WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Monday night blasted as "inexcusable" Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's (R) decision to sign a "right-to-work" bill into law.
"It’s no coincidence that the rise of the middle class in America coincided in large part with the rise of unions -– workers who organized together for higher wages, better working conditions, and the benefits and protections that most workers take for granted today," Obama said in a statement released by the White House. "So it’s inexcusable that, over the past several years, just when middle-class families and workers need that kind of security the most, there’s been a sustained, coordinated assault on unions, led by powerful interests and their allies in government."
The president added that he was "deeply disappointed" with the law because it would "weaken, rather than strengthen" Wisconsin's labor force.
"Wisconsin is a state built by labor, with a proud pro-worker past," Obama said. "So even as its governor claims victory over working Americans, I’d encourage him to try and score a victory for working Americans -– by taking meaningful action to raise their wages and offer them the security of paid leave. That’s how you give hardworking middle-class families a fair shot in the new economy –- not by stripping their rights in the workplace, but by offering them all the tools they need to get ahead."
Walker's decision to sign the bill makes Wisconsin the 25th state to outlaw workers from being required to join a union or pay dues as a condition of employment. The likely 2016 presidential contender, who has topped early primary state polling in recent weeks, has touted his victories over pro-union forces as he continues to make moves toward a bid for the White House. Last month, he made the argument that his experience fighting labor unions prepared him to take on the threat of the Islamic State in the Middle East.
Obama's critical statement against a likely 2016 candidate is unusual. He rarely singles out Republicans individually in such a way. It will probably lift Walker's appeal with GOP primary voters, who view the law as a triumph and relish the victory over union supporters.
Obama's statement may be an attempt by the White House to curry favor with a major Democratic electoral base. But it may also be designed to lift Walker amid a crowded GOP field, presumably because the Democrats would rather face a divisive governor in 2016 over other potential rivals such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Similar moves were made by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Democratic allies during the 2012 Republican primary in Missouri, when they successfully pushed Todd Akin into the general election.
Walker's likely candidacy got another boost on Monday night, after an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that 53 percent of potential GOP primary voters said they could see themselves supporting Walker, compared with 17 percent who said they could not.
UPDATE: March 10, 8:35 a.m. -- Walker responded to Obama via a statement from his office Monday night:
On the heels of vetoing Keystone Pipeline legislation, which would have paved the way to create thousands of quality, middle-class jobs, the President should be looking to states, like Wisconsin, as an example for how to grow our economy. Our reforms are moving Wisconsin forward and helping create family-supporting jobs for people in our state. Despite a stagnant national economy and a lack of leadership in Washington, since we took office, Wisconsin's unemployment rate is down to 5.0 percent, and more than 100,000 jobs and 30,000 businesses have been created.
The Freedom to Work law that I signed today continues to put the power back in the hands of Wisconsin workers by allowing the freedom to choose whether they want to join a union and pay union dues. It also gives Wisconsin one more tool to encourage job creators to continue investing and expanding in our state. Freedom to Work, along with our investments in worker training and our work to lower the tax burden, will lead to more freedom and prosperity for all of Wisconsin.