Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was confronted Monday at a campaign stop in West Virginia by a laid-off coal worker over previous comments she made that “we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
Clinton was attending a panel discussion with residents and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in Williamson, W. Va. when she was asked a question by Bo Copley, who told her he was a laid off worker in the coal industry.
“I just want to know how you can say you’re going to put a lot of coal miners out of, out of jobs, and then come in here and tell us how you’re going to be our friend, because those people out there don’t see you as a friend,” Copley said, sometimes breaking into tears, as the chants of the protesters were heard outside.
Clinton however said her comments in March were a “misstatement,” and that she has been talking about helping out coal country “for a very long time.”
“What I was saying is that the way things are going now, we will continue to lose jobs,” Clinton said Monday. “That’s what I meant to say, and I think that that seems to be supported by the facts. I didn’t mean that we were going to do it, what I said was, that is going to happen unless we take action to try to and help and prevent it.”
Clinton released a $30 billion plan last fall aimed at aiding communities dependent on coal production and she's promised that her husband would focus on revitalizing the region.
Manchin came to Clinton’s defense on Monday.
“If I thought that was in her heart, if I thought she wanted to eliminate one job in West Virginia I wouldn’t be sitting here,” he said. “I think Hillary knows that. She wouldn’t be here if she felt that way. There is no way you could come into this type of a setting and the way that people are hurting so bad unless you want to help them.”
Copley however told Manchin he didn’t believe that his endorsement of Clinton was a good move.
“If I can be candid, I think still supporting her hurts you, it does, because it’s not a good outlook here,” he said.
"I can't take it back, and I certainly can't get people who, for political reasons or personal reasons, very painful reasons, are upset with me," Clinton said. "I want you to know I'm going to do whatever I can to help no matter what happens politically."
She added, "Whether or not West Virginia supports me, I'm going to support you."
Copley said he plans to vote in the Republican primary May 10.
The Republican National Committee responded Monday to the Clinton calling her earlier comments a “misstatement.”
“If Hillary Clinton really stood with coal country she’d be calling on the Obama EPA to stop taking a wrecking ball to their way of life. Given her steadfast support for Obama’s War on Coal, her promise to ‘put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business’ may have been one of the few honest moments she’s had this entire campaign,” said RNC spokesman Michael Short.
The Obama administration has been accused for years of pursuing policies harmful to the coal industry, including new regulations on power plants. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama once said his goal is a cap-and-trade system that would make it so anybody wanting to build a coal plant would face costs so high it would “bankrupt” them.
Clinton is in the midst of a two-day campaign swing through Appalachia ahead of voting in that region later this month.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.