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NEA, AFT Presidents: Hillary Clinton Can Make Things Happen

By Alyson Klein — February 02, 2016 2 min read
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Former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton barely eked out a win against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Iowa Democratic caucuses Monday and is likely to lose the New Hampshire primary next week, based on the latest polling.

But the two national teachers’ unions, which have put their muscle and money behind Clinton, say they not disheartened with their candidate—they’re in this for the long haul.

There are 49 states to go, said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the president of the National Education Association, a 3 million-member And, no matter how close the margin was in Iowa, a victory is a victory.

“We’ll take it!” she said of the close win in a phone interview Tuesday, from the campaign trail in New Hampshire.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachers, is on the same page. “The fact that she won the caucus, I thought that was terrific,” Weingarten said in a separate interview Tuesday, just before heading out canvass in the Granite State.

NEA and AFT’s endorsements haven’t stopped their members from wishing union leadership had held off on making a pick, or from campaigning for Sanders.

But that’s to be expected, both Eskelsen Garcia and Weingarten said.

“People are very active in this race,” Weingarten said. “It’s about a 3-1" split, for Clinton vs. Sanders, she added. The important thing, she said, is for all members to get behind the eventual Democratic nominee, whether it’s Clinton or Sanders.

Eskelsen Garcia had a similar take—of course, some teachers are going to have a different favorite candidate. “We don’t expect that 3 million people are just going to do whatever we put in a memo,” she said.

But she’s still hoping to make Clinton’s case to her members. Both Clinton and Sanders are great on policy, she said. But in her view, Clinton is the candidate best positioned to actually deliver on her promises.

“She’s the one who is going to get things done,” Eskelsen Garcia said. Case in point: Clinton’s health-care push as first lady back in the 1990s led to the creation of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, which expanded care options for children from low-income families.

Weingarten sees Clinton in the same light. “Both have very similar values,” she said. But Clinton is more equipped to talk about how you go about raising wages and expanding economic opportunity.

Some educators are on the same page as the union leadership:

But other teachers see things differently—and are still bummed about the choice to endorse Clinton. They’ve taken their case to social media:

A sign directs voters to a caucus site on Feb 1 in Silver City, Iowa.

--Dave Weaver/AP

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