When the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly today to approve President Trump’s nominee to be the next U.S. trade representative — with majorities of both parties, for a change, backing the president’s pick — Colorado Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner wasn’t among them.
Gardner was one of only three Republicans to vote no. His reason for stiff-arming his own party’s president? The nomination, he says, is bad for Colorado agriculture.
The Senate voted 82-14 to confirm Robert Lighthizer — a trade lawyer, Washington veteran, onetime member of the Reagan administration and vocal critic of free trade — to the post that is instrumental in mapping out U.S. trade policy. The lopsided support for Lighthizer in the Senate — despite bitter Democratic opposition to the president who nominated him — is said to reflect Lighthizer’s crossover appeal. Though he is a conservative Republican, his support for protectionist policies has endeared him to populist, liberal Democrats in the labor movement and elsewhere who long have denounced free trade as a job killer that only serves fat-cat shareholders in multinational corporations.
Gardner couldn’t disagree more, and he issued this statement:
“I could not support Robert Lighthizer’s nomination to become the United States Trade Representative because I’m afraid his policies could hurt Colorado’s farmers and ranchers. In light of the current agricultural crisis facing much of rural America, if we are not open to new trade opportunities, farmers and ranchers in Colorado and across the country will continue to struggle to make ends meet. We have to allow our agricultural products to flow to markets around the world and negotiate fair deals that will boost agriculture exports. Although I did not support Lighthizer’s nomination today, I am committed to working with him to advance the interests of Colorado’s agriculture community.”
Gardner was born and raised in the northeastern Colorado farm town of Yuma, and before his election to the U.S. Senate, he represented Colorado’s heavily agricultural 4th Congressional District in the U.S. House.
He joined Republican U.S. Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Ben Sasse of Nebraska along with 11 Democrats in opposing LIghthizer’s nomination.
However Gardner’s vote affects his standing with the Trump team — he no doubt got a wink from the Senate GOP leadership considering the confirmation was a shoo-in — his stance arguably squares with the sensibilities of heavily Republican Colorado farmers and ranchers ever on the hunt for new markets.
Like Mark Hillman, the Republican former Colorado Senate majority and minority leader — and wheat farmer — from Burlington. Reached for comment, Hillman saw eye-to-eye with Gardner:
“As someone who grew up in a farming community, Senator Gardner well understands that limiting potential buyers for grain and livestock would be devastating to Colorado farmers and ranchers, who are already struggling to make ends meet with depressed prices,” Hillman told us.
We thought we’d also check with the Colorado Farm Bureau for its take on the development. We’ll let you know when we hear back; we’ll guess the farm bureau, too, likes to see wide-open markets for Colorado’s wide-ranging agricultural products.