Hillary Clinton on Thursday won the endorsement of the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor federation, giving her a powerful voter turnout engine against Donald Trump. The Republican businessman swiftly accused labor leaders of selling out members to a candidate he said was aligned with Wall Street.
The exchange underscored Trump's efforts to win over blue-collar workers who typically support Democrats, especially those in Midwest battleground states whose wages have stagnated and have been hurt by a decline in manufacturing jobs.
The AFL-CIO's general board voted to endorse Clinton over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a move that had been expected after Clinton secured enough support among delegates to become the presumptive Democratic nominee.
"Hillary Clinton is a proven leader who shares our values," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. "Throughout the campaign, she has demonstrated a strong commitment to the issues that matter to working people, and our members have taken notice."
A short time later, Trump fired back with a statement that said the endorsement was a sign the union federation "no longer represents American workers."
"Instead," he added, "they have become part of the rigged system in Washington, D.C., that benefits only the insiders."
For months, Trump has denounced "stupid" trade deals that he says hurt U.S. workers and pledged to penalize companies for sending jobs overseas. For that reason, he predicted Thursday, the AFL-CIO's members would vote for him "in much larger numbers than" Clinton in November's general election.
Trump's statement included a number of falsehoods the billionaire businessman has repeated in recent weeks as he seeks to draw a contrast with Clinton. Among them was the incorrect allegation that Clinton's immigration proposals would "completely open America's borders in her first 100 days in office."
Trump also said that if elected, Clinton would implement the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. While Clinton promoted the agreement dozens of times as secretary of state, she has since said she cannot support the deal in its current form.
She has said she backs trade deals only if they fulfill a three-pronged test of creating "good" jobs, raising wages and improving national security.
Trump also misleadingly claimed that as secretary of state, Clinton "racked up a $1 trillion trade deficit with China." In her role as the nation's top diplomat, Clinton had no direct control over the difference in the cost of U.S. imports from China versus its exports to the nation.
Trump issued a second statement later Thursday afternoon blaming "Clinton's global trade policies" for the fact that the "nation's current account trade deficit hit its highest mark in 7 years." He was referring to a report from the Commerce Department Thursday saying that the current account trade deficit jumped 9.9 percent in the first quarter to $124.7 billion — its highest level in more than seven years.
He also repeated his false claim that Clinton supports the TPP, saying "there is no doubt she would enact it if given the chance — yet more betrayal of union voters whose jobs would vanish as a result of this deal."
Clinton has won the endorsements of many of the AFL-CIO's largest unions in the past year, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the American Federation of Teachers, paving the way for the AFL-CIO to back her campaign.
The labor federation represents 12.5 million members and is a potent force in Democratic politics and voter turnout. Union leaders have been gearing up for a general election showdown against Trump, whom they portray as a threat to working families even though he fared well among blue-collar voters during the GOP primaries.
"This election offers a stark choice between an unstoppable champion for working families and an unstable charlatan who made his fortune scamming them," said Lee Saunders, the president of AFSCME and the chair of the AFL-CIO political committee.