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Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner talks marijuana, Russian meddling, health care in telephone town hall

Posted: 12:02 PM, Mar 01, 2017
Updated: 2017-03-01 22:33:19Z

DENVER – Colorado Senator Cory Gardner answered questions from 12 Coloradans ranging from marijuana to health care and the administration’s executive orders on immigration in a 45-minute telephone town hall Wednesday morning.

The telephone town hall was an olive branch to frothing constituents who have demanded in recent weeks that the Republican senator hold in-person town hall meetings with his constituents, despite most of his fellow Colorado Congressmen also refraining from doing so.

Gardner said he had to move the meeting up from 10 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. because he met with President Donald Trump and other Congressional leaders after the phone call.

The full call can be heard by clicking in the player embedded below or by clicking here.

Russian meddling

The first question posed to Gardner was about Russian meddling in last year’s election.

Gardner said “we know for sure” that Russians interfered with the election, and pointed toward his calls for the creation of a permanent cybersecurity committee to protect cyber assets over the past year.

Another follow-up to the first question asked later asked Gardner why he hadn’t called for a “bilateral independent investigation” into the Russian meddling.

Gardner said he supported the House Intelligence Committee investigation and the continued FBI investigation into Russia’s actions.

He also said later that it was “premature” to talk about asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from any possible hearings.

Planned Parenthood

Sen. Gardner stepped around a question about defunding Planned Parenthood by saying he was “pro-life” and that his record reflects that, but said he wants to be sure federally-funded health care clinics receive money they at times have had trouble receiving.

He said taking some of the money meant for Planned Parenthood and sending it to the federally-funded clinics could expand health care in Colorado.

On Supreme Court picks

A Fort Collins caller asked Gardner about his and his fellow Republicans refusal to have confirmation hearings for President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, and what will happen with the confirmation process of President Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

Gardner cited the “Biden rule” that stemmed from a speech the former vice president gave on the Senate floor in 1992 when he said that a vote on a Supreme Court vacancy, should one have happened, should be delayed until after the pending election.

On attacks on Muslim, Jewish communities and immigration executive orders

Gardner reiterated his objection to the president’s immigration executive orders and also took the opportunity to condemn “anti-Semitism, wherever it occurs” – referring to threats to Jewish community centers across the country and vandalism at Jewish cemeteries – as well as the “unacceptable” attack in Olathe on two Indian men and at mosques in the U.S. and around the world.

On voting with Trump

Gardner was quick to point out the times he disagreed with President Trump: He disagreed with the president on the Russian election meddling allegations and condemned Trump’s claims that “3 to 5 million” people voted illegally in the last election.

“I think it’s important that the president have the people around him that the president nominates,” Gardner said. He pointed out that he had voted to confirm Loretta Lynch as attorney general under President Obama.

As to his 100 percent voting record with Trump, Gardner said that “those votes have been on the president’s cabinet members and several resolutions.”

But Gardner said he might disagree with Trump in the future.

On school choice

“I do support school choice,” Gardner said, saying it was important for competition, but adding that choices are not right for “every instance.”

He said there was “no one right way” to educate kids and said parents should have a choice. He also said that Congress should “get out of the classroom” and let Colorado students, teachers and parents determine what they want.

Gardner on Colorado’s legal marijuana programs

The senator said he believes marijuana is a states’ rights issue after he was asked about comments from the White House and Attorney General Jeff Sessions about a possible crackdown on recreational marijuana programs.

Gardner said he has asked the White House for clarification on White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s comments that compared recreational marijuana to opioids, and said Spicer’s comments were “at odds” with what he says Sessions told him before his confirmation – that the Attorney General’s Office will not make the enforcement of federal marijuana laws a priority.

He noted he initially opposed recreational marijuana, but said that he supports the will of the people of Colorado, who voted to put legal marijuana in the state Constitution.

On Obamacare and pre-existing conditions

Gardner said that in discussions with fellow lawmakers, that he hasn’t “heard anybody say we’re going to get rid of pre-existing conditions coverage.”

He said that though Obamacare mandated coverage, many have been priced out of using coverage because of high deductibles. He said the health care program restructuring was a “very, very important issue” and that just because there is a program in place “doesn’t mean we can’t do better.”

On Colorado mines and waterways

Gardner was asked if he is sponsoring any legislation “protecting Colorado towns from mining pollution.”

He said he was working to again try and pass a Good Samaritan law similar to ones produced by former lawmakers, including former Sens. Mark Udall and Ken Salazar, that never passed to the White House.

Such laws aim to remediate and clean up inactive and abandoned mines and eliminate the seepage of heavy metals or leeching chemicals into the waterways.

He also said he was working to make the Land and Water Conservation Fund permanent to safeguard natural and water resources.

On foreign aid and military spending

Gardner said he has “significant issues” when it comes to proposals that would slash foreign aid from the U.S. and pointed to numerous programs across the world, including some that help prevent human trafficking and abuse, that greatly benefit from U.S. aid. He noted that foreign aid represents a miniscule portion of the total budget.

He said that the U.S. was in the midst of a “significant crisis” in regards to national security because of old equipment the armed services are using to justify proposed increases in defense and military spending under the president’s proposed budget.

Gardner also answered questions about methane legislation and laws, as well as a question about science and a reauthorization of the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act.

Despite the recent fervor over his not appearing in-person at town halls in Colorado, no questions were asked about why he hadn’t attended one.

Two of the 12 callers who had questions answered pointed out that they were not paid to be on the call or ask questions – a dig at Gardner’s comments in January that some protesters at his Colorado offices and callers to his offices were paid to do so.

Gardner signed off by saying he would be holding more of the telephone town halls throughout the rest of the year, then thanked the callers before heading off to meet with the president.

"The best way this country succeeds is by coming together," he said.

Gardner issued a statement on the town hall and subsequent meeting with President Trump to Denver7 Wednesday afternoon:

“I appreciated the opportunity to meet with President Trump following his address to a joint session of Congress and immediately after a telephone town hall meeting with nearly 10,000 Coloradans from around the state. Many of the topics, including Obamacare and health care access, discussed on my phone call with constituents came up during my visit to the White House, and I’m grateful I had the chance to bring Coloradans’ thoughts and concerns with me.”

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