Last October we wondered aloud about whether there was anything that President Trump could do — or fail to do — that might convince Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) to finally begin to distance himself from the incredible sinking ship that is the S.S. Trumptanic. A couple of months later, The Colorado Sun asked if Gardner had a breaking point when it came to Trump.
Of course, October 2019 was a much simpler time in America, when we could almost focus on the fact that the President of the United States tried to extort a foreign country in order to aid his own re-election hopes. Things have gotten significantly more complicated in the last nine months, so we thought we’d check in once more on Gardner.
Does Cory Gardner have a breaking point when it comes to President Trump? Let’s take a look…
ON RUSSIAN AGGRESSION? (NOPE)
Last fall the big Russia-related news was President Trump’s widely-criticized decision to withdraw American troops from Northern Syria, sealing the fate of U.S.-backed Kurdish forces that had been fighting back against the Islamic State in the Middle East (and making life much easier for Russian President Vladimir Putin). Gardner said at the time that he was “deeply concerned” about the decision, but that was about the extent of his opposition.
The news that broke over the weekend was much more concerning. As The Washington Post reports:
Russian bounties offered to Taliban-linked militants to kill coalition forces in Afghanistan are believed to have resulted in the deaths of several U.S. service members, according to intelligence gleaned from U.S. military interrogations of captured militants in recent months.
Several people familiar with the matter said it was unclear exactly how many Americans or coalition troops from other countries may have been killed or targeted under the program. U.S. forces in Afghanistan suffered a total of 10 deaths from hostile gunfire or improvised bombs in 2018, and 16 in 2019. Two have been killed this year. In each of those years, several service members were also killed by what are known as “green on blue” hostile incidents by members of Afghan security forces, which are sometimes believed to have been infiltrated by the Taliban.
The intelligence was passed up from the U.S. Special Operations forces based in Afghanistan and led to a restricted high-level White House meeting in late March, the people said.
As The New York Times reports, there are a lot of questions about why the White House either wasn’t informed about this intelligence and/or declined to take action:
The details added to the picture of the classified intelligence assessment, which The New York Times reported Friday has been under discussion inside the Trump administration since at least March, and emerged as the White House confronted a growing chorus of criticism on Sunday over its apparent failure to authorize a response to Russia.
Mr. Trump defended himself by denying the Times report that he had been briefed on the intelligence, expanding on a similar White House rebuttal a day earlier. But leading congressional Democrats and some Republicans demanded a response to Russia that, according to officials, the administration has yet to authorize.
Members of Congress from both political parties are demanding an explanation. Gardner responded by renewing a call for legislation to be passed in the U.S. Senate to consider naming Russia a sponsor of state terrorism. Gardner has NOT publicly expressed any concerns about how (or if) the White House responded to this intelligence. There’s no reason Gardner couldn’t have asked the kind of questions that Republican Rep. Liz Cheney posed on Sunday (Cheney is one of the highest-ranking members of the House GOP caucus).
Watch this if you are still undecided about this issue:
When America needed a Commander in Chief, America got a traitor.
Trump knew since March that Putin had placed and paid the Taliban $$ bounties $$ to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan.
When his soldiers needed him, he looked the other way.
— Don Winslow (@donwinslow) June 28, 2020
This isn’t the only percolating Russia issue in the administration. In early June, 22 Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee signed a letter to President Trump encouraging him to re-think proposals for withdrawing U.S. troops from Germany. The letter specifically addressed concerns that such a withdrawal would be a huge help to Russia:
In Europe, the threats posed by Russia have not lessened, and we believe that signs of a weakened U.S. commitment to NATO will encourage further Russian aggression and opportunism.
Trump went ahead and approved a proposal to cut one-third of U.S. troops stationed in Germany. As Jim Townsend, a transatlantic security expert at the Center for New American Security, told Business Insider:
“We are undermining our own soldiers, we’re undermining our bilateral relations with the Germans, we’re undermining our NATO allies and the NATO alliance as an institution and a force providing deterrence, and we are bolstering our adversaries.”
Gardner is a sitting member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is also a member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. As far as we can tell, he has not commented publicly about reducing the American military presence in Germany.
ON DESTROYING THE ACA IN THE MIDDLE OF A GLOBAL PANDEMIC? (NOPE)
Late last week the Trump administration demonstrated their commitment to political suicide in 2020 by re-upping their request to the U.S. Supreme Court to eliminate the Affordable Care Act (ACA) once and for all. If this effort proves successful, some 20 million Americans will lose their health insurance coverage in the middle of a global pandemic that is being handled worse in the United States than in any other industrialized nation.
“Politically, it’s pretty dumb to be talking about how we need to repeal Obamacare in the middle of a pandemic,” said one Republican strategist quoted by The New York Times.
When Gardner ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014, he based his entire campaign on the idea of eliminating the ACA. Once in office, Gardner diligently voted with Senate Republicans to dismantle Obamacare — even though the GOP openly admitted that they had no actual plan to replace the measure and protect coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions, etc. If not for a “thumbs down” from the late Sen. John McCain, Gardner and friends might have succeeded.
Gardner has not wavered on his belief that the ACA must go, though he takes pains to not address the pending ACA lawsuit in any real detail. (Last fall, Gardner told The Hill newspaper: “That’s the court’s decision. If the Democrats want to stand for an unconstitutional law, I guess that’s their choice.”)
What does Gardner think about the Trump administration’s latest aggressive push to eliminate the ACA through the courts? Your guess is as good as ours.
ON SUPPORTING WHITE SUPREMACY? (NOPE)
As Chris Cillizza writes for CNN:
On Sunday morning — before making the 271st visit to one of his golf courses during his presidency — Donald Trump retweeted a video he said is from the Villages, a retirement community in Florida, in which a man driving a golf cart with Trump campaign posters is seen and heard yelling “white power.”
“Thank you to the great people of The Villages,” wrote Trump in the since-deleted tweet.
Amid immediate condemnation of the tweet — including by Sen. Tim Scott, the lone black Republican in the Senate — the tweet was deleted and this explanation was offered by deputy White House press secretary Judd Deere: “President Trump is a big fan of the Villages. He did not hear the one statement made on the video. What he did see was tremendous enthusiasm from his many supporters.”
If you believe that, I’ve got a burgeoning video rental business called Blockbuster that you might be interested in.
We probably don’t need to tell you this, but Sen. Gardner hasn’t said a peep about Trump’s re-tweet. Not. A. Word.
Gardner’s preferred method of response to this sort of thing is to pretend that he doesn’t follow Trump’s Twitter account, or that he can’t read, or that he doesn’t speak English. Basically, when confronted by reporters to comment on anything related to Trump, Gardner does the equivalent of sticking his fingers in his ears and yelling LA LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!
Once upon a time, Gardner had enough of a spine to speak out about President Trump’s white supremacist inclinations. The Gardner who spoke out against Trump’s stunning comments following the Charlottesville rallies in 2017? That guy is gone.
Gardner has since embraced Trump wholeheartedly, even becoming one of the first Senate Republicans to endorse Trump’s re-election bid. If Gardner has any moral concerns about Trump’s implicit support for white supremacists, he is keeping those worries to himself.
— ProgressNow Colorado (@ProgressNowCO) September 24, 2019
ON COVID-19 SPIKES AND TESTING SLOWDOWNS? (NOPE)
Gardner has been vocal about the importance of widespread testing in combating the spread of the coronavirus. President Trump has been vocal about insisting that the U.S. “slow down” COVID-19 testing. There would seem to be a pretty clear delineation here between Gardner and Trump, but, of course, Gardner has said NOTHING about Trump’s push to “slow down” testing for COVID-19.
What does Gardner think about Trump’s persistent refusal to wear a mask in public? Is he at all troubled by reports that the Trump campaign actively removed signage encouraging social distancing measures ahead of a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma last week? Will Gardner ever even acknowledge that the federal government has completely botched its response to the pandemic?
ON A MASS EXODUS FROM THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION? (NOPE)
In recent weeks, at least 15 top officials in the Trump administration have left their jobs for reasons directly related to the actions of President Trump. These aren’t low-level jobs — we’re talking top postings in the Justice Department, Department of Defense, and Department of State, as well as key leaders on economic and monetary policy.
Both the heads of the criminal and civil divisions at the Justice Department have resigned, as did the DOJ’s solicitor general. The top international security expert and the top financial person at the Pentagon resigned. The two top technology leaders at the Pentagon have also left. The head of the Russia desk at the National Security Council? Also gone. The acting chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers quit, as did two other senior economic officials at the White House.
What has Gardner said about this chaos? Well, you know the answer already.
(Gardner did respond to comments made recently by former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that were critical of Trump. Gardner laughed them off).
Gardner infamously said in 2014 campaign commercial, “If my party is wrong, I’ll say it.” If we take Gardner at his word, then we can only assume that he doesn’t think any of these things are “wrong.”
We wouldn’t be at all surprised if Gardner made a late effort (before November) to pretend that he is a thorn in Trump’s side, though we’d be plenty curious to understand the logic. If Gardner ever does attempt to distance himself from Trump, he’s going to have a hell of a time explaining why none of these other moments represented a breaking point.