses in the country, particularly in the manufacturing sector.
Hillary Clinton, who appeared earlier in the week before the UAW's Region 4 conference—which includes representatives from Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota—told the group that the nation should take a "time out" from NAFTA to examine its negative effects on labor.
Edwards also defended his call to act, as president, to take away federal health care from members of Congress until they approve a universal health care plan. Hillary Clinton and others have questioned Edwards' rhetoric by noting that the president does not have the power to take away federal health benefits.
"The response of Sen. Clinton and members of Congress is to circle the wagons and focus on protecting their health care instead of what needs to be done for America," Edwards said.
Edwards also touted his own universal health care plan, which mandates coverage. "Sen.
Clinton's plan is similar to mine," he said. "Some would say she copied it. Understand, I didn't say that."
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