Is it possible that the Republicans’ go-to Wyoming rallying cry — Democrats’ fictional “war on coal” — is finally losing some of its Pied Piper allure?

Yes, it is. Last week Wyoming’s lone U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney showed she is more concerned with the marketing decisions of a telegenic global shoe brand that employs zero people in Wyoming than with Blackjewel LLC’s move to shutter two coal mines and lay off nearly 600 miners in what she claims (laughably) as her home state. 

Cheney’s response (or lack thereof) to the Blackjewel crisis in the Powder River Basin was yet the latest example of her tried-and-true approach to “leadership” —  exploit the misery of hard-working citizens, fear-monger with fictional bogeymen, offer no solutions and, above all, take responsibility for nothing. The practice is growing tiresome and, I believe, losing some of its political effectiveness.  

Oh, Cheney eventually responded to the economic calamity, predictably, by going on the attack. In a news release the day after the terrible news for mine employees and Campbell County’s economy, Rep. Liz Cheney said, “While the Trump Administration has made great strides in reversing President Obama’s War on Coal, a number of factors, including the far-reaching impact of regulations that unfairly penalize this industry, are still causing pain in Wyoming.”

Cheney has done it so many times, she probably bashes Obama in her sleep. But there are signs she’s becoming complacent.

Why else would Cheney decide to pick a twitter fight with global shoemaker Nike for dissing founding flagmaker Betsy Ross before addressing the misery back in Wyoming?

Cheney sent a tweet blasting Nike hours before managing to cobble together some pat “Obama bad, coal good, Trump better” talking points about Blackjewel’s implosion. Had she waited a bit longer she could have read WyoFile’s reporting that Blackjewel had withdrawn $1.2 million from payroll without sending it to the retirement accounts where it belonged and blamed that on Obama too. 

Any congressperson who pays more attention to a fashion company’s shoe models than to the home industry she styles herself as a champion of has committed a mind-boggling mistake.

What had the congresswoman so worked-up that she couldn’t be bothered by financial collapse back “home”? Nike’s decision not to produce some old-school flag shoes.

“Thank you for your leadership on this @dougducey. @Nike decision to cancel Betsy Ross shoe is ridiculous. We should be celebrating Betsy Ross and our exceptional nation this July 4th week (and every week.)” she tweeted.

The mockery came fast and furious online, including the headline on the progressive website Daily Kos: “Liz Cheney cares more about flags on sneakers than 700 coal miners losing their jobs in Wyoming.”

Then there was the caption on an accompanying photo of Cheney: “I find your lack of Betsy Ross flags disturbing,” and the writer’s delicious quip “darn that vulture capitalism.”

Someone with the Twitter handle @ConnorSouthard responded to Cheney with a devastating evaluation of her performance on the issue: “The mine shutdowns happened yesterday [July 1]. Liz had over 24 hours to say something about this, but can’t even muster the fake sympathy Republican politicians show to narrow subgroups of workers.”

“She’s preparing a tweet expressing sympathy for the mine owners,” responded @Ugarles. To which Southard wryly noted, “Those stock dividends had a family.”

Wyoming miners laid off without warning after now-ousted Blackjewel CEO Jeff Hoops promised them it wouldn’t happen is no laughing matter. Cheney however, richly deserves the ridicule.

Wyoming’s U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso are hardly reticent about unleashing their own war-on-coal rhetoric, but it’s worth noting that they kept their powder dry after Blackjewel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and shut down its mines. Eagle Butte was the fourth largest coal-producing facility in the nation, while Belle Ayr ranked sixth.

Both senators appropriately called the mine closures “devastating” to workers and their communities. Barrasso and Enzi said they would support Gov. Mark Gordon in trying to help the suddenly unemployed miners. That’s all. No mention of Obama.

That’s how Cheney should have handled the situation, too. She also needs to be called on the carpet for continuing to not let the facts get in the way of messaging.

Yes, the former Democratic president’s proposed Clean Power Plan would have placed restrictions on coal-fired power plants to protect the environment.  

But coal states like Wyoming, industry, the Republican Party and the U.S. Supreme Court kept the CPP from ever being enacted. Essentially opponents of the policy ran out the clock until Trump became president. So much for the “war on coal.” How can Cheney claim mass casualties when no shots were ever fired?

Now the president and loyalists like Cheney are touting the Environmental Protection Agency’s laughably named “Affordable Clean Energy” rule, which they claim will help keep coal-fired electric plants in business by rolling back requirements that they lower carbon emissions in response to climate change. How’s that working out for everybody?

Blaming Obama for killing the coal industry is like blaming the Earth’s flatness for every ship that disappeared beyond the horizon and never returned. It didn’t happen. You can’t say a plan that was never enacted is responsible for anything, good or bad.

The free market is what’s killing coal. Yes, the fiscal conservative’s savior almighty is a fickle and unforgiving mistress. Cheaper natural gas and renewable energy sources like wind and solar power — plus the clear and present danger of climate change — are directly tied to drops in coal production, prices and use.

But who can be bothered with the facts when Nike is dissing Betsy Ross?

For that matter, why constrain fiction to coal? Cheney (also before getting around to addressing Blackjewel) tried to pin Trump’s war-mongering with Iran on Obama too. 

“Iran’s actions this week are the direct result of President’s Obama’s failure,” she explained. “His terrible agreement guaranteed Iran the right to enrich uranium, fundamentally undermining the past success of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Memo to Trump’s base: You don’t want to hear it, but the treaty the Obama administration championed made sure that Iran would not enrich its nuclear stockpiles for at least a decade while other diplomatic measures were tried. Iran’s recent expansion of enrichment activities came in response to Trump ripping it up.

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I’m really surprised Cheney didn’t put out a press release backing Trump’s instantly infamous claim on Independence Day that our forces protected the airports during the Revolutionary War.

“WASHINGTON – Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), chairman of the House Republican Conference, today explained that American revolutionaries protected the land, sea and everything surrounding them, including the air above our brave fighting troops.

“If the British had invaded from above, rest assured that we had that contingency covered,” Cheney said. “Any property that looked like it could host an airport someday was immediately defended. The fact that human flight had not yet been invented was, of course, President Obama’s fault.”

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. If Liz used a sentence that didn’t contain the word “Obama” in it would she spontaneously combust? The doers in he world look forward not back. They realize that there has never been a civilization in the history of the planet that doesn’t continually change. They embrace change, not loathe it. You’re killing Wyoming, Liz. Look ahead. Don’t drive down the road looking in your rearview mirror.

  2. How about some alternative “fuels of the future”…whale blubber maybe? Cheney quite rightly assumes Wyoming residents will never question their allegiance to a party which claims it cares about coal, but really only cares about coal in swing states like West Virginia…

  3. I am sure once gas and renewables have forced the closure of the last coal mine we will still be hearing that lame mantra from Cheney and her ilk “it’s Obama’s fault.”

  4. If the Wyoming congressionals at least wanted the appearance of helping the coal industry, the could have proposed legislation to the reduce the royalty rate on coal, like they did for trona.

  5. Liz Cheney’s default response to any problem is to blame the Democrats rather than come up with a solution to solve any problem. It makes her job so much easier. I haven’t seen her say anything about the natural gas industry’s war on coal. It would be interesting to know how much that industry spends on bashing coal.

  6. Delicious! Best laugh we’ve had in weeks. Thank you. Of course, your carpet-bagging Representative has no shame, so it won’t affect her “representation” at all.