Joe Donnelly

SENATE — U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly speaks beside UAW 685 President Rick Ward.

To local union leadership, ties run deep with the man considered to be amongst the most vulnerable Democratic senators in the upcoming election.

Last week, just after U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly made a stop in his RV tour of the state at the United Auto Workers Local 685 hall, union President Rick Ward made those ties clear with a personal anecdote. Eight years ago, the then congressman attended the funeral of Ward’s wife. To the UAW president, the union is endorsing Donnelly in the race against Republican Mike Braun because he’s maintained just such a personal interest in local workers’ lives.

“That’s just the kind of guy he is,” said Ward.

Ward vocalized the union’s support for the Democrat also because of his work, throughout the years, on behalf of the union and local automotive industry. This includes his efforts to save the local industry during the automotive bailout, and, according to Ward, that support hasn’t waned.

“We know if we have an issue we need a voice for us in Washington D.C.,” said Ward. “We know we can call from Kokomo, not just Detroit doing the call, and we can say, ‘Hey Joe, this is what we think. This is what we see. This is what we hear. Are we right or are we wrong?’ And he will let us know.”

And, according to Donnelly, as local unions fret over potential impacts of the continually-escalating international trade war, he’s continued to act as a voice in Washington for Hoosier workers.

“I am concerned about the effects the tariffs are having,” said Donnelly. “I’ve always been supportive of trying to get a fair, level playing field for our steel industry because China has always cheated. That’s one issue we can get fixed and get right, but in order to fix it we did not need this huge, overarching tariff battle that we see.

“I’m really concerned for our manufacturers and our farmers. We’ve seen our farmers’ prices go below the cost of production, and for manufacturers, we’ve seen a lot of their inputs dramatically increase in cost. I have personally spoken to the president about this, told him my concerns, and told him it’s really important for our state that we get that right.”

But, it appears the president’s trade war will continue, with China announcing further retaliatory tariffs on U.S. imports last week. That’s to the tune of $60 billion worth of U.S. goods should the tariffs imposed by Trump continue to be escalated.

While Donnelly makes it clear that he has no qualms with siding with the president when he believes he’s right, which the senator has done 62 percent of the time, he doesn’t believe Trump’s tariffs are the way to go. The senator said he’s said as much to the president during a meeting between the two politicians.

“At that time he said, ‘I think the tariffs are going really well.’ I said, ‘Mr. President, from the ground view back home, I’m not seeing it right now … Look, our farmers, a lot of our people who build the best products in the world, they supported you and have faith in you and want you to make the right decision on this. And I do also because they’ve supported me as well. We don’t just do this because they supported us, but because it’s the right thing to do. I hope we keep working on this,’” said Donnelly.

Another big question on the horizon for Donnelly, in regards to choosing whether or not to support a decision by the president, comes down to Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Donnelly was one of three Democrats to vote to confirm Trump’s first nominee, Neil Gorsuch. The senator said he’s researching Kavanaugh’s record before he makes a final decision on his potential support.

But there are primary factors coming into play for Donnelly in the process.

“I’m looking for judicial temperament to see how they handle it. I’m looking for qualifications, and I’m looking for impartiality. Those are the things that I’m looking for,” said Donnelly.

Donnelly will meet with Kavanaugh in person on Aug. 15.

The stakes are high in such decisions by Donnelly, as fellow Democrats work towards what they hope is a renewed majority in the House and Senate. But according to Donnelly, that’s not on his mind at the moment.

“I’ve not even thought 10 seconds about it, to be honest with you,” said Donnelly. “My only focus is on Indiana, our state, our citizens. My job is to do the best job I can for everyone here. As I said my job is to fight for everybody else’s job.”