Middle East unrest seeps into conversation at union event

Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks to reporters after participating in the United Food and Commercial Workers' presidential candidate forum on Sunday at Prairie Meadows Hotel in Altoona. 

ALTOONA — The conversation on stage largely was about labor issues facing American workers and unions.

But current domestic and foreign policy matters also seeped into the conversations with the half-dozen Democratic presidential candidates who attended an Iowa union forum Sunday at Prairie Meadows Hotel.

In addition to talking about workers’ wages and collective bargaining rights, the presidential candidates also discussed Kurds being killed and terrorists freed as a result of Republican President Donald Trump’s decision to move away from the Syria-Turkey border some U.S. troops who were assisting Kurdish forces there, and the U.S. House impeachment inquiry into Trump.

After his turn speaking at the forum, former vice president Joe Biden began his session with reporters with a statement on the grim news out of the Middle East.

“You saw what happened. The onslaught has begun,” Biden said. “This is a disaster. An absolute disaster. ... This is outrageous.”

Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend, Indiana mayor and former member of the U.S. Navy Reserves, joined the criticism of Trump’s decision, saying it displays what is at stake in the 2020 presidential election. Buttigieg said the priority now must be to protect U.S. troops and interests in the region.

Buttigieg also addressed the ongoing impeachment inquiry led by Democrats in the U.S. House. He said the presidential candidates need to be discussing the inquiry while also addressing the issues that primary voters ask about on the campaign trail.

“Any time something that important is going on in the country, all of us need to speak to it. And my view is that the president’s left the Congress with no choice and that this process is needed to defend the presidency itself and the integrity of the republic,” Buttigieg said.

“At the same time, most of the questions that I’m getting on the trail are about health care, they’re about what we’re going to do to make sure the economy works for everybody here, they’re about making sure that we’re moving in the right direction together as a country and how we’re going to fall back together in this frighteningly divided country and still undertake the bold actions needed to solve the problems we’ve got. None of that is going to take a vacation just because impeachment is going on. And I think our job is to speak to both of those things.”

A spokeswoman for the national Republican Party accused the Democratic presidential candidates of “putting obstruction and resistance over the American worker.”

“Iowans can rest assured knowing President Trump continues to fight for a better economy. One that improves the job market and their paychecks, while ensuring their right to choose what kind of insurance plan is right for their families,” national Republican Party spokeswoman Preya Samsundar said in a statement.

Bernie Sanders was scheduled to appear at the event, but is resting at home after a recent heart attack. The U.S. Senator from Vermont participated in the event via video call.

U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock also participated in the forum, which was hosted by the United Food and Commercial Workers, which claims to be the country’s largest private sector union, with 1.3 million members.

A new CBS News poll on the Democratic presidential primary published Sunday morning showed a tight race in Iowa between Biden (22%), Elizabeth Warren (22%) and Sanders (21%), with Buttigieg not far behind (14%).

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