News & Politics

The GOP-Teamsters ANWR Love Affair

With the Senate debating Bush's energy bill this week -- including the plans to drill in Alaska -- the old adage seems true: Oil is fair in love and ANWR.
It's a match made in heaven. Actually, not quite that far north -- in Alaska. With the Senate scheduled to begin debating the administration's energy bill this week -- including its plan to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- the president is expending a great many kilowatts of his own energy to guarantee its passage. His partner in this oily scheme is none other than the Teamsters Union. Yes, the very same Teamsters who endorsed Al Gore and who, in the last election cycle, funneled 93 percent of their PAC donations to Democrats.

In a flurry of speeches and photo ops, Mr. Bush has painted the bill as a multi-faceted marvel: it's "a jobs bill," a bold bid for "energy independence" and -- all together now -- "a matter of national security." By the end of the week, we'll no doubt hear how it also cures cancer.

It certainly has proven a powerful aphrodisiac. Ever since Teamsters president James Hoffa worked his wiles on a number of key Democrats, and convinced them to support the House version of the energy bill, which passed last summer, things between the union and the GOP have been getting hot and heavy.

"I love Hoffa. I love the Teamsters," swooned vice-presidential mouthpiece Mary Matalin after squirreling Hoffa through the halls of Congress in July, prospecting for pro-drilling votes. There's no word on whether Matalin agreed to wear Hoffa's ID bracelet and be his date at the Endangered Species Barbecue.

Playing Cupid to this curious couple was Majority Whip Tom DeLay, who helped win Hoffa's heart by making sure union protection provisions were added to the bill. No word on whether DeLay dropped to his knees immediately afterwards and begged the Right-to-Work gods for forgiveness ("It was just one bill -- it didn't mean anything!").

Bush has been an equally ardent suitor. In January, he became the first sitting Republican president to visit the Teamsters' national headquarters, bringing with him the political equivalent of a prom night corsage -- a bouquet of cabinet members that included Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

He then invited Hoffa to be his guest at the State of the Union address. A cheap but very impressive date. He's also taken to calling him "Jimmy" -- not one of his better nicknames, but then, they haven't even passed their first bad bill together yet.

The GOP's feelings have been more than reciprocated. The week before the State of the Union address, Hoffa and company hosted a lavish reception for Speaker Denny Hastert and 30 of his closest House Republican frat brothers. It was the first time the Teamsters had ever honored a Republican leader at their Capitol Hill headquarters. Positively giddy from the attention, Hastert called the get-together a "unique and positive moment in history." And in hyperbole.

In another show of devotion to their newly beloved, the Teamsters have put a distinctive spin on a time-honored romantic tradition. Instead of carving their initials on a tree, they've expressed their deep affection by carving their initials into the forehead of Sen. John Kerry with a vicious -- and wildly inaccurate -- newspaper ad.

The ad, which proudly bears the Teamsters' union seal, claims that Kerry supports drilling off the coast of Florida. Which would be true -- if he did. But he doesn't, in fact he voted against it. It also distorts his position on drilling in Alaska. Who needs chocolates, when you can buy your sweetie a full-page hatchet-job?

"The truth is," Kerry told me, "investing in renewable energy sources will create a lot more jobs than drilling in ANWR. The Teamsters ought to be fighting for the jobs of the future, not the jobs of the past."

But there is more to this dangerous Beltway liaison than meets the eye. It turns out that Hoffa's romantic agenda is the most suspect since Anna Nicole Smith fell head over heels for her octogenarian billionaire. The "jobs bill" rhetoric notwithstanding, Hoffa's real objective is the removal of the federal oversight of the Teamsters that was imposed in 1989 as a result of the long history of corruption within the union.

So Hoffa has been whispering sweet nothings in the administration's ear, trying to convince the GOP that, under his command, the Teamsters have become paragons of ethical behavior. I mean, they even like Tom DeLay now -- how much more evidence of moral rectitude do you need?

But the very nature of Hoffa's support for Arctic drilling proves otherwise. "Clearly, we can explore ANWR without harming the environment," claimed Hoffa -- a statement that, along with the bunk he and his cronies are peddling about Kerry, shows that this is a man who is willing to do and say pretty much anything to curry favor and cannot, therefore, be trusted.

Drilling in the Arctic Refuge is a lousy idea. At best, it will only produce enough oil to meet six months of America's energy needs -- and it will take ten years to do even that. And that meager return will come at an enormous cost: the degradation of one of the world's last pristine places. But that doesn't seem to matter to W and Jimmy, N.A.F. (Now And Forever).

I guess the old adage is true: Oil is fair in love and ANWR.