U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner on Wednesday would not commit to attending a town hall meeting, despite increasing pressure from protesters.
Instead, the Republican senator from Colorado said he will continue to meet with constituents as he travels the state during the February congressional recess and beyond in a less formal environment. Gardner also said telephone town halls are an option.
“I appreciate the people who are expressing their points of view,” Gardner said of the protesters. “Whether they support what the president has done, or whether they oppose what the president has done, it is very good for all of us to hear what is going on.”
The senator pointed to over 100 town halls over the course of his time in office, as well as meetings across all Colorado counties. He said his office has also met with protesters separately.
He said that over the recess he has traveled to Fort Morgan and Burlington in Colorado and that he has plans to visit northern Colorado.
Gardner spoke to reporters for about five minutes following remarks at the Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture, which was held at the Renaissance Denver Stapleton Hotel. Outside the hotel a small group of protesters held signs and waved flags in an effort to catch Gardner’s attention.
Left-leaning groups have scheduled a town hall for Friday in Denver that they had hoped Gardner would attend. It is being framed as an “in absentia” town hall because Gardner does not plan to attend.
“It’s his job to plan a town hall, but since he has not, we will. The fact is we don’t see any other way to connect with him, given how elusive he has become,” said Katie Farnan, an organizer. “We have invited the senator and sincerely hope he will come, but will hold the town hall with or without him.”
Similar town halls are being planned by left-leaning groups for other Republican lawmakers from Colorado and across the nation. The movement resembles actions taken by the tea party in the wake of President Obama’s 2008 victory.
Gardner has become a target for activists following the election. Even though Gardner is four years away from re-election, the demonstrations have felt like Gardner is in the midst of a campaign.
Gardner serves as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has also made him a target both locally and nationally.
One thing protesters are focusing on are sentiments expressed by Gardner that the protests reflect an organized, potentially paid movement to attack Republican lawmakers, though there is little evidence of a widespread paid effort.
While Gardner suggested that he might host a telephone town hall, protesters say that is not sufficient, as they want to have a face-to-face meeting.
But Gardner said telephone town halls allow more flexibility.
“It’s a great opportunity to reach the people across this state,” the senator said. “We try to do it as often as we can. We do it at different times of the day … We can reach out to more people. We take positive questions, we take negative questions – we take them all.”
One of the biggest issues facing Gardner is what will come of federal health care law in America, as Republicans continue their push to replace the Affordable Care Act.
Gardner didn’t rule out a budget reconciliation process in which Republican leaders have proposed an effort to begin repeal of the ACA by blocking a filibuster from Democrats. Much of the reform issue would be addressed during the reconciliation legislative process.
He also said changes could come from the president or through a bipartisan 60 votes in the Senate.
“I believe we can do this and we should do this in a bipartisan fashion,” Gardner said.
Left-leaning groups have been pressuring Republicans to unveil a concrete proposal to replace Obamacare, suggesting that they had several years to come up with a viable option.
Critics of a repeal worry that it would leave people without insurance, especially the poor.
“I believe that we will have a transition in place that will help ensure that people who are on Medicaid will have the opportunity to have the health care that we believe we can deliver in this country,” Gardner said.
As for his relationship with President Trump, Gardner chuckled when asked about the president’s “brash” style of governing. But he is hopeful for a long-term relationship.
In order for this country to be successful, Republicans and Democrats need to work together to make it successful,” Gardner said. “Most Americans believe that this country succeeds when we all succeed, and that’s what we should do working together.”
He sided with the president on stall tactics being used by Democrats to block presidential cabinet appointments. Gardner said it represents the slowest confirmation process since President George Washington.
“That’s not allowing a president to form a government; that’s obstruction,” Gardner said.
But the senator departed from the president on his multi-billion dollar plan to build a wall along the Southern border.
“I don’t think the wall is the best idea,” Gardner said.