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International Association of Fire Fighters is not sure if they should endorse Biden

In 2020, the International Association of Fire Fighters was the first group to support Joe Biden before he even decided to run in the busy Democratic primary. However, almost eight months since Biden started his campaign for another term as president, this group hasn’t decided if they will support him again in 2024. They are unsure because not everyone in the union, which includes 343,000 firefighters and paramedics, agreed with supporting him the first time. Now, they’re being careful about deciding to support him again.

Joe Biden has always said he’s close to firefighters and has kept in touch with the leaders of their union during his time as president. But, even though he’s tried hard to be seen as a friend to labor unions, winning over the regular members still seems hard. This is happening while former President Donald Trump has been attracting more working-class people, including some union members who used to vote for Democrats.

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Mike Bresnan, who heads the Philadelphia part of the firefighters’ union, mentioned that while Biden’s administration has been positive for firefighters, that alone might not get their votes. There are other big issues for them, like gun rights.

This division was clear when Biden went to a Philadelphia firehouse to talk about the SAFER Grant program, which is important to firefighters because it helps pay for hiring more of them. Edward Kelly, the head of the firefighters’ union, spoke at the event, which was not for the campaign, and highlighted how Biden had supported this program in the past.

“Properly staffing and equipping fire departments keeps our communities safe and saves the lives of civilians and firefighters, alike. Nobody knows this better than Joe Biden,” Kelly said.

Lori Moore-Merrell, a former official from the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) who Joe Biden picked to lead the U.S. Fire Administration, was also at the event. Steve Ricchetti, a key advisor to Biden, made a special trip to be there too.

However, Mike Bresnan, a local union leader who had previously shown support for Trump, was present but did not take an active part in the event. Back in September 2020, Bresnan had publicly supported Trump, criticizing the national union’s endorsement process as unfair. A planned event with Trump was canceled after Trump got sick with Covid-19.

Biden talked about a conversation he had with Bresnan after a tragic fire in Philadelphia in 2022 that resulted in the death of 12 people, including nine children. Bresnan had explained the impact of closed fire stations, suggesting that having one nearby could have saved more lives. Biden promised to address the issue.

On this occasion, Biden announced a $22.4 million grant to help pay for 72 firefighters and reopen three fire stations, making good on his promise to Bresnan. Biden joked about the check being cashable at a local bank, emphasizing that he kept his promise.

Bresnan shared that he didn’t get to speak with Biden personally during the event, even though there was a moment he thought he would be part of the speakers. He watched from the back instead. He did talk to Edward Kelly, the union’s leader, about the upcoming 2024 endorsement and the importance of considering the members’ opinions, hinting at some support for Trump within the union.

Before the IAFF endorsed Biden in 2020, they had shown early support for him at a legislative conference in Washington, signaling strong union backing which contrasted with their decision not to endorse Hillary Clinton in 2016. This lack of endorsement was seen as an indication of Clinton’s weak support among certain voter demographics, which contributed to Trump’s victory.

The IAFF’s spokesperson did not comment on the endorsement process for 2024. Kelly, who became the IAFF’s leader in 2021, took over from Harold Schaitberger, a longtime Biden ally.

Biden’s officials stated that the event was not a new push for the union’s endorsement but reflected Biden’s ongoing support for firefighters.

“President Biden was proud to travel to Philadelphia on Monday to announce millions of dollars in support for these heroes. Just as he’s proud to have spent his career fighting for fire fighters and their families,” Robyn Patterson, a White House spokesperson, said in a statement to NBC News.

The Biden campaign also declined to comment on the absence of an endorsement. But a source familiar with the process noted that the union will hold its annual legislative conference in Washington in March, and that Biden has often attended.

Speaking at the same conference earlier this year, Biden talked about how important the group had been in his political career, joking that “there’s three political parties in Delaware: Democrats, Republican and firefighters.”

“Throughout my career, I’ve tried to be there for you all, because you’ve been with me my whole career,” he said at the time.

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