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Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner renews Trump criticism at town hall: ‘There is no moral equivalent to the hatred we saw’

Author: Ernest Luning - August 16, 2017 - Updated: August 16, 2017

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U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, answers a question about his votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act at a town hall meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood, Colorado. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, answers a question about his votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act at a town hall meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood, Colorado. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner kept his cool even as hundreds of constituents lost theirs time and again Tuesday afternoon at a town hall meeting in Lakewood.

After more than a year without holding a traditional town hall — Gardner has held several tele-town halls and numerous roundtable discussions with small groups — the Colorado Republican held three in one day, starting in Colorado Springs and finishing in Lakewood, with a stop in Greeley in between.

A few topics dominated at each of them, including health care policy, nuclear tensions with North Korea and the Trump administration’s approach to white supremacists.

And while the folksy Gardner familiar to voters was only occasionally on full display — he snuck in a few quips about Yuma, his hometown on the plains — he maintained a smile even as a good share of the crowd of roughly 900 repeatedly erupted inside the gymnasium at Colorado Christian University.

The tenor of the crowd became clear at the outset when many attendees shouted the word “indivisible!” during the Pledge of Allegiance, naming the movement that fancies itself “the resistance” under the Trump administration.

Before he took questions, Gardner roundly condemned President Trump’s afternoon comments equating white nationalists with counter-protesters, reviving criticism Gardner had hurled at the president over the weekend when Trump had been slow to explicitly blame white supremacists for violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“What we saw over the weekend in Charlottesville — bigotry, racism, hatred — we will not stand for as a country,” Gardner said. “There is no moral equivalent to the hatred we saw.”

One of the first questions Gardner answered — audience members were picked at random to ask questions — was about the same topic. A woman asked Gardner why he wouldn’t demand that Trump fire prominent members of his administration associated with the alt-right, including senior strategist Steve Bannon and White House aides Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka.

“I won’t demand the president fire someone — that’s his business,” Gardner said, and the crowd started booing.

“Anybody who believes the neo-Nazis or KKK ideology should go back to the cave they came from,” he said when the noise had subsided — a phrase he repeated later at the town hall. Then, referring to Trump, Gardner added, “What he did today goes back on what he did yesterday, and that’s unacceptable.”

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, answers a question at a town hall meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood, Colorado. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, answers a question at a town hall meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood, Colorado. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

Gardner maintained he was going to stand up to Trump “when the president is wrong,” pointing to his support for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

At times the crowd barely let the senator finish a sentence, leading Gardner to admonish its rowdier members and urge them to listen to one another.

“We are all going to agree and disagree with things,” Gardner said. “If we shout each other down, we will never have the kind of bipartisan solutions we need.”

Later, he said, “We have to make sure that we don’t just listen to the voices that agree with us,” drawing sustained, if smattered, applause.

As for the Affordable Care Act — and his several votes to repeal it last month — Gardner called on the crowd to raise hands if they supported single-payer health care. After perhaps three-fourths of audience members raised a hand, he noted that Colorado voters rejected a single-payer plan by an overwhelming margin last fall.

Throughout the town hall, Gardner argued that he was intent upon working with Democrats to find a bipartisan solution to health care problems, conceding that plenty of the fixes he supports — including allowing customers to buy health insurance across state lines — might not win approval from many in the crowd.

Asked whether he would vote to continue funding payments to subsidize insurance rates, an issue in the headlines that day, Gardner said, “We’ve got to make sure we bring stability to the marketplace” and not just keep throwing money at insurance companies. “We can’t continue to pay the insurance companies for the status quo, because it’s not working.”

Later, Gardner declined to pledge that he would only vote on legislation to overhaul the nation’s health care system if a bill was available for public inspection for at least three weeks. “There is legislation that sometimes moves faster than three weeks, and sometimes it has to,” he said as the cavernous hall filled with boos and groans.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, addresses a woman who said she was afraid President Donald Trump might start a nuclear war at a town hall on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood, Colorado. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, addresses a woman who said she was afraid President Donald Trump might start a nuclear war at a town hall on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood, Colorado. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

A woman said she was petrified that Trump was going to launch a nuclear strike on North Korea, asking Gardner if he could reassure her that Congress could do something to prevent Trump from starting a nuclear war on his own. Gardner’s answer — that sanctions and pressure on North Korea were necessary to reach a solution — was met with derision.

“You want me to agree that we won’t let the commander-in-chief be the commander-in-chief,” he said, and the crowd erupted with cheers. But Gardner shut them down with a shake of his head. He wouldn’t do that, he said, because it would contravene the Constitution.

As the 90-minute town hall neared its conclusion, some of the familiar, chipper Gardner emerged when he answered a question about renewable energy and its place in the economy.

“Growing up on the Eastern Plains, I thought that ‘damn wind’ was one word,” Gardner said, winning cheers from the crowd as he outlined his support for wind energy and the Wind Production Tax Credit.

Gardner said he would hold more traditional town halls — the three on Tuesday were the first he’s had in more than a year — but said they would only be part of a mix, including tele-town halls that allow thousands to participate, and other meetings with constituents.

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.


One comment

  • NancyMetzger

    August 16, 2017 at 8:24 am

    I was at the Lakewood town hall. It was unruly which made it hard to hear at times. What you left out of this report was when the Senator asked if we thought the Republican party is racist. There were loud sustained yessssss. The Senator seemed shocked. My take away s…the whole party needs to denounce Trump and racism. To do that they must stop supporting him completely.

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