Gardner, bipartisan Senate group back bill to keep US in NATO

Author: Marianne Goodland - July 27, 2018 - Updated: July 29, 2018

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., questions Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as he testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 25, 2018, during a hearing on diplomacy and national security. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

“NATO is as bad as NAFTA,” President Donald Trump told G7 leaders in Canada in June. And you know how much Trump hates the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Concerns that the president could unilaterally remove the United States from the nearly 70-year-old North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have prompted four bipartisan senators to introduce legislation to bar Trump, or any president, from leaving the alliance without Senate approval.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, has teamed up with Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Jack Reed of Rhode Island, along with fellow Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, to sponsor a joint resolution authorizing legal action if a president withdraws the U.S. from NATO without Senate approval. The measure has not yet been assigned to a committee.

Gardner’s sponsorship of the measure may signal a move to the political center, or at least a greater willingness to stand up to Trump, after polling late last year showed Gardner’s approval rating among Colorado voters at 25 percent, including just 46 percent approval from Republicans. Gardner is up for re-election in 2020.

The measure notes that the president is required under the U.S. Constitution to seek the advice and consent of the Senate before entering into a formal treaty, and the senators believe that likewise, to withdraw from one, although according to the Washington Post, the U.S. Constitution is silent on the issue of withdrawal or modification of a treaty.

Gardner and Kaine are both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. McCain is chair of the Armed Services Committee; Reed is that committee’s ranking Democrat.

“NATO is the most successful military alliance in history, and any effort to abandon it would be a monumental mistake,” Gardner said in a statement. “I support the United States’ continued commitment to the alliance, including the provisions that require the armed support of all members in case of an attack on any one member, as was exercised after the 9/11 attack against the United States.”

Under the measure backed by Gardner, any change or withdrawal from NATO would require a two-thirds vote of the Senate.

In a statement, McCain said that the president’s “mistreatment of our closest allies has raised doubts about America’s commitment to the transatlantic alliance and the values of defense.”

McCain has been a frequent critic of Trump’s views on NATO and Russia. Earlier this month, he criticized Trump for statements on NATO, saying Trump was helping Russian President Vladimir Putin destroy the alliance.

While Gardner has strongly supported Trump on major issues such as nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court and tax reform (the political-data website FiveThirtyEight scores Gardner at 90.8 percent voting with the president), he’s been more critical of Trump in recent months on issues such as trade tariffs, marijuana and now, NATO.

He’s even sponsored legislation to determine whether Russia should be added to the list of state sponsors of terrorism. In the past week, the measure has gained two Republican co-sponsors: Sens. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Marco Rubio of Florida.

But political consultant Dick Wadhams says none of Gardner’s recent actions surprise him. Gardner is becoming a leader in the Senate on foreign affairs, Wadhams told Colorado Politics Friday.

Gardner’s recent actions are consistent with what he’s said and done since being elected to the Senate in 2014, Wadhams says. As to Gardner’s actions on marijuana and tariffs, Wadhams said both of those are issues that are important to Coloradans.

Overall, Wadhams said, Gardner has been a strong supporter of the Trump agenda, be it on taxes, deregulation or judicial nominations, in addition to the Supreme Court.

Gardner’s soft polling numbers from earlier this year aren’t unusual either, Wadhams explained. As senators start to approach re-election, most show low polling numbers. Wadhams recalled the re-elections of Sens. Wayne Allard in 2002 and Bill Armstrong in 1984. A year before the 1984 election, Armstrong’s numbers were fairly low, Wadhams said, and yet Armstrong went on to win re-election by an historic margin.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.