Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign event in Mansfield, Ohio, Monday, Sept. 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
Updated: October 12, 2012 6:18AM
The Chicago Public Schools teachers’ strike created openings for Mitt Romney and his GOP allies to exploit Monday, taunting President Barack Obama’s neutrality after Romney blasted the union.
Add to that using the strike as an excuse for Republicans to pressure Mayor Rahm Emanuel to stop raising SuperPAC money for Obama’s re-election. More on that below.
The irony, of course, is that all of a sudden Romney is interested in Chicago; until Monday, throughout this election cycle Republicans have been associating Obama with sleazy Chicago ward politics.
To that point, Obama campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt said in a tweet, “Chuckles across Chicago as Romney tries to reinvent himself as the city’s biggest cheerleader after attacking it for the past year.”
Here’s what’s happening:
Romney on Monday morning released a statement hours before flying from Ohio to O’Hare Airport, traveling to the area for a Lake Forest fund-raiser bringing in more than $3 million. I have no news for you from that reception and dinner because the Romney campaign banned all coverage.
The Lake Forest fund-raiser at the home of Reeve and Melissa Waud — with the maximum donation $75,800-per-person, or $151,600 per couple — was not even on Romney’s schedule; fund-raisers, which he does all the time, never are.
On the campaign trail, Romney has been slamming — make that demonizing — teachers unions as an impediment to improving public schools. Romney jumped into the Chicago schools local controversy as the strike quickly had national presidential campaign implications for several reasons:
It’s in Obama’s adopted hometown where his re-election campaign is based; it is run by Emanuel, his former chief of staff, and it is the city where Education Secretary Arne Duncan was raised and worked as the Chicago schools chief before vaulting to the White House.
Also, unlike Wisconsin, where a Republican governor, Scott Walker, stripped Democratic-allied public unions of their collective bargaining authority — this strike is Democrat on Democrat carnage.
Said Romney in a statement, “I am disappointed by the decision of the Chicago Teachers Union to turn its back on not only a city negotiating in good faith but also the hundreds of thousands of children relying on the city’s public schools to provide them a safe place to receive a strong education.
“Teachers unions have too often made plain that their interests conflict with those of our children, and today we are seeing one of the clearest examples yet. President Obama has chosen his side in this fight, sending his vice president last year to assure the nation’s largest teachers union that ‘you should have no doubt about my affection for you and the president’s commitment to you.’ I choose to side with the parents and students depending on public schools to give them the skills to succeed, and my plan for education reform will do exactly that,” Romney said.
Romney’s statement prompted lots of questions to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney at the daily briefing with the bottom line being that Obama is staying neutral.
Carney was asked, “considering Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, his history with Chicago — obviously the president is from there — should we expect them to have sort of some public — to weigh in publicly on what’s going on?
Replied Carney, “I think it’s our view that the sides in this dispute in Chicago can and should work it out.”
Carney was pressed, “Is it fair to characterize the White House as sort of neutral in this dispute?”
Said Carney, “Well, we certainly haven’t expressed an opinion on how it should be resolved. We’re urging the sides to resolve it.”
Obama has a difficult situation here: He does not want to undermine Emanuel, his friend who last week took on major fund-raising responsibilities for the main Obama SuperPAC; he does not want to seem lock-step with a public employee union and give ammunition to Romney, while at the same time he does not want to alienate organized labor — one of the strongest, most loyal base Democratic groups.
Republican National Committee press secretary Kirsten Kukowski said in a statement, “The president isn’t taking a position on the Chicago Teachers Union strike. Is it because he’s said he is “committed to” the teachers union and doesn’t want to go against his newest fund-raiser Rahm Emanuel?” She also recalled, “the Chicago Teachers Union endorsed Obama for president in 2007. Awkward.”
Last week the Washington Post broke the news that Emanuel quit his role as an Obama campaign co-chair to raise millions of dollars for the main Obama-sanctioned SuperPAC, Priorities Action USA.
Emanuel, it turns out, is also raising money for the House Majority PAC, a SuperPAC helping Illinois Democrat House hopefuls; because of the strike, Emanuel canceled an appearance at a Monday lunch fund-raiser he was hosting.
Meanwhile, Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady sent out a statement urging “Emanuel to publicly suspend his work organizing and raising money for a pro-Obama SuperPAC in order to focus on resolving the Chicago teachers strike.”
Emanuel doesn’t give a darn about Romney weighing in. Or a hoot or two.
Said Emanuel at a press conference, “While I appreciate [Romney’s] lip service, what really counts is what we are doing here. I don’t give two hoots about national comments scoring political points or trying to embarrass — or whatever — the president.”