Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet: ‘I feel sorry for my Republican colleagues’

Author: Ernest Luning - October 7, 2017 - Updated: October 9, 2017

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Demcorat, tours a home built by the joint University of California Berkley and University of Denver team on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, at the Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon event near Denver International Airport. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Demcorat, tours a home built by the joint University of California Berkley and University of Denver team on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, at the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon event near Denver International Airport. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, said Friday he feels sorry for Republican lawmakers faced with daily surprises from President Donald Trump. The Colorado Democrat also said he’s worried Trump is planning to exit the nuclear agreement with Iran amid mounting tensions with a nuclear-armed North Korea.

“I feel sorry for my Republican colleagues, because they have no idea from day to day what Donald Trump is going to say about them, and it makes it very hard for them to do their jobs,” Bennet told Colorado Politics.

Bennet offered a blunt assessment of the Trump administration’s record on foreign and domestic policy following a tour of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon installation near Denver International Airport.

“I worry about the rumors that are coming out of the administration and the kind of bellicose tone that the president is projecting around the world, calling foreign leaders names, saying he’s going to pull us out of the Iran deal,” Bennet said, adding that he recently met with ambassadors from European nations also signed to the agreement with Iran.

“Every single one of them says what the (International Atomic Energy Agency) says, which is that Iran is in compliance with the plan,”Bennet said, sounding exasperated.

According to a law passed when President Barack Obama signed the deal with Iran and five other nations, the president is required to certify to Congress that Iran is holding up its end of the bargain and that the deal is in America’s security interests every 90 days. The next deadline is Oct. 15, and reports suggest Trump — who has called the agreement “the worst deal ever” — is ready to scrap it.

“Are we really prepared to say it’s not in compliance with the plan when the entire rest of the world is saying we need to (maintain) it?” Bennet said. “Especially at the moment when we’ve got the North Korea problem, which is a serious problem that we’re confronting, the idea that we would have potentially two countries — with different capacities, sharing information with each other, by the way — building nuclear weapons and threatening the United States is beyond ridiculous.”

Trump and Pyongyang have been ratcheting up insults and threats in recent months, with Trump telling the United Nations that America can “totally destroy” North Korea and threatening the country’s nuclear and missile programs with “fire and fury.” On Saturday, Trump tweeted that “only one thing will work” dealing with North Korea after decades of what he described as failed negotiations. Administration officials have recently said that military action is the only remaining alternative if diplomacy doesn’t achieve U.S. aims with the country.

Bennet had an equally skeptical take on Republican congressional leadership’s handling of the Trump administration’s key legislative priorities this year.

“We’ve spent nine months wasting the American people’s time on two health care bills the Republicans couldn’t successfully vote for,” Bennet said. “We need to fix health care. We absolutely need to fix health care — far beyond the Affordable Care Act, there are things we need to do to fix health care. And now we’ve wasted nine months of the American people’s time instead of addressing it.”

Senate Republicans last month put on hold efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, when replacement legislation came up one vote short for the second time. Trump took to Twitter to tear into Arizona Sen. John McCain, one of at least three GOP senators whose announced intentions to oppose the bill led Senate leaders to cancel a scheduled vote.

Bennet is among Democrats — and some Republicans — who have called on GOP leadership to take a bipartisan approach to problems with the nation’s health care system, including affordability and access issues under Obamacare. While Republicans put those negotiations on hold during the most recent failed attempt to overturn the existing law, talks appear to have resumed.

As congressional Republicans turn attention from repealing Obamacare to overhauling the nation’s tax laws, Bennet said he was optimistic GOP lawmakers will be open to working across the aisle after unveiling an initial proposal that was met with nearly universal condemnation from Democrats, as well as sharp criticism from some Republicans.

“Now they’re saying they’re going to try to do tax reform,” Bennet said. “These early proposals don’t give me a lot of hope that we’re going to be able to do the kind of bipartisan work we need to do to reform the tax code properly. I hope that will change in the coming weeks — I’m on the (Senate) Finance Committee, that’s where tax reform is going to be done.”

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.