Hillary Clinton apologizes for coal comments in West Virginia

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  • Hillary Clinton was confronted by sharp questions about her past comments from Bo Copley, a former coal employee
  • Clinton's two-day swing through Appalachia has taken her into the heart of Donald Trump country

Williamson, West Virginia (CNN)As Hillary Clinton's motorcade rolled down the rainy, windy roads that head into this small West Virginia town Monday, the former secretary of state's campaign knew she was driving into hostile territory.

And she was right.
    Clinton's two-day swing through Appalachia -- including multiple stops in West Virginia -- has taken her into the heart of Donald Trump country, an area where a "Make America Great" sign seems as prevalent as a mailbox. Dozens of the real estate mogul's supporters lined up outside Clinton's event in Williamson, chanting "We want Trump" and "Go Home Hillary" as the former secretary of state walked into the roundtable at a local health and wellness center.
    The trip, through areas where coal was once king, has highlighted past comments Clinton has made about the energy source, including saying at a CNN town hall in Ohio in March that, as president, she was going to "put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business."
    Bo Copley, a former coal company employee who wore a #JesusIsBetter t-shirt to, came to Clinton's roundtable on Monday with one issue in mind: Coal and Clinton's past comments about moving to cleaner energy sources.
    In one of the more intense interactions Clinton has had on the trail, Copley -- growing emotional at times -- pressed Clinton for her past statement and asked her, "How you can say you are going to put a lot of coal miners out of jobs and then come in here and tell us how you are going to be our friends?"
    As protesters outside chanted within earshot of people inside, Clinton went on to apologize for her past comments. She argued that while she believes the comments were taken out of context, she acknowledged it was a "misstatement."
    "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."
    Copley, who handed Clinton a photo of his children before he asked his question, told reporters afterward that he came to question the candidate as a way to speak for the people outside the event who were not invited in. The registered Republican, who said he had not decided who he would vote for in the May 10 primary, added that Clinton did not win him over.
    Sen. Joe Manchin, who said he felt exactly like Copley after Clinton made her comments in March, looked to defend Clinton during the roundtable, arguing she wouldn't have come to West Virginia "if she felt that way."
    "There is no way you can some into this type of a setting, where people are hurting so bad, unless you wanted to help them," Manchin said. "I know that is not in her heart."
    Clinton said her visit was an attempt to show the people of Appalachia that she cares about them and their issues.
    "I'm running in this primary because I still want to compete in West Virginia," Clinton said, adding that people close to her advised her to skip West Virginia and head to California. "I'm here because I want you to know whether people vote for me or not whether they yell at me or not, it's not going to affect what I can do to help because I feel like that's a moral obligation."
    Mingo County, where Clinton's event was Monday, was once one of the top coal-producing counties in the country. But due to a series of layoffs and mine closings, the county has seen its coal employment cut in half over the past four years.
    Clinton has proposed "revitalizing" coal country with $30 billion in investment aimed at retraining former coal miners, protecting health and pension benefits for mineworkers and attracting investment to counties impacted with layoffs. She has also pledged to invest federal funds in clean coal technology.
    Clinton ended the roundtable by nodding to the seriousness of her interaction on Monday and the fact that, even if she wins in November, the task of helping coal country is "daunting."
    "I won't over-promise," Clinton said. "I am not going to sit here and say I am going to wave a magic wand and make something happen. But I will tell you, I will work my heart out for you."