Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton caught the attention of coal country for her statement during a CNN town hall last Sunday when she said, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
The comment reaffirmed what coal industry supporters fear about Clinton, that she will continue down the path set forth by the Obama administration of using executive authority to make it impossible to mine and burn coal.
Clinton’s unsettling assurance sent Senate Joe Manchin scrambling. He has already endorsed Clinton and stated publicly that he believes she will be more pragmatic on coal. A senior Manchin aide tells me the Senator expressed his concerns directly with Clinton, her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and the Clinton campaign’s top energy advisor.
By Tuesday, Clinton was walking back her comment in a letter to Manchin. “Simply put, I was mistaken in my remarks,” she wrote. “I wanted to make the point that, as you know too well, while coal will be part of the energy mix for years to come, both in the U.S. and around the world, we have already seen a long-term decline in American coal jobs and a recent wave of bankruptcies as a result of a changing energy market—and we need to do more to support the workers and families facing these challenges.”
She promised to work with Manchin “on how we can help coal communities in West Virginia and across the country build the future they deserve.”
It speaks of Manchin’s influence with the Clintons that he was able to get her to admit she made a mistake, but it’s hard to simply ignore what she said. As liberal political columnist Michael Kinsley famously said, “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth.”
Candidate Barack Obama talked about an “all-of-the-above” energy policy. He even convinced the United Mine Workers union that coal figured into his plans, and they endorsed him in 2008.
However, during an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board he said, “So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it’s just that it will bankrupt them, because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”
Kinsley gaffes are bi-partisan. Last September House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on the Sean Hannity Show that one of the accomplishments of the Select Committee on Benghazi was to bring down Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers.
Whether it is the result of years of political attacks, her tendency to obfuscate when cornered or a combination of both, Clinton does have a credibility problem. An Economist/YouGov poll last month found 56 percent of respondents do not believe Clinton is honest or trustworthy, while only 27 percent say she is.
So we wonder about Sunday night’s coal comment. Did she misspeak, as she has sought to assure Manchin, or for a moment was there unambiguous clarity about the bottom line of her position on coal?