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Romney tries to make hay of Chicago teachers' strike

 

Mitt Romney led Republicans on Monday in trying to get political traction from the teachers' union strike in Chicago, which forced canceled classes in one of the nation's largest public school districts.

Charles Dharapak / AP

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney stands on a table as he addresses an overflow crowd as he campaigns at PR Machine Works in Mansfield, Ohio, Monday, Sept. 10, 2012.

Romney and running mate Paul Ryan assailed teachers' unions, and sought to tie President Barack Obama to striking educators and divide him from Democratic Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

"I am disappointed by the decision of the Chicago Teachers Union to turn its back on not only a city negotiating in good faith but also the hundreds of thousands of children relying on the city's public schools to provide them a safe place to receive a strong education," Romney said in a statement Monday morning.

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Members of the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike in the nation's third-largest school district after negotiations toward a new contract broke down Sunday night. No immediate resolution to the dispute seemed likely as of Monday afternoon.

Republicans quickly attempted to turn the collective bargaining standoff into political fodder for the fall campaign.

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"Teachers unions have too often made plain that their interests conflict with those of our children, and today we are seeing one of the clearest examples yet," Romney added in his statement Monday. "I choose to side with the parents and students depending on public schools to give them the skills to succeed, and my plan for education reform will do exactly that."

The Republican presidential nominee has been a frequent critic of teachers' unions, casting them as a self-interested impediment to the types of reforms Romney argues are needed in schools.

And as if to prove the maxim that politics makes for strange bedfellows, GOP vice presidential nominee Ryan found himself praising Emanuel, the former hard-charging Obama chief of staff, while campaigning on Monday in Oregon.

"Rahm and I have not agreed on every issue or on a lot of issues, but Mayor Emanuel is right today in saying that this teacher's union strike is unnecessary and wrong. We know that Rahm is not going to support our campaign, but on this issue and this day we stand with Mayor Rahm Emanuel," Ryan said at a fundraiser.

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The praise for Emanuel might prompt some askew glances considering how Republicans have referred to Chicago as a kind of shorthand for cronyism and strong-armed machine politics of which they accuse Obama. The president hails from the city and headquartered his 2008 and re-election campaigns there.

But Emanuel himself lashed out at Romney during a press availability in Chicago this afternoon, accusing the Republican presidential hopeful of political opportunism.

"While I appreciate Mitt Romney’s statement, on behalf of the kids and the parents of the city of Chicago, if he wants to help, he could then determine that when it comes to his tax cut, he will never cut the Department of Education and the funding that’s necessary and he will make sure that there will never be a cut in any education to pay for his tax cuts for the most fortunate," the first-term mayor said.

"So while I appreciate his lip service, what really counts is what we’re doing here. And I don’t really give two hoots about national comments scoring political points or trying to embarrass -- or whatever -- the president."

And as Romney and Ryan attack unions, other Republicans, ironically, turned up the pressure on Emanuel.

Pat Brady, the chairman of the Illinois GOP, called on Emanuel to abandon his role with Priorities USA Action, a super PAC which supports Obama.

"Chicago families deserve the mayor’s complete attention this week," Brady said on Monday. "Mayor Emanuel should put aside his Obama Super PAC fundraising work and put Chicago issues first."

(POLITICO reported that Emanuel has put his fundraising on hiatus to turn his attention to the ongoing strike.)

Romney himself will be in the Chicago area later Monday to attend a closed-door fundraiser following an afternoon rally in Ohio, and his schedule currently doesn't call for any public availabilities while in the Windy City.

As for the president, White House press secretary Jay Carney suggested that Obama hadn't chosen a "side" in the fight, and instead hoped for a consensus solution to avert further lost days of school for students.

"I can tell you more broadly that our principal concern is for the students, and his principal concern is for the students and families who are affected by the situation," Carney said. "And we hope that both sides are able to come together to solve this quickly and in the best interests of Chicago's students."