Kentucky Republicans Worried Inviting AOC to Meet with Coal Miners Might Backfire

Luke Darby
Ocasio-Cortez actually said yes to their invite, and now they’re waffling.

Last month, a clip of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went predictably viral after she forcefully responded to one of her colleagues on the House Financial Services Committee when he called climate change an "elitist" concern. "Wanting clean air and water is not elitist," she said.

In response, Kentucky Republican congressman Andy Barr invited Ocasio-Cortez to come meet coal miners in his state "who will tell you what the Green New Deal would mean for their families, their paychecks." His concern, he said, is that the Green New Deal would phase out U.S. reliance on coal and fossil fuel, which would wreak havoc on the lives of people who work in those industries. Ocasio-Cortez accepted, saying she'd be "happy" to go, adding that the Green New Deal was written to fund coal-miner pensions. "We want a just transition to make sure we are investing in jobs across those swaths of the country," she said.

All in all, it seemed like an uncharacteristically cordial exchange for two members of Congress. And not even a month later, that cordiality is out the window: Barr has reportedly withdrawn his invitation, saying that Ocasio-Cortez has to first apologize to Texas representative Dan Crenshaw for a completely unrelated event before he brings her to meet with miners. Crenshaw was one of the first and most vociferous critics to pile on to Minnesota representative Ilhan Omar for out-of-context comments about 9/11. When he shared a tweet that falsely claimed Omar said the 9/11 attacks weren't terrorism, Ocasio-Cortez pointed out: "You refuse to co-sponsor the 9/11 Victim’s Compensation Fund, yet have the audacity to drum resentment towards Ilhan w/completely out-of-context quotes. In 2018, right-wing extremists were behind almost ALL US domestic terrorist killings. Why don’t you go do something about that?"

So now Barr is demanding that Ocasio-Cortez apologize to Crenshaw if she wants to accept his invitation, writing in a letter to her office that her comments "demonstrate a lack of civility that is becoming far too common in the U.S. House of Representatives." An apology's not likely to happen, though. Corbin Trent, a spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez, told The Courier-Journal, "Luckily, we still have open borders with Kentucky. We don’t need Congressman Barr to meet with coal miners and have a town hall, though we’d love his participation if we do."

Uninviting Ocasio-Cortez is probably a smart move on Barr's part in the long run. For one thing, there aren't any active coal mines in Barr's district. And James Comer, another Republican representative from Kentucky, told local news that he didn't "see any upside" to having her come to Kentucky. "I think a lot of Republicans are making a mistake picking on her. I think we need to be very prepared when we debate her on issues that we're having a hard time with."

That's a pretty low bar for political strategy—the idea that politicians should know what they're talking about before engaging across the aisle—but Comer seems to be one of the few Republicans who's figured it out so far. Instead of offering themselves up for the next of Ocasio-Cortez's viral tweet dunks, other members of his party would be smart to follow his lead.