This weekend's competition in Wisconsin is a bit more intense than it was in your grade school gym class.
President Obama is asking major corporations, such as Walmart and Apple, to make sure their hiring practices don’t discriminate against the long-term unemployed. People in that group find it hard to get a job because employers see they haven’t had a job for months and push their resumes aside.
The president met with representatives from several companies today to try to get them to pledge to change that. ABC News political director Rick Klein joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss the president’s effort and how much of a difference the White House thinks it will make.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. Coming up, the Edward Snowden document drop extends to Canada, showing that the NSA and the Canadian spy agency collaborated on a project to track airline passengers who were using airport Wi-Fi.
YOUNG: But first, today President Obama followed up on his State of the Union Address with its focus on income inequality by asking wealthy major corporations like Wal-Mart, Visa and Boeing for their help in putting the long-term unemployed back to work.
Now, the overall jobless rate is down to 6.7 percent. The biggest concern is that the longer someone is out of a job - say, six months - the harder it is to find a new one. Studies show companies are less likely to hire people who haven't used their skills in months, or simply disqualify them because they haven't been snatched up by someone else.
Today, the president met with CEOs of these big companies and tried to ensure that their hiring practices don't discriminate against these long-term jobseekers.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We've engaged employers of all sizes, all around the country - including many who are here today - to commit to a set of inclusive hiring policies for making sure recruiting and screening practices don't disadvantage folks who've been out of work, to establishing an open-door policy that actively encourages all qualified applicants.
YOUNG: Is it going to work? Rick Klein is political director for ABC News. Rick, the White House says 300 companies have signed onto this so far. But, you know, the president just used the word discriminate. He's not making this a legal case, is he? He's just trying to use the power of his office.
RICK KLEIN: That's exactly right. This is, in some ways, a smaller venture than we've seen from the president in the past. It's not even an executive order. In some ways, though, it's larger, if you think about it. The president of the United States, look, if anyone can get your phone calls returned, it's the president of the United States, and he can - he has the power to convene, the power to organize, the power to have a meeting of the minds.
And I think one of the focuses maybe lost a little bit in the State of the Union coverage this week was that power, the power to bring people together, task forces, commissions and just the informal arrangements. And if you're the president, you can get powerful CEOs. You can get mayors, governors. It doesn't just have to be Congress, and that's one area that I think he's maturing into the job of president, realizing that power isn't necessarily just using the pen to veto things, or even issue executive orders.
YOUNG: We understand that that was part of the policy coming into this, you know, part of the year, to use the phone as much as the pen.
YOUNG: But is it going to be a little more than just arm-twisting? We're hearing about a pledge.
KLEIN: That's right. And it is a pledge from these companies that they will be open to and not discriminate, as you say, against these workers. Look, it doesn't have the same kind of power as a massive government program, a big infusion of funds, a new partnership that is signed into law and has all the stakeholders there.
However, we're talking about high-powered CEOs that are setting that tone from the top of their company, these are large employers. They have huge, vast resources. They can change things. And just because you don't have Congress signing off on a presidential initiative doesn't mean that a new jobs venture won't mean anything.
YOUNG: Is there a sense that it's working? We know in the president's address this week, he talked about raising everybody's wages, you know, paying America. And he talked about a $10 minimum wage. And I actually heard business people kind of musing about, gee, I wonder, what do I pay my workers? And I wonder if I could get everybody to $10. Is there a sense that this is having an effect?
KLEIN: I think there's a sense that it could change behavior, and the potential is there. Look, inequality has grown worse during President Obama's time in office. It's something that frustrates him and a lot of his allies. He has not had any raises to the minimum wage. So the idea of doing it just for federal contractors, encouraging companies, highlighting companies that have been paying well more than that, like his visit to Costco this week, all of that can have an impact.
And, again, it's part of that - the new area of power that I think this president is learning about and beginning to appreciate, the former community organizer who's bringing people together and getting them to do things voluntarily. It doesn't have to be by threat of a lawsuit or legislation.
YOUNG: While we have you, the president also spoke about immigration reform. He told CNN he may consider legislation that doesn't include a special pathway to citizenship for the 11 million people in the U.S. illegally. And this jumps off yesterday's news. House Speaker John Boehner released immigration principles during a GOP retreat. It would allow millions of adults who live in the U.S. unlawfully, undocumented, to get legal status, but not citizenship, and this is only after paying back taxes and fines.
Now, many Republicans don't like this. They oppose any kind of legal status. But what are we seeing here? Is this an opening on immigration?
KLEIN: I think it's a very wide opening, actually. I think the president is suggesting that he could be OK with something that isn't a direct path to citizenship. The big question is: Is there another kind of third category, in between citizenship and illegal status that you might be comfortable with? The idea that that would - may be sellable to Republicans, the question is: Is that something that would be acceptable to Democrats and to President Obama?
And he is signaling here - he hasn't said so yet. He isn't saying what he's signed and what he wouldn't sign. But he's signaling here that, yes, there is the potential there. And I do think that Republicans will take this as a hopeful sign. They put out their principles this week. They'll continue to work on that and through that, and I think it has the potential to be something big.
YOUNG: Well very briefly, Rick, the president also told CNN he believes the Sochi Olympics are going to be safe, and he doesn't discourage Americans from attending. One has to wonder: Was this maybe some sort of quid pro quo with Putin to say something like this?
KLEIN: I hadn't thought about that. It's interesting, because we've heard from the administration that the Russians haven't been interested in sharing some of our resources and intelligence, so a different signal from other folks who were briefed on this. But yes, he doesn't want to discourage people from going to Putin's Russia during these games, and I think he wants to assure people that any American steps that can be taken are being taken.
YOUNG: And maybe this will let Americans take a few more of those steps they've wanted to take. Rick Klein, political director for ABC News, thanks, as always.
KLEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.