Protesters interrupt McConnell remarks at Kentucky event

April 1, 2019
A group of protesters greet Senator Mitch McConnell with chants and jeers as he begins his introduction of Senator Tim Kaine for a speech at the University of Louisville's McConnell Center in Louisville, Ky. (Pat McDonogh/Courier Journal via AP)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Protesters briefly interrupted remarks by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell while he attended a campus event on Monday in his Kentucky hometown.

Nearly a dozen protesters, affiliated with a group urging action against climate change, stood up during the event at McConnell’s alma mater, the University of Louisville.

The protest broke out when the Kentucky Republican was about to introduce Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, who was invited as part of the McConnell Center Distinguished Speaker Series on campus.

One protester, identifying herself as a McConnell constituent, shouted at the Republican leader: “If you expect our leadership, why don’t you stand with us?” The demonstration began as McConnell praised students on campus.

She condemned McConnell’s ties to the fossil fuel industry. Kentucky is one of the country’s leading coal producers, and McConnell has been a staunch advocate for the struggling coal industry.

McConnell didn’t respond directly to the protesters, who serenaded him with “Which side are you on?” - an old coal miner’s union protest song. They sang as they walked peacefully out of the ballroom while being watched by security personnel.

When his remarks resumed, McConnell said, “We hadn’t planned on having entertainment. Welcome to America these days.” The event continued with Kaine’s speech.

Campus officials said no charges were being filed against the protesters.

UofL spokeswoman Cindy Hess later said a campus representative told the demonstrators they could stay as long as they weren’t disruptive but later asked them to leave as the demonstration continued. Campus police walked out with them, she said.

“We think some of the group may have been students, but not all of them,” she said in an email.

For years, McConnell has brought in national leaders, both Democrats and Republicans, as part of the speaking series at UofL.

The protest on Monday was arranged by the “Louisville Hub” of the Sunrise Movement, a national initiative of people wanting action to halt climate change, the Courier Journal reported.

“We have a right to speak our opinion and voice the urgency of stopping the climate crisis,” the group posted on its Twitter account Monday. “If the only way we, your constituents, can reach you is through events like this, then we will show up.”

The group also supports the Green New Deal, which calls for virtual elimination by 2030 of greenhouse gas emissions seen as responsible for global warming. It would shift the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels and replace them with renewable resources such as wind and solar power.

Senate Republicans are looking to turn the plan into a wedge issue in the 2020 elections.

McConnell, who is up for re-election next year, has condemned the plan, saying it would kill off entire industries, wind down millions of jobs, and drive up electric bills.

“This might sound like a neat idea in places like San Francisco or New York, the places that the Democratic Party seems totally focused on these days,” he said in a recent Senate speech. “But communities practically everywhere else would be absolutely crushed.”