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Hoffa: Teamsters will 'turn people around' on Alaska drilling

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Labor leaders will try to "turn people around" -- specifically, key Senate Democrats -- to push forward President George W. Bush's controversial plan to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Teamsters President James P. Hoffa said Saturday.

In contrast to the Teamsters' strong support of Al Gore during the 2000 presidential election, Hoffa also said organized labor needs to "change course" and work with the Bush administration.

"We believed in [Gore.] We had a tough choice to make. Now, George Bush is president, so we've got to change course," Hoffa said in an interview on CNN's Evans, Novak, Hunt and Shields. "We're going to say, 'OK, you're president, what do you have to offer?'"

"We can't put our programs on ice for four years. We're going to work with this administration just like we would with a Democratic administration."

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Bush's energy plan -- including oil exploration in the Alaskan refuge -- passed by an unexpectedly strong margin in the House two weeks ago. Gail Norton, secretary of the Department of the Interior, credited intense lobbying by the Teamsters and other labor unions that believe Bush's plan will create jobs with persuading congressmen on both sides of the aisle.

But several Democratic senators have declared ANWR exploration dead on arrival on the other side of Capitol. Sen. Joe Lieberman, Gore's 2000 running mate, and Sen. John Kerry, a possible 2004 Democratic candidate, have both said they would filibuster to block the proposal.

Hoffa was not deterred.

"I'll talk to Joe Lieberman on this. I'll talk to everybody in the Senate. I think we've got to turn people around," Hoffa said. "They said we couldn't do this in the House, and we were able to do it ... We think we can do it in the Senate."

Hoffa and other labor leaders strongly opposed Bush during the 2000 election.  

Hoffa said exploring for oil in ANWR "makes us more independent of Saddam Hussein and other people who control our oil. It does give us an opening to national security. It creates jobs."

Despite the common ground the energy plan, Hoffa said Teamsters would continue to fight the Bush administration on another issue -- allowing Mexican trucks on American highways.

The Senate voted overwhelmingly to block Mexican trucks unless they go through safety inspections. The Bush administration and some Republicans in the Senate believe this violates the NAFTA trade agreement.

The Teamsters had lobbied strongly for the restrictions, prompting Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, to complain that "there's sort of an anti-Mexican or anti-Hispanic, anti-NAFTA attitude."

But Hoffa flatly rejected suggestions that the Teamsters' support for restrictions on Mexican trucks stems from anti-Hispanic sentiment.

"We have so many Hispanic members in our union, and we're so proud of them," he said. "This is about raising the standard of living of our brothers in Mexico. It's about giving them safer trucks, making sure that they're trained."

"Let's slow this thing down. Let's get some inspection stations," Hoffa said. "Let's get better trucks, better training, and then let's move on from there. We're not there yet."

• The Teamsters
• U.S. Senate
• U.S. House of Representatives
• Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

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