Get More Smarter on Tuesday (April 17)

Happy Tax Day! Watch out for those technical difficulties when filing your taxes. It’s time to Get More Smarter. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY… 

► Colorado teachers took their call for better pay and benefits to the State Capitol on Monday. As Blair Miller and Marc Stewart report for Denver7:

Dozens of Colorado public school teachers descended Monday on the state Capitol to demand better pay and pensions as lawmakers inside debated their future retirement benefit program.

Englewood Schools were closed for the day as most of the school’s teachers joined the rally. The educators are the latest across the U.S. who have joined public walkouts to call for higher wages for public school teachers

The CEA estimates that Colorado teachers spend $656 of their own money for school supplies for students each year, and the average teacher salary here ranks 46th among U.S. states and Washington, D.C., according to the National Education Association. [Pols emphasis]

For a great explanation of how and why Colorado teachers are so underpaid, check out this story from Denver7 reporter Jennifer Kovaleski:

The latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, Education Week; Quality Counts, and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) show Colorado ranks 42nd in how much it spends per student, roughly $2,500 less than the national average.

Which means despite being the nation’s 12th richest state, our public schools land at the bottom of the list for both per pupil spending and teacher pay.

 

Something smells in Yuma, Colorado, where Sheriff Chad Day appears to have accepted and $62,000 truck and other “donations” to the Sheriff’s department so that billionaire right-wing donor Robert Mercer can be a “volunteer sheriff’s deputy” in Yuma County — with the primary purpose of skirting gun laws so that Mercer can carry a concealed weapon anywhere in the country.

 

► President Trump overruled advisers and decided to scrap proposed sanctions on Russia. As the New York Times reports:

President Trump rejected, for now at least, a fresh round of sanctions set to be imposed against Russia on Monday, a course change that underscored the schism between the president and his national security team.

The president’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, had announced on Sunday that the administration would place sanctions on Russian companies found to be assisting Syria’s chemical weapons program. The sanctions were listed on a menu of further government options after an American-led airstrike on Syria, retaliating against a suspected gas attack that killed dozens a week earlier.

But the White House contradicted her on Monday, saying that Mr. Trump had not approved additional measures.

“We are considering additional sanctions on Russia and a decision will be made in the near future,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a statement.

Perhaps Trump received a weekend phone call from his Uncle Putin.

 

► President Trump has yet to announce a replacement for Communications Director Hope Hicks, who announced in February that she would be leaving the White House. As the Washington Post reports, that may be because Trump has decided to just do the job himself:

He drafts talking points. He organizes surrogates. He oversees rapid response. He maintains relationships with key media figures over dinners, rounds of golf and long phone calls. And, of course, he manages his own social media presence.

Since the 2016 election, five people have now done six stints as Trump’s communications director. One reason it’s an impossible job is that the former reality television star who occupies the Oval Office will always consider himself his own best spokesman.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Robert Mercer is a Volunteer Sheriff in Yuma (No, Really)

UPDATE: Blair Miller of Denver7 catches up with Yuma County Sheriff Chad Day and asks for some clarifications that never come:

In an interview Monday, Day didn’t deny using the LEEF grants or having a volunteer program like the “sheriff’s posse.” But on multiple occasions, he declined to say who worked as volunteers, though he denied having any sort of tit-for-tat arrangement with Mercer or LEEF.

“To be clear, there certainly is no quid pro quo arrangement,” Day told Denver7.

He said a friend of his told him about the LEEF grants, and that he’d applied and been awarded several of the projects he’d applied for. An archived LEEF website notes that its mission is to “help law enforcement officers and agencies in training, equipment, matching funds and family line-of-duty funds grant.”

“They certainly weren’t some sort of trade for volunteer work,” Day said. “[The writer’s] assertion was that I was granting [LEOSA] status in exchange for those things…that’s not true.”

Miller had less luck hearing back from the attorney for the Yuma County Sheriff’s office…

Lees did not respond to a phone message left Monday requesting further clarification the statements attributed to him by Bloomberg.

…or from Mercer:

A spokesperson at Renaissance Technologies, where Mercer is still employed, declined to comment Monday. An email to Mercer requesting comment was not returned. Requests for comment made to the LEEF also went unreturned Monday.

Sheriff day was adamant to Blair that Mercer would or did not receive any “special treatment.”

Oh, and guess who else didn’t have a comment?

Yuma is also home to Colorado’s Republican U.S. Senator, Cory Gardner, whose spokesman said he didn’t know anything about the story aside from what he’d read in Bloomberg. [Pols emphasis]

—–

Billionaire right-wing donor Robert Mercer is apparently a volunteer sheriff’s deputy in Yuma County, Colorado — largely so he can legally carry a gun wherever he goes.

Bloomberg News has a story today about a new “sheriff” in town by the name of Robert Mercer (yes, the very same):

For most of the past six years, Mercer was a volunteer policeman in the tiny town of Lake Arthur, New Mexico, an arrangement that allowed him to carry a concealed weapon in any U.S. state under a law that applies only to law-enforcement officers. As Bloomberg Businessweek reported last month, Mercer gave up his New Mexico badge for undisclosed reasons in September. The mayor of Lake Arthur shut the volunteer program last week.

But the 71-year-old financier is still in the law-enforcement game. Last week, a lawyer for the office of Sheriff Chad Day of Yuma County, Colorado, confirmed that Mercer is a volunteer member of the agency. [Pols emphasis]

“From time to time, he serves in certain roles as designated by the sheriff,” said the lawyer, Robert Lees, who also helped set up the sheriff’s volunteer posse. Yuma is a rural county with a population of about 10,000 that borders Nebraska and Kansas.

You really need to read this entire story for yourself. There are a lot of unanswered questions here that will almost certainly be fodder for future news stories (Vanity Fair has already picked up on the Bloomberg story).

Cory Gardner with Dudley Brown of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.

Mercer is the hedge-fund billionaire who spent a great deal of money helping to elect Donald Trump, after his initial crush, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, fizzled out. Mercer is thought to be the single-biggest individual donor in the 2016 election cycle, and his money has funded a variety of right-wing interests from Breitbart News to Cambridge Analytica to whatever weird crap Steve Bannon was concocting.

In 2016, Mercer’s foundation bought a brand-new Dodge Ram 1500 Limited pickup truck for the Yuma County Sheriff’s “official use.” Mercer’s “Law Enforcement Education Foundation” has also donated $20,000 worth of tasers to Yuma County, and Yuma Sheriff Chad Day says that he is hopeful that they will receive a grant to buy a bunch of new handguns.

In exchange for this generosity, Yuma County rounded up itself a posse:

Lees confirmed that two Mercer associates, George Wells and Peter Pukish, had also joined the sheriff’s office. Both men had previously volunteered alongside Mercer in New Mexico. Wells is Mercer’s son-in-law, and Pukish is a family friend and longtime employee. Both are officers of the Law Enforcement Education Foundation. Wells and Pukish didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“In addition to whatever donations they made, these people bring certain qualifications to the table,” Lees said of the three men.

The Yuma County posse has about two dozen members, Day said, of whom seven or eight live outside the county. [Pols emphasis] He said some but not all posse members qualify for privileges under the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act, the 2004 federal law that allows officers to carry concealed weapons nationwide.

Yuma County Sheriff Chad Day

The Yuma County Sheriff’s office only has about seven 21 employees in total, though the city of Yuma has its own police department. According to Bloomberg, Mercer was connected to Day via Rocky Mountain Gun Owners head honcho Dudley Brown. Reporters Zachary Mider and Zeke Faux apparently didn’t realize — or declined to mention — that Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner just so happens to be from…Yuma, Colorado. It’s no secret that Gardner has been having a hell of a time raising money for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC); it’s probably a good guess that this little arrangement helps open Mercer’s checkbook. Or, maybe this is all just a really weird coincidence.

This is a pretty incredible tale, and here’s the cherry on top:

Sheriff Day rejected a Bloomberg News request this month under Colorado’s public-records law for documents relating to Mercer and his associates, including information on their qualifications and duties. He said disclosing the names of volunteers could endanger their safety.

“Some of my volunteer resources are directly involved in confidential undercover operations that involve direct ties and associations with the Mexican Cartel which has a presence in my area,” Day wrote in an earlier email. “It would not be safe tactically or personally to identify individuals who serve in association with those types of cases.” [Pols emphasis]

According to the sheriff of Yuma County, billionaire right-wing donor Robert Mercer is a key cog in confidential undercover operations involving the Mexican Cartel, and that’s why he gets to carry a concealed weapon wherever he goes.

Sure thing.

Gardner Doesn’t See “Chaos” in White House

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

In an interview this morning, Colorado Senator Cory Gardner again rejected any characterization of “chaos” in the White House administration, despite two more recent top-level personnel changes in adviser and cabinet positions, saying it’s “not a surprise to see employee changes in any administration.”

Gardner’s comment, which echoes statements by Trump, came on KOA 850-AM against a backdrop of staff resignations and firings, hasty policy decisions, surprise outbursts, and unconventional management decisions by Trump that have lead many observers on both sides of the aisle to conclude that the White House is, in fact, in chaos or at least in a state of widespread confusion.

Gardner, however, doesn’t see it that way, telling KOA’s  Colorado Morning News hosts Marty Lenz and April Zesbaugh that personnel changes are “no surprise” in any administration, although Gardner admits there is an “little bit more of an uptick”  in changes at the Trump White House. (Listen below.)

For months, as the number and intensity of chaos-like occurrences have escalated in the White House, Gardner, a Republican, has maintained his view of normalcy there.

On March 7 of this year, following the departure of Economic Adviser Gary Cohn, Gardner responded to a very similar question, asked by the same host, on the same show, in a very similar way:

I think everybody would recognize that there’s a significant off-tempo at the White House, whether it’s the pace of actions, the face of Twitter — you name it! — at the White House. And so, I do think that this is just a very, very intense White House. I don’t think there’s chaos in the White House, as some would like to spread. In fact, I think you can just see the — what’s happening in North Korea — the fact these sanctions are working, the Maximum Pressure Doctrine has worked — in a year!– far more than eight years of Strategic Patience ever worked. And so, I think that’s just something that a lot of naysayers would like to — would like to believe.

A reporter’s call to Gardner’s office seeking to know what Trump would have to do for Gardner to see dysfunction or any unusual level disorder at the White House was not returned. This post will be updated if a response is received.

White House Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert resigned yesterday, reportedly because he was unhappy with Trump’s controversial decision decision to hire John Bolton as national security adviser.

Bossert’s departure fueled the narrative of pandemonium in White House, especially because Bossert was reportedly backed by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who’s been seen as a steadying influence.

Gardner’s exchange this morning with Marty Lenz on KOA went like this:

LENZ:  I want to quickly pivot on you, Senator. Last time you were on, we had asked you if you thought there was chaos in the White House. You said no. Have you changed your mind on that, with the changes recently with John Bolton coming in and Bossert being moved out?

SENATOR GARDNER:  Well, look, I think John Bolton is going to bring his own National Security Adviser.  It’s not a surprise to see employee changes in any administration. This White House does have a little bit more of an uptick, but I don’t think there’s chaos.  What I do think we have to have, is a strategy going forward on Syria. This afternoon, as a part of the Foreign Relations Committee, we will have a meeting once again on a UNMF, which is authorization for the use of military force. I think that’s an important discussion to have as we work with the White House and our allies to understand exactly what the response is going to be.

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Still Want Cambridge Analytica’s Help? They’re Still Selling

Denver7 reports that embattled Republican-aligned “big data” analysis firm Cambridge Analytica is still soliciting business in Colorado politics–despite the swirling controversy surrounding their data sources and persuasion methods, and despite reported statements that the controversial company had no plans to play in American elections in 2018:

British data firm Cambridge Analytica continues to make overtures to political campaigns in Colorado – even as their work in the 2014 Colorado Senate race and in other campaigns, including President Donald Trump’s 2016 run, remains under heavy scrutiny.

Last week, a Washington, D.C.-based employee of Cambridge Analytica contacted the campaign of Doug Robinson, a Republican vying for the GOP nomination for governor this year…

In December, CEO Alexander Nix, who has since been suspended by the company, told Forbes the company was shying away from working in America.

“The company will grow significantly this year, even in the absence of chasing any U.S. political business,” Nix said at the time. [Pols emphasis]

From a simple bean-counting perspective, soliciting Mitt Romney’s Nephew to help with his campaign is a win-win with very little downside. In political consulting circles, a wealthy candidate with no real chance of victory is the perfect gravy boat: with money to burn and plenty of other factors to blame in the likely event of defeat. So there’s that.

On a practical level, though, there remains a perfectly good reason for Republican candidates to continue to enlist the services of Cambridge Analytica, scandal or no scandal: what they do appears to work at least to a degree. It’s true that the recent local news stories about Cambridge’s “psychoanalytic profiles” have featured Colorado voters disputing the personality scores Cambridge assigned to them, but Cambridge was still providing much more information to target voters than campaigns had at their disposal organically. Knowledge, even ill-gotten, is power. In 2014, the proof was in won races.

Just hope the voters don’t find out, because they’ve got real image problems these days.

The Big Budget Deal, Guns, and Gardner

Trump sign bill, but Trump still mad!

After briefly threatening a veto — and randomly asking Congress to give him line item veto powers (and eliminating the filibuster) — President Trump today signed a massive $1.3 trillion spending deal that includes changes to background checks for gun purchases that Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) opposed to the very end. If that sentence seems complicated…well, it is. There’s no easy way to unpack the giant omnibus spending bill rammed through by Congress early this morning.

Let’s start things off with the Washington Post reporting from the White House:

Just hours after threatening a veto, President Trump said Friday afternoon that he had signed a “ridiculous” $1.3 trillion spending bill passed by Congress early Friday and averted a government shutdown…

…But speaking to reporters at the White House about four hours later, Trump said he had decided to sign the bill despite his reservations, arguing that it provides much-needed funding for the military, including a pay increase for troops and new equipment.

In his remarks to the media today, Trump was in full angry old man mode. From the New York Times:

In a rambling and disjointed 20-minute statement from the Diplomatic Reception Room, Mr. Trump denigrated the bill, which was rushed through the House and the Senate by members of his own Republican Party, as “crazy” and vowed to never “sign another bill like this again.”

“Nobody read it,” Mr. Trump said of the sweeping funding measure drawn up by Republican leaders in the House and the Senate. Echoing criticism from those who voted against the measure, Mr. Trump added, “It’s only hours old.”

Trump specifically addressed his anger about the 2,322-page spending bill that lawmakers could not have possibly even begun to have read before voting on the measure. The House version of the bill made it to the floor on Thursday after just 16 hours of debate; all four Colorado Republican members of Congress voted to end discussion, moving things along with a narrow 211-207 result. Colorado Reps. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) and Ken Buck (R-Greeley) were ultimately able to vote “YES” and “NO” on the proposal (Coffman and Buck voted YES on the procedural move before pressing the “NO” button on the final vote).

Senator Cory Gardner (R-Yuma).

Over in the Senate, the spending bill passed with 62 votes; Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Denver) voted “YES” and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) was a “NO.” Gardner’s vote is particularly interesting because the bill included the “Fix NICS” background check provision that Gardner had been blocking for weeks. The next time Gardner pretends to be concerned about gun violence, remember that he prevented the popular background fix measure from being debated in the Senate and ultimately voted against its final approval.

What else do we know about the giant omnibus spending bill? As CNN’s Gregory Krieg explains, it’s important to consider everything that was NOT bundled into the legislation, such as: 1) DACA and immigration reform, 2) Billions of dollars for Trump’s border wall, and 3) Serious attempts at preventing gun violence, including no new limits on gun purchases.

How did this all happen so quickly? As Sarah Binder writes for the Washington Post, this was Republican strategerie at work:

One of the reasons GOP leaders were keen to rush the bill to a vote is that they didn’t want their partisan base to notice that it both funds innumerable Democratic priorities and blocks the Trump administration from doing such things as expanding detention of immigrants, defunding sanctuary cities, and ending federal funding for the arts, to name a few. [Pols emphasis] The Trump White House and many conservatives wanted deep cuts to domestic programs. Party leaders ignored that. The more quickly the two chambers vote, the less time potential opponents have to unearth details that could outrage the GOP base, who might pressure their representatives to vote against the deal.

To summarize, Congressional Republicans rammed through a humongous spending bill that they didn’t read and didn’t really like that does very little to address their political vulnerabilities on gun violence and immigration reform…and will also likely anger their base of supporters.

Fix NICS: Cory Gardner Clings To Hope That You’re Stupid

Senator Cory Gardner (R-Yuma).

Denver7’s Blair Miller follows up on a big story we’ve been trying to get more information on since it broke over a week ago–an appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation by Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, in which Gardner was unexpectedly questioned about a secret hold he allegedly has placed on a bill to strengthen background checks on gun purchases.

Apparently Gardner really doesn’t want to cop to this one:

Many Senate bills often pass by unanimous consent so they don’t have to undergo dozens of hours of hearings and markups before a possible roll call vote. As such, some wondered how a bill that has a veto-proof number of cosponsors in the Senate was held up from being pushed through via unanimous consent, and whether the NRA was behind the hold. Fortune reported last month, citing the Center for Responsive Politics and the New York Times, that Gardner and his associated committees have received about $3.8 million from the NRA during his time in Congress.

ThinkProgress reported that Gardner was behind the hold, but did not cite any sources.

On CBS’s Face the Nation on March 11, Gardner was asked about the Fix NICS bill and said there were “some” senators talking about “due process issues in the bill and legislation.”

“I’ve talked to Sen. Cornyn and I hope that Sen. Cornyn will realize that we need to work this due process matter out. This isn’t an issue of whether you like this or not, it’s a question of constitutional rights and protecting the people of this country, protecting them from harm,” he said…

As for an honest admission from Gardner one way or the other, it’s not forthcoming:

Denver7 asked Gardner repeatedly over the past week whether he was indeed holding up the bill. Our news partners at The Denver Post asked as well, but did not receive a response. [Pols emphasis]

Tuesday evening, when asked about the prospects of Fix NICS being put into the omnibus bill, Gardner’s spokesman, Casey Contres, referred Denver7 back to Gardner’s Face the Nation comments, adding that, “Gardner supports this bill coming to the floor for a robust and open debate.”

Presumably Gardner’s spokesperson is referring to the omnibus spending bill the Fix NICS language was attached to, though it’s left unclear–and we strongly suspect that is Sen. Gardner’s deliberate choice. The fact is, Gardner’s refusal to confirm or deny that he placed a hold on the legislation makes it quite likely that, as all of these news reports suggest, he is. If Gardner was not the originator of the secret hold, by now it would have been far less damaging politically to simply say so.

We haven’t heard the specific reason why Fix NICS was bundled into this larger omnibus spending bill, but it’s reasonable to speculate it was done in order to bypass Gardner’s hold on the bill. At any point, Gardner and the gun lobby which prevailed upon him to take this action could decide that it is not worth the damage and relent.

One thing is for sure, at least two separate media outlets reporting that Gardner was the Senator behind this secret hold on a very popular bill most likely didn’t make it up. Combine that with Gardner’s refusal to clarify that he didn’t do it…

And you mostly likely know all you need to know.

Cory Gardner Embraces Trump for 2018 Help

Hey there, pal!

Readers of Colorado Pols are aware that Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) is the 2018 Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), which is a fancy way of saying that it is Gardner’s job to make sure that Republicans don’t lose control of the U.S. Senate this year. This has not gone well for Gardner, so it’s perhaps no surprise that he’ll be leaning on President Trump for help.

As Politico reports:

Even as fears grow within the GOP that Trump will cost Republicans the House, Senate Republicans say the president will play a starring role in the closely contested campaigns that will decide control of the chamber. Trump will be front and center in every state that helped elect the president, according to GOP senators and strategists, making the case that Democrats are hindering his agenda.

“If you look at a race in a state like Missouri or North Dakota — or any of these states — he’ll be very involved,” said Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, chairman of the GOP’s campaign arm, who speaks with Trump about political strategy regularly. “He’ll be actively campaigning for a Senate majority. Absolutely.”

Screeeechhhh…back up. Did you notice that part in the middle of Gardner’s quote?

Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, chairman of the GOP’s campaign arm, who speaks with Trump about political strategy regularly. [Pols emphasis]

Once upon a time, Gardner was fairly outspoken about Trump — at one point even declaring that he wouldn’t vote for Trump for President while calling for him to step aside as the GOP nominee. All that changed when it became clear that the big orange man would be moving into the White House; despite some some half-assed attempts to distance himself from the President, Gardner has generally made sure to pat him on the back as early and as often as possible.

Now, here we are, with Gardner apparently speaking with Trump “about political strategy regularly.” A cynic might say that Gardner is setting up Trump to take the fall for any Senate Republican losses in 2018. A more positive person would say that…

No, nevermind, that’s what’s happening here.

Gardner’s Secret Background Check Block: NRA Pet Tricks

Salon’s Amanda Marcotte  posted a story yesterday that follows up on last Sunday’s revealing appearance by Sen. Cory Gardner on CBS’ Face the Nation–in which Gardner was confronted about a secret hold he has placed on legislation from a fellow Republican Senator to improve background checks on gun purchases.

Today’s story explains in detail a duplicitous strategy long employed by the National Rifle Association and their Republican allies in Congress in which they pretend to support limited reforms like the Fix NICS bill, while stalling even these small-scale measures behind closed doors–exactly what Gardner was caught having done on national television at the beginning of this week:

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, seemingly took the NRA’s comments at face value and introduced the Fix NICS Act of 2017, which is supposed to help improve recordkeeping and stop people like Dylann Roof and Devin Patrick Kelley — two mass shooters who should have failed to pass a background check, but didn’t — from getting guns. He introduced the bill in November, with the public support of the NRA. Mysteriously, the bill has gone nowhere in Congress.

The entire saga of the Fix NICS Act offers an important glimpse into the labyrinthine politics of gun control. It’s a system where the NRA proposes “compromise” bills that allow Republicans to look sensible about gun control, and then the organization goes out of its way to undermine even those minor reforms. The result, intended or otherwise, is that the NRA and Republican legislators can claim to care about keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people, while doing little or nothing toward accomplishing that goal.

Which brings us to Sen. Gardner’s secret hold on the bill:

…[E]ven this weak bill seems to have no momentum in Congress, which suggests that something weirder and darker is going on. A hint as to why emerged over the weekend, when it was reported that Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., had put a hold on the bill, keeping it from leaving committee. When asked why on “Face the Nation” last Sunday, Gardner didn’t quite admit to blocking the bill, but said, “I think there are some of us who are talking about due process issues in the bill and legislation.”

Salon reached out twice to Gardner’s office, asking for clarification about these “due process” concerns, and received no answer. Gardner ranks No. 5 on the Senate list of recipients of NRA funding, having accepted more than $3.8 million in campaign funds from the organization during his political career. [Pols emphasis]

“The background check system has been upheld by the Supreme Court when people have challenged whether it’s an appropriate system,” said the Brady Campaign’s Avery Gardiner. “I don’t understand his due process concerns.”

Cory Gardner with gun-rights hardcore Dudley Brown of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.

Gardner refused to clarify the nature of his “due process concerns” with the bill on Face the Nation. It was apparent in Gardner’s fumbling response to the questions from Face the Nation’s Margaret Brennan that he did not expect them, which makes sense given that the secret hold he has placed on the Fix NICS bill had not been previously reported. The question of who leaked the existence and propriety of this hold to CBS has not yet been answered, but speculation ranges from Democrats to the bill’s Republican sponsor Sen. John Cornyn himself. Cornyn is under consider pressure to pass this legislation, having introduced it in response to the Sutherland Springs shooting that killed 26 people and could have been prevented.

Gardner’s refusal to explain his concerns with the bill most likely mean he doesn’t have defensible concerns, and is blocking this legislation supported by over 90% of the public purely in deference to the NRA and its duplicitous political strategy of stalling even small reforms–reforms they pay lip service in public to supporting. The NRA claims credit for the original federal background check system, but in truth the gun movement in America is deeply divided over any restrictions on gun ownership including criminal convictions.

Last week’s ambush on Face the Nation was a stunning revelation of a massive problem in American politics, a problem that explains the disconnect between the American public’s growing support for tougher gun laws and the frustrating political inability to make that a reality. As mass shootings with military-style weapons take ever-greater tolls of American civilians while nothing happens in Washington, the American people demand to know why.

And now we know the reason. The reason is Cory Gardner.

Post Follows Up After Gardner “Doesn’t Deny” Blocking Gun Safety Legislation

(Click here for more on Gardner’s “Face The Nation” interview — Promoted by Colorado Pols)

The Denver Post took time to extract the actual newsworthy information from Sunday’s Face-the-Nation interview, featuring U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), instead of simply transcribing the main topic of the senator’s appearance on national TV.

The news, which came at the end of an interview focused on North Korea, was, as The Post’s headline stated, “Cory Gardner doesn’t deny blocking a bipartisan effort to improve gun-purchase background checks in TV interview.”

In contrast, CBS4’s news-free headline read, “Gardner on North Korea Relationship: Hold China Responsible.” CBS4’s piece, like the Hill’s and not surprisingly the Washington Times’, failed to mention Gardner’s repeated refusals to answer questions about his alleged decision to block a proposed bipartisan law to help force federal agencies to accurately document the criminal histories of gun buyers.

The Post not only reported Gardner’s newsworthy gun-question dodge, but also tried (and failed) to get a clarification from Gardner, provided background on the issue, and noted Gardner’s recent statements on gun issues (urging a focus on mental health care, not guns).

Related: In radio interview about how to respond to the Florida massacre, Gardner doesn’t utter “gun,” “rifle,” “firearm,” “bump stock,” “magazine,” or any related words

The important interview, illustrating the secretive tactics used to stop gun-safety legislation, was mostly ignored nationally and locally.

The Post reported that Gardner “did not deny that he put a hold” on the gun-safety bill.

From The Post:

The Colorado Republican, interviewed on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” said he has concerns about the measure that has broad bipartisan support in the Senate over what he describes as “due process issues.”

“This isn’t a issue of whether you like this or not,” he said. “It’s a question of constitutional rights and protecting the people of this country, protecting them from harm …”

“So, you are blocking the bill for now?” moderator Margaret Brennan interjected.

Gardner continued, “… and, and making sure we’re protecting people from harm and making sure that we get this right, and if there’s a constitutional issue at stake then that should be worked out.”

WATCH NOW: Cory Gardner Withers Under Gun Questions

A short time ago, Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado appeared on CBS’ Face the Nation. Although most of the questions from today’s interview with Margaret Brennan focused on relations with North Korea following President Donald Trump’s confusing foreign policy announcements late last week, at the end of the interview Gardner was asked about his role–not previously reported–in blocking legislation sponsored by GOP Texas Sen. John Cornyn to strengthen background checks for firearms purchases. This is legislation Sen. Cornyn has been working on since the Sutherland Springs, Texas shooting last year that killed 26 people.

In the clip below, you can see something fairly amazing and rare: one of the slickest U.S. Senators flopping like a fish:

Transcript:

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to quickly ask you about guns. Texas Senator John Cornyn has a bill proposing strengthening the background check system. Is it correct that you have put a hold on this? [Pols emphasis]

SEN. CORY GARDNER: I think there are some of us who are talking about due process issues in the bill and legislation. I’ve talked to Senator Cornyn and I hope that Senator Cornyn will realize that we need to work this due process matter out. This isn’t a issue of whether you like this or not, it’s a question of constitutional rights and protecting the people of this country, protecting them from harm —

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you are blocking the bill for now? [Pols emphasis]

SEN. CORY GARDNER: — and, and making sure we’re protecting people from harm and making sure that we get this right and if there’s a constitutional issue at, at stake then that should be worked out.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But to clarify from your answer there. [Pols emphasis] Are you blocking this bill from the floor?

SEN. CORY GARDNER: This bill can come to the floor and we will continue to work through an amendment process and I hope that we can fix those amendments.

MARGARET BRENNAN: After you fix this bill you will allow it to go to the floor but not before this? [Pols emphasis]

SEN. CORY GARDNER: Well I think if we can have an, an amendment process that works to fix due process concerns real constitutional issues, then I hope that’s something that we can do. I hope that people who support this bill are interested, like all of us, in making sure we’re protecting the American people from harm.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Senator Gardner, thank you very much for joining “Face the Nation.”

SEN. GARDNER: Thanks for having me. Thank you.

It’s technically true that Gardner never answered the question–but by the time it was asked a fourth time, he didn’t have to. Gardner has years of experience sticking to a tight script with the media, but there’s a point at which these repetitious non-answers become worse for Gardner than simply giving the answer everyone knows and he just doesn’t want to say. Yes, Cory Gardner, who has taken almost four million dollars from the National Rifle Association during his career in politics, is the one blocking a fellow Republican’s bill to strengthen gun background checks. A bill that over 90% of Americans want passed.

Gardner was not prepared to answer this question, even though he obviously should have been. This was an absolutely disastrous performance for the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and a rare glimpse into the incredible behind-the-scenes power the NRA wields in Washington through people like Cory Gardner.

We know the answer to a very important question: why does gun safety legislation the public overwhelmingly supports never seem to become law, no matter how grisly the headlines from the latest mass shootings? No matter how unthinkably large the body counts have become at Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs and Parkland? No matter how many politicians in both parties agree it’s time to do something?

Cory Gardner just showed the world.

Yup, It Definitely Sucks to be Cory Gardner

Senator Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) turns that smile upside down.

Burgess Everett of Politico picks up on a theme we’ve visited time and again here on Colorado Pols: It’s no fun to be Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma). Take a look at what Everett has to say in a story subtitled “The lonely existence of Cory Gardner”:

Senate Republican campaigns chief Cory Gardner might’ve had the easiest job in Washington — if only Hillary Clinton had won.

Instead, the centrist-minded Coloradan has found himself in one of the toughest predicaments in town: leading the Republican battalion in what’s instead shaping up as an anti-Trump Democratic wave election, while at the same time trying to cut legislative deals with some of the senators he’s campaigning hardest to defeat. Gardner is going to need bipartisan accomplishments to survive his own swing-state reelection race in 2020.

It’s not exactly what the sunny, glad-handing pol was signing up for when he put in for the job just before the 2016 election.

“He’s a brave man,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a former National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman and now the party whip. “I admire him for being willing to take on the challenge.”

Talk about damning with faint praise — calling Gardner “brave” in a political sense is code for saying that he’s absolutely screwed.

Gardner campaigned hard to be the head guy at the NRSC at a time when it looked like Democrat Hillary Clinton was going to be President and Republicans would get to run against her for the next several years. The NRSC job was tantalizing enough that Gardner and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis once proposed serving as co-chairs; Gardner ended up getting the job all to himself, and there probably isn’t a day that goes by where Tillis doesn’t say a silent prayer of thanks for how this all worked out.

Sen. Cory Gardner (left) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Associated Press)

Things have not gone well for Gardner since he first got the NRSC job in November 2016. We don’t really need to elaborate on why it has been tough to be a Republican since Donald Trump moved into the White House, but it’s important to note that longtime GOP supporters and donors have been just as upset with Congressional Republicans who only managed to pass a single piece of significant legislation in 2017 (a tax plan that Gardner doesn’t discuss). Gardner’s fundraising struggles have been well-documented, and he’s still trying to rebuild burned bridges after NRSC staffers were caught stealing donor lists from their counterparts at the National Republican Congressional Committee. Money has been so tight at the NRSC that Gardner has continually danced around the issue of giving back $100,000 from disgraced Nevada casino mogul Steve Wynn.

It’s telling that the normally-verbose Gardner is not exactly enthusiastic about Republican chances in 2018, as Politico explains:

Though Gardner never admits that his party’s prospects have declined due to Trump’s unpopularity and the failure to score top-tier candidates in states like Montana, he is realistic about the challenges he faces. When pressed on how many seats Republicans might be able to pick up, he does a brief impression of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, with his Kentucky drawl, saying that predicting Senate races is a fool’s errand.

“I would not [put a number]. I am optimistic about every single one of these races. Part of that is just because of who I am,” Gardner said, noting how rarely the GOP has built majorities of more than 55 seats in the past century. “We have to contend with history.” [Pols emphasis]

History will show that 2017 was a positively terrible year for Gardner, and 2018 isn’t looking much better. Gardner’s 25% approval rating demonstrates an erosion of support on all sides; the last public poll for Gardner showed that only 38% of Colorado Republicans approved of his performance.

Gardner isn’t up for re-election until 2020, but the 2018 election will go a long way toward determining what’s left of his political future.

Evangelical leader cheers Gardner for getting a perfect rating from SPLC-designated hate group

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Senator Cory Gardner (R).

A evangelical leader in Colorado is applauding U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and U.S. Representatives Ken Buck, Doug Lamborn, and Scott Tipton for their 100 percent “pro-family rating” from the Family Research Council, which has been designated as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The Colorado lawmakers, all Republicans, earned their perfect scores for votes, listed by the Family Research Council. Gardner’s 12 votes during the last session of Congress included: (House votes are here.)

  • Three votes to repeal Obamacare.
  • Two votes in support Trump’s rollback of Obamacare’s mandate for health insurance coverage of birth control and related health-insurance issues.
  • Confirming  Jeff Sessions, Tom Price, Neil Gorsuch, Amy Barrett.
  • Supporting a resolution opposing the use of federal funds for Planned Parenthood.
  • Changing U.S. Senate rules to clear the path for the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
  • Expanding tax-free savings accounts to include payments for religious and other K-12 schools and for expenses such as private tutoring.

Jeff Hunt, who directs Colorado Christian University’s Centennial Institute, wrote in his opinion piece:

The strong pro-family leadership of Gardner, Buck, Lamborn, and Tipton should be applauded. Research has clearly demonstrated that healthy families lead to thriving communities and that thriving communities don’t require as many government resources…

Whether one is a Republican or Democrat, we all want children and our communities to have the best possible options to thrive. Promoting healthy families is a great step forward for our state and nation. Strong families, community engagement, limited government, and children thriving is a win, win, win, win for Colorado. We should all applaud Cory Gardner, Ken Buck, Doug Lamborn, and Scott Tipton for their leadership.

Here is how the Southern Poverty Law Center summarizes its reasons for designating the Family Research Council as a hate group:

The FRC often makes false claims about the LGBT community based on discredited research and junk science. The intention is to denigrate LGBT people as the organization battles against same-sex marriage, hate crime laws, anti-bullying programs and the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

To make the case that the LGBT community is a threat to American society, the FRC employs a number of “policy experts” whose “research” has allowed the FRC to be extremely active politically in shaping public debate. Its research fellows and leaders often testify before Congress and appear in the mainstream media. It also works at the grassroots level, conducting outreach to pastors in an effort to “transform the culture.”

Denver Post Editorial Page Editor Chuck Plunkett has argued in recent weeks (here and here) that Hunt’s advocacy for partisan Republican causes has strayed at times from his professed religious agenda.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet got an 8 percent rating for voting in opposition to all the Family Research Council’s positions on the scorecard except a measure allowing for the confirmation vote of Gorsuch. The scores of other Colorado Congresspeople varied (Coffman 67 percent, DeGette 11 percent, Perlmutter 0 percent, and Polis 0 percent).

BREAKING: Gardner Abandons DOJ Marijuana Holds

UPDATE: Denver7’s Blair Miller reports that Cory Gardner is releasing his holds on the high-priority nominees Jeff Sessions complained about being held up, though apparently some lower-priority holds will continue:

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner is dropping his holds on certain Justice Department nominees “as an act of good faith” amid ongoing conversations with the deputy U.S. attorney general and the acting U.S. attorney for Colorado.

Gardner said he would lift his holds on the assistant attorney general for national security, U.S. attorneys and U.S. marshals, but said his holds “on all other DOJ nominees will remain in place as discussions continue.”

…He said that his “positive conversations” with Rosenstein and Troyer led him to Thursday’s decision. But he said that people shouldn’t construe the decision as backing off his thoughts that there should be solutions put in place to protect Colorado’s marijuana programs. [Pols emphasis]

Because obviously, the best way to negotiate is to give up your most valuable bargaining chips.

—–

Senator Cory Gardner (R).

We told you this was coming. As the AP reports:

Colorado’s Republican U.S. senator says there’s been enough progress on negotiations over marijuana with the Trump administration that he will stop blocking nominees for some jobs in the Justice Department.

Cory Gardner used his power as a senator to freeze department nominations last month after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions revoked Obama-era protections for states that have broadly legalized marijuana.

Gardner said Sessions needed to re-establish protections for the industry. Gardner told The Associated Press on Thursday that recent talks make him confident the department won’t change the way it enforces federal laws in Colorado and other states that allow adults to use cannabis recreationally.

News reports as recently as yesterday documented the continuing impasse between Sen. Cory Gardner and Attorney General Jeff Sessions over rescinding the Obama-era Cole Memorandum dictating a hands-off policy toward legal marijuana states. Gardner specifically stated in a Senate floor speech that he would hold Justice Department nominees until the Cole memorandum was reinstated.

Since that time, however, pressure from law enforcement groups and conservative supporters of Sessions has built on Gardner to release his DOJ holds. On Tuesday, Jeff Sessions went public with criticism of Gardner’s actions, complaining that the holds were hampering his ability to fill critical positions.

And today, Gardner announced he would release the DOJ holds for which he earned nationwide thanks from marijuana advocates. Without getting what he demanded. The Cole memo has not been reinstated, nor will it be now. The revised guidance from Sessions  to U.S. Attorneys that provoked widespread fears of a marijuana crackdown remains operative. The industry has no real assurance other than Sessions’ apparent word to Gardner–which Gardner already blasted Sessions for breaking in the past.

Anybody who is surprised by Gardner’s lack of courage down the stretch, please raise your hands.

Nobody should be raising their hands.

“I know that President Trump and Chairman Gardner can count on you,” says GOP fundraising email

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

In a fundraising appeal yesterday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC)  invoked Trump and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner to entice donors to support Trump’s Make America Great Again agenda.

“I know you are dedicated to our Making America Great Again agenda,” stated the email, signed “Sue, NRSC.” “I know that President Trump and Chairman Gardner can count on you.”

“I want to be able to tell President Trump and Chairman Gardner that you are a 2018 Charter Member,” the email continued.

Gardner is chair of the NRSC, which is charged by U.S. Senate Republicans with helping Republican senators win elections.

Gardner once called Trump a “buffoon” but has since voted with Trump over 93 percent of the time in the senate, more than any other senator’s expected support of Trump, based on the Trump’s electoral performance in the senator’s home state. Trump lost Colorado by five points.

The NRSC confirmed that it sent the email.

The appeal offers membership cards for donations of platinum, silver, and gold gifts ranging from $5 to $250 and above. The cards feature images of Trump and Vice President Mike Pence with the slogan, “Strengthening the Majority, Making America Great Again.”

“As a member, we will send you a personalized membership card, and you will be given the opportunity to take advantage of special offers that will only be offered to charter members,” states the email.

Gardner has claimed to part ways with Trump on a few issues, including the enforcement of marijuana laws.

So the first-term senator’s complete embrace of the Trump MAGA agenda raises questions that were left unanswered today, because Gardner’s office hung up on me when I called to find out if Gardner still opposes any elements of Trump’s agenda and, if so, why he’d raise money promising to deliver on Trump’s broad Make-America-Great-Again platform.

Gardner’s Pal Rodrigo Duterte: Shoot ‘Em In The P—y

Sen Cory Gardner, Filipino strongman Rodrigo Duterte.

VICE News reports on the latest swashbuckling pronouncement from Rodrigo Duterte, strongman President of the Philippines who appeared on local political radars last year after a controversial unannounced state visit to Manila from Sen. Cory Gardner:

Rodrigo Duterte last week directed his soldiers to specifically target women rebel fighters by shooting them in the vagina, according to local reports.

Addressing a group of former communist rebels, the Philippines president said his armed forces should not kill female rebels but shoot them in their genitals because without them they are useless.

“Tell the soldiers. There’s a new order coming from the mayor. We won’t kill you. We will just shoot your vagina,” Duterte reportedly said. “If there is no vagina, it would be useless.” [Pols emphasis]

An official government translation of the speech, given on Feb. 7, replaced the word vagina with a dash. The transcript says the audience laughed in response…

Duterte is known for violent crudities in his speeches to the troops prosecuting his vicious war against drug smugglers, as well as his comments about women that openly condone and even celebrate rape–but this latest comment combines those two themes into something truly politically toxic to Duterte’s friends in the West, like President Donald Trump.

And of course, local reporters should ask Sen. Gardner for comment too! Perhaps Cory and Rodrigo will have a friendly chat about it next time Sen. Gardner is in town for a photo-op.