Last Friday, Sen. Cory Gardner made an unannounced visit to the University of Colorado-Boulder, where he went to law school. The Republican from Yuma, who rarely makes himself available to the public, was speaking to the campus student GOP group, which chose not to advertise the event.
As he approached the designated classroom, Gardner was waylaid by a woman with a question. Would you support a resolution blocking the president’s emergency declaration to build his border wall, asked the woman, a Boulder resident named Katie Farnan, who is also a member of the progressive political organization Indivisible Front Range Resistance.
The senator, who has long supported President Donald Trump and has already endorsed him in the 2020 presidential race, walked past her without directly answering. His staff and an event organizer asked Farnan to wait in the hallway. “I’m his constituent, too,” she called after them.
Gardner walked to the front of the classroom. “Am I supposed to start?” he asked. So began his speech to about 20 people, most of them students, on the second floor of the Hellems Arts and Sciences Building.
Gardner is up for reelection in 2020 with several high-profile Democrats already in the race to unseat him, but this wasn’t a campaign stop, and the College Republicans at the CU Boulder group that invited him announced on its Facebook page only that a “special guest” would be appearing. While the gathering was public, no signs advertised the senator’s appearance outside the building or near the classroom. Gardner said he was already in town for meetings when the event was scheduled.
A club member, who asked not to be identified, later told the Daily Camera Gardner’s identity was withheld to prevent media, activists and protesters from showing up and to foster a respectful, non-contentious environment.
Early in his speech, Gardner touted his plans for workforce development, which he said will help employers find skilled workers and help students pay off tuition debt. While answering questions from the students, he mentioned his support for designating a former Japanese-American internment camp in southeastern Colorado, Camp Amache, part of the national park system. He said he will be introducing an investment tax credit bill for renewable energy battery storage to spur research and development. A student asked about his position on a resolution to block Trump’s emergency declaration.
“We’re still looking into a lot,” Gardner replied. He added that he’s been talking to constitutional law and immigration experts on the matter.
As he was speaking, the resolution to block the declaration had already passed the Democratic-controlled House, and its passage in the GOP-controlled Senate hinged on just one more Republican vote. On Sunday, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky became that vote. It’s expected that both chambers lack the votes needed to override a presidential veto. The Senate is expected to vote on the resolution this month.
“I’d like to hear you say what it is that [President Trump] has done positively that outweighs the almost unanimous opinion in this country of the mistakes he’s made — ongoing mistakes?” Tim Weston, a CU-Boulder history professor who identified himself as an activist, asked Gardner.
“Do you think there is a unanimous opinion in this country?” Gardner replied.
Before Weston could fully answer, Gardner went on, “Do you think a majority of Americans oppose the president? Do you think almost half the country voted for the president?”
“I know they did,” the Weston replied. “But I think the poll numbers since you have been in office have been stuck in the mid-to-low 40s.”
“How much did Donald Trump lose Colorado by?” Gardner asked sharply.
“I don’t know,” Weston said.
“It was less than 5 percent,” Gardner said. “He did better than Mitt Romney or John McCain.”
“That’s not my question,” Weston went on. “How can you ignore the trashing of the media, the extreme upset he has created around racial issues, the lies …”
Talking over Weston’s questions, Gardner said, “I opposed Roy Moore’s election to the United States Senate. I spoke out against Charlottesville. I said we must call evil evil. And I also talked about where I disagree with the president. I make it very clear. I talked about it today with the U.S. agreement on North Korea. You know what? We have an economy that’s strong. We have people earning more wages. We have less regulation that’s allowing businesses to flourish. And I just disagree with you.”
“But I’m asking you …” Weston started.
“What do you teach?” Gardner interrupted.
“I teach Chinese history. I’m asking you about Donald Trump’s ongoing immorality as a human being and whether or not that is acceptable,” Weston said.
“I have made it clear, and I will continue to, that I am going to agree and disagree. Because I know that this approach that I’ve seen on the left is a move toward socialism.”
“No, it is not,” Weston said.
“It absolutely is. What is ‘Medicare for All?’ Is that socialism?” Gardner said.
“Medicare for all is …” Weston said.
“What about the Green New Deal?” Gardner interrupted. “Is that socialism? Why isn’t it?”
“Why isn’t it? Because …” Weston said.
“Getting paid for not going to work? That’s not socialism? Everybody gets a job?” Gardner said, cutting Weston off again, before pointing to the moderator and asking to move on.
Students looked around at each other, some shaking their heads and others smiling and holding back laughter as Gardner and the professor continued to go back and forth. Weston later told The Colorado Independent that he left feeling like Gardner dodged his questions, and at times acted like a “bulldog,” firing questions back in response.
“This is a man that holds a very small number of public forums,” Weston said. “This is an alum of CU-Boulder. He should come back to his alma mater and he should have public forums.”
As Weston and Gardner sparred, Farnan watched from the back of the room and then jumped in to repeat the question she asked in the hallway: How was Gardner going to vote on the resolution to block Trump’s emergency declaration?
“I’m talking to people at the Pentagon. I’m talking to people …” Gardner replied.
“Is it an emergency?” Farnan interrupted.
“I think we have a crisis,” he said.
“What’s the crisis?” she asked.
“We have 12 million people who are in this country without documentation. We have a challenge in human trafficking and we have a challenge in narco-trafficking,” he said.
“You represent me, Senator Gardner. What is your feeling about whether Trump has the right to take my taxpayer money to divert it to an emergency?” Farnan asked.
“That’s what we are looking into to to try to determine under the law,” Gardner said.
After about 30 minutes of conversation and debate, Gardner and several of the students gathered at the front of the room for a photo. The senator mingled for a few minutes as students migrated to a table at the back of the room to grab slices of pizza.
And then Gardner left, flanked by two staffers, dogged down the hallway by two women seeking answers to their questions. He declined to answer any questions from The Colorado Independent.