Mitch McConnell’s Musical Attack on EPA

The Senate minority leader recruited a reality-TV singer to fight the climate rules.

LEXINGTON, KY - MAY 19: U.S. Senate Republican Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to supporters at a campaign rally May 19, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. McConnell has a full day of campaigning scheduled in advance of tomorrow's Republican primary against challenger Matt Bevin.
National Journal
Jason Plautz
July 29, 2014, 5:59 p.m.

This week’s pub­lic hear­ings on the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency’s Clean Power Plan have the usu­al roster of speak­ers: en­vir­on­ment­al­ists, in­dustry big­wigs, and politi­cians look­ing to make stump speeches for or against the rule. But it’s likely only one has the résumé of Jimmy Rose: Ir­aq vet­er­an, coal miner, and third-place fin­ish­er on the real­ity show Amer­ica’s Got Tal­ent.

The Pinev­ille, Ky., nat­ive will speak Wed­nes­day at an EPA hear­ing in Wash­ing­ton as a guest of Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell be­fore head­ing to the Cap­it­ol to per­form his sig­na­ture song “Coal Keeps the Lights On.” The song car­ries an ob­vi­ous — and for the Ken­tucky sen­at­or a polit­ic­ally po­tent — mes­sage. Rose’s lyr­ics in­voke red-meat im­agery (“tires on the truck and a sun­dress on my baby girl”) to un­der­score the im­port­ance of coal jobs to Ap­palachia, be­fore ad­mon­ish­ing “plumb-down crazy” Wash­ing­ton for anti-coal policies. Mc­Con­nell has ap­peared with Rose be­fore and even ref­er­enced Rose’s song last fall in try­ing to in­tro­duce a bill that would have blocked the EPA rules.

Rose spoke to Na­tion­al Journ­al about the mes­sage he hopes to bring to EPA, how he wrote “Coal Keeps the Lights On,” and wheth­er EPA is dodging cri­ti­cism of its cli­mate plan. Here are ex­cerpts from the in­ter­view.

{{third­PartyEmbed type:you­tube id:o7O80­pRXQhk}}

What mes­sage are you bring­ing to the EPA hear­ings?

I hope they let me sing, but I’ll get to sing my song at the Cap­it­ol [in a press con­fer­ence with Mc­Con­nell]. It’s go­ing to be clear and straight to the point about what they’re do­ing to us here in Ap­palachia. I want to put a face on what they’re do­ing and the re­stric­tions they’re put­ting in place. This war on coal, it’s dif­fer­ent if you’re not from around here in coal coun­try. I want to show them in some way what they’re do­ing to us. It’s a real hon­or to be a part of this with [Mc­Con­nell]. We’ve done sev­er­al events with him. He’s fight­ing this battle, and it’s an hon­or to be with Mitch and to rep­res­ent coal coun­try as a whole.

Mc­Con­nell has said that EPA ought to be hold­ing a hear­ing in coal coun­try. Do you agree?

It’s easy for them to hold these hear­ings out­side the real af­fected area. They don’t have to look at the people, they don’t have to look at the poverty-stricken com­munit­ies. They don’t have to make up some ex­cuse to make them feel bet­ter. It’s a sad thing they won’t drive through the towns and com­munit­ies and look at the schools. This is a war on coal, I feel strong about that. I think they should have to come around and listen to the people they’re af­fect­ing. Any op­por­tun­ity I get, I’ll jump on it to be heard, but it’s sad they won’t come to the com­bat zone.

How did your song “Coal Keeps the Lights On” come about?

I wrote that song sev­er­al years back, even be­fore I was on Amer­ica’s Got Tal­ent. I wrote that in sup­port of my people and my ho­met­own. The people who are los­ing their homes and their jobs and have to move away just to find work. To me, it’s be­ing a voice for my own people. I per­son­al­ize it when I talk about the bob­cats and the moun­tain lions [loc­al high school mas­cots], so it’s who I am and my grass roots. I wrote it out of an­ger and out of re­sent­ment and from my per­son­al ex­per­i­ence. I’ve worked in the ground; I know how it feels.

Why do you think EPA should hear the song?

If I can sing it to them, I hope they’d truly listen to the lyr­ics and the true mean­ing of what I’m try­ing to say. I think they’d get a sense of the re­per­cus­sions of the de­cisions they’re mak­ing. I’m all for sav­ing the en­vir­on­ment, I’m for sav­ing the fu­ture, but I think we’ve got to save us first. I don’t know if my song will af­fect any de­cisions, but hope­fully it will make them con­sider the im­pact of their ac­tions.

What We're Following See More »
In Dropout Speech, Santorum Endorses Rubio
1 days ago

As expected after earlier reports on Wednesday, Rick Santorum ended his presidential bid. But less expected: he threw his support to Marco Rubio. After noting he spoke with Rubio the day before for an hour, he said, “Someone who has a real understanding of the threat of ISIS, real understanding of the threat of fundamentalist Islam, and has experience, one of the things I wanted was someone who has experience in this area, and that’s why we decided to support Marco Rubio.” It doesn’t figure to help Rubio much in New Hampshire, but the Santorum nod could pay dividends down the road in southern states.

Rubio, Trump Question Obama’s Mosque Visit
1 days ago

President Obama’s decision to visit a mosque in Baltimore today was never going to be completely uncontroversial. And Donald Trump and Marco Rubio proved it. “Maybe he feels comfortable there,” Trump told interviewer Greta van Susteren on Fox News. “There are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque.” And in New Hampshire, Rubio said of Obama, “Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”

Cruz Must Max Out on Evangelical Support through Early March
1 days ago

For Ted Cruz, a strong showing in New Hampshire would be nice, but not necessary. That’s because evangelical voters only make up 21% of the Granite State’s population. “But from the February 20 South Carolina primary through March 15, there are nine states (South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina) with an estimated white-Evangelical percentage of the GOP electorate over 60 percent, and another four (Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Missouri) that come in over 50 percent.” But after that, he better be in the catbird’s seat, because only four smaller states remain with evangelical voter majorities.

Rubio Now Winning the ‘Endorsement Primary’
1 days ago

Since his strong third-place finish in Iowa, Marco Rubio has won endorsement by two sitting senators and two congressmen, putting him in the lead for the first time of FiveThirtyEight‘s Endorsement Tracker. “Some politicians had put early support behind Jeb Bush — he had led [their] list since August — but since January the only new endorsement he has received was from former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham.” Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that fueled by resentment, “members of the Bush and Christie campaigns have communicated about their mutual desire to halt … Rubio’s rise in the polls.”

Sanders: Obama Is a Progressive
1 days ago

“Do I think President Obama is a progressive? Yeah, I do,” said Bernie Sanders, in response to a direct question in tonight’s debate. “I think they’ve done a great job.” But Hillary Clinton wasn’t content to sit out the latest chapter in the great debate over the definition of progressivism. “In your definition, with you being the gatekeeper of progressivism, I don’t think anyone else fits that definition,” she told Sanders.