In a 2014 campaign ad that Colorado voters are probably going to be seeing a lot of over the next year or so, then-Representative Cory Gardner looked into the camera and made a simple promise: “When my party’s wrong, I’ll say it.”
Five years later, one of two things is true: Either Gardner has broken his promise, or his party hasn't been wrong very often.
Weeks after the ad aired, Gardner narrowly defeated Democratic Senator Mark Udall, thanks in large part to its message and others like it — from a since-rescinded Denver Post endorsement to a glowing profile in The Atlantic that assured readers he was “Not That Kind of Republican.” Since then, however, the Republican from Yuma has faced constant criticism from Democrats and left-leaning activists over avoiding questions from constituents and the press, especially following the election of President Donald Trump in 2016.
Gardner now faces an uphill battle for re-election in a state that Trump lost by five points; he’ll need plenty of votes from Democrats and independents to win, but he can’t afford to alienate Colorado Republicans who overwhelmingly support the president. And he’ll have to walk perhaps his toughest tightrope yet as congressional Democrats launch a formal impeachment inquiry into allegations that Trump attempted to coerce a foreign government to interfere in the 2020 election.
But it’s not like Gardner hasn’t had plenty of practice at threading this particular needle — over and over again throughout Trump's presidency, he’s displayed a virtuosic talent for appearing to answer questions while not really saying much at all. As a new phase of impeachment-related evasion begins, here are five of his greatest hits.
5. “This is a serious issue, and I’m not going to get out in front of the facts I simply don’t have.”
Gardner began the week with an interview in his preferred setting, the friendly confines of conservative talk radio. Asked by 630 KHOW’s Ross Kaminsky about revelations that a White House whistleblower claimed Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine to force its government to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter for corruption, Gardner said that he would wait to comment until he could, in his words, “get the information.”
It’s not clear what information Gardner was waiting on. Trump had already admitted to asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch an investigation into Biden in a July phone call, and no one disputes that the administration held back $391 million in aid from the country just a week prior to the call. Since then, a record of the call and the whistleblower report itself have substantiated the allegations, but Gardner still isn’t commenting on the president’s conduct — only on the impeachment inquiry, which he decried as an "attempt to appease the far left."
4. “We have been working on the BLM move, and that’s basically everything that we’ve been trying to get done.”
That, in its entirety, is how Gardner answered a question from 710 KNUS’s Steffan Tubbs about Trump’s racist attacks on several Democratic congresswomen in July. “I translate that into, ‘I don’t want to talk about it,’” said a chuckling Tubbs, who then dropped the matter. In another radio interview one day later, Gardner broke his silence with this stinging rebuke of the president’s racist demagoguery: “I disagree with the president. I wouldn’t have sent these tweets.” He later declined to say whether he thought Trump's comments were racist.
3. “This deserves serious debate, not knee-jerk reaction.”
Gardner voted for every one of congressional Republicans' attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017, but you'd hardly know it if you were only reading the occasional statements on the repeal process he and his staff issued to reporters. For months, Gardner was first waiting to "read the legislation and find out how it works," then "beginning to carefully review" the legislation, then "still reviewing the legislation," then "continuing to review details," and on and on.
In each case, Coloradans only found out where Gardner stood when he cast his vote on the Senate floor. The senator's only candor about ACA repeal came behind closed doors: In a private meeting with other Republicans shortly before their final attempt at repeal, the New York Times reported that Gardner urged colleagues to vote yes, because, he said, "donors are furious."
You can’t get much more evasive than refusing to comment altogether, and there’s no answer that Gardner and his staff love to give more than no answer at all.
There are too many examples of non-answers to count — Gardner has refused to answer dozens of questions from Westword this year alone — but The Hill neatly summed up many journalists’ experience of covering Gardner in a story on the near-total abortion ban passed by Alabama earlier this year: “Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), when approached, said he was late to a meeting and referred questions to his office. Aides to Gardner did not respond to a request for comment.” Months later, Gardner still hasn’t commented on any of the aggressive anti-abortion measures passed at the state level this year, or the high-stakes Supreme Court showdown they’re certain to prompt.
1. “This is an important issue, and I don’t think you can say yes or no.”
That's how Gardner responded in a 2014 debate with Udall when asked whether “humans are contributing significantly to climate change.” Moderators pressed for a yes-or-no answer, but Gardner repeatedly refused, saying only that “I believe that the climate is changing, I disagree to the extent that it’s been in the news.”
Today, there's no evidence that Gardner is any closer to accepting the scientific consensus that man-made greenhouse gas emissions are the dominant cause of global warming. While he told the Colorado Sun last year that "there’s no doubt pollution contributes to climate change,” he voted against an amendment acknowledging as much in 2015. Gardner has repeatedly voted against legislative efforts to curb carbon emissions, rarely speaks about climate issues unless prompted, and has never voiced support for any specific plan that is aligned with what scientists say is necessary to avoid catastrophic levels of warming.
Climate change is likely to be one of the highest-profile issues in the 2020 election, and Gardner will surely face pressure from reporters and his eventual Democratic opponent to get more specific about what he believes, and what he plans to do about it. Maybe we'll get more clarity on where he stands in the coming months — but if anyone can spend an entire year successfully dodging questions that everyone in Colorado wants answers to, it's Gardner.
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