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Emotional unemployed W.Va. coal worker confronts Hillary Clinton over comment about putting coal ‘out of business’

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton talks with Bo Copley and his wife, Lauren, while holding a photograph of their children, after a roundtable discussion in Williamson, W.Va., on Monday. (Paul Sancya/AP)

In March, speaking about renewable energy at a CNN town hall, Hillary Clinton described herself as “the only candidate” with “a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean renewable energy as the key into coal country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right? … And we’re going to make it clear that we don’t want to forget those people.”

“Those people” didn’t forget her either, or her words about putting them “out of business,” in part because Republicans had made much of her comment at the time. And on Monday, one of “those people” confronted her at a small roundtable event in Williamson, W.Va., in the heart of coal country.

His name was Bo Copley, who described himself as an unemployed coal worker. Accompanied by his wife and a photograph of the couple’s children, he had a pointed question for Clinton: “How you could say you are going to put a lot of coal miners out of jobs and then come in here and tell us how you’re going to be our friend?” he asked, according to the Associated Press. Copley was variously described as “teared up,”  “choked up” and “emotional” as he spoke.

“I don’t know how to explain it other than what I said was totally out of context for what I meant because I have been talking about helping coal country for a very long time,” Clinton said. “It was a misstatement because what I was saying is the way things are going now, they will continue to lose jobs. It didn’t mean that we were going to do it. What I said is that is going to happen unless we take action to help and prevent it.”

“Now 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,” she said. “What I want you to know is I’m going to do everything I can to help, no matter what happens politically.”

She added that even if West Virginia does not back her, she’s going to support the state and its struggling coal industry workforce.

Still, she said, “I do feel a little bit sad and sorry that I gave folks the reason, or the excuse, to be so upset with me, because that is not what I intended at all.”

That wasn’t good enough for Copley, a 39-year-old registered Republican. “I would have liked to have heard more about what her plan is going forward for us,” he said. “I’m not into political games. … I want to hear the plans you have in store for us if you do get elected.”

Hillary Clinton was greeted by hundreds of angry protesters demonstrating against the front runner's position on coal mining during a campaign stop. (Video: Dalton Bennett/The Washington Post)

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She had not received a friendly reception from the outset in what is now hostile territory in Appalachia, where coal was once king. She arrived at the event only to be greeted by protesters vocally supporting Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, carrying Trump campaign signs and yelling things such as “Go home, Hillary,” “Benghazi! Benghazi!” and “We want Trump,” according to NBC News.

“Those people out there don’t see you as a friend,” Copley said.

Copley, according to West Virginia’s Metro News, was a maintenance planner for an Arch Coal subsidiary when he was laid off.

West Virginia’s Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III, who accompanied Clinton at the event, told the group she would work hard for West Virginia but took some hits himself from protesters shouting “Traitor Joe” when he entered and exited the building, the Metro News reported.

“Honestly,” Copley told Manchin, “if I can be candid, I think still supporting her hurts you. It does.”