As Politico reports today, months of pent-up anger over Sen. Cory Gardner’s votes in the U.S. Senate since President Donald Trump took office exploded at three town halls held in Colorado Springs, Greeley and finally in Lakewood yesterday afternoon. The result was a public humiliation of the likes Gardner has never seen in his relatively brief political career:
Sen. Cory Gardner was hammered for supporting Obamacare repeal during a series of raucous town halls on Tuesday, where constituents repeatedly criticized his role in a closed-door partisan process to draft the failed GOP health bill.
Gardner, who’s responsible for protecting the GOP majority in the Senate in 2018, faced heated criticism over the repeal effort that collapsed just a few weeks ago, even as congressional leaders try to pivot to tax reform when they return from the lengthy recess next month.
While Gardner’s constituents in this purple state applauded him for his swift and strong condemnation of white supremacist groups this weekend, he was interrupted by boos and jeers of “shame” and was called a “liar” as he defended his support for health care legislation that would have significantly scaled back Obamacare and Medicaid. One attendee at the town hall here, held at Colorado Christian University in a Denver-area suburb, was escorted out by police after repeatedly shouting, “Why are you taking away health care?”
Roll Call’s Kyle Stewart describes a typical exchange between Gardner and the town hall attendees, in which Gardner’s initially satisfying answers were undercut by hypocritical qualifiers by the end–prompting the crowd to reject them rather vocally:
The conversation soon shifted to the environment when a woman with 350 Colorado, a grassroots movement dedicated to addressing climate change, asked the senator about a plan to expand coal mining in the state. She said she opposed the plan, which would allow coal to be mined in Gunnison National Forest…
There was little opposition to Gardner’s initial response.
“I want nothing more for them than to have a brighter, better future, clean air, and clean environment,” the senator said.
As he continued, Gardner lost the crowd’s approval. [Pols emphasis]
“I do believe that we have to have an all of the above energy policy,” Gardner said as boos started. “I do believe that we have to have coal.”
It’s important to note that Republicans made a significant effort to turn out supporters to all three of these events. Despite this, it’s true that yesterday’s town halls were overwhelmingly filled with Sen. Gardner’s critics. But the audience wasn’t just blindly shouting down Gardner at every turn, as evidenced by applause for Gardner and praise in many questions for his standing up against white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend. In the exchange above, the booing only began after Gardner gave an answer that initially drew praise–but was undercut by his next statement.
The audience was angry, but they were angry for specific reasons. And they gave Gardner credit where due.
Local media, on the other hand, seems to have been taken in by a deliberate strategy from Gardner and his staff to play for sympathy off the crowd’s easily-anticipated anger. On social media and via direct communication with local reporters, Gardner’s staff aggressively pushed the narrative of an ignorant mob shouting down Gardner’s every word. But that’s just not what happened on the ground: these were crowds asking intelligent questions and rejecting Gardner’s answers–not out of hand, but via their own understanding of the issues. They listened to Gardner. They heard what he was saying. They didn’t like it. And they said so.
That’s not “chaos.” That’s accountability. And it did not merit the arrogant response it received from the local peanut gallery. 9NEWS’ Kyle Clark, we’re talking to you. Shame on you for this uncharacteristic bout of offensive nonsense:
To quote Mr. Clark out of context, “that, of course, is completely not how America works.”
The much larger audiences who watched this play out yesterday in national media aren’t getting this silly local spin that Gardner was somehow a victim. All the nation saw yesterday was another Republican facing blowback at home over his votes in Washington. It wasn’t the first such incident in this August recess, and it won’t be the last. Not to mention that the response Gardner received yesterday, from the failure of Republicans to turn out in support to the withering fire from Democrats who did, is fully consistent with Gardner’s 24% approval rating in the polls.
Having worked in politics, on that end of yelling. I feel strongly any journo tonight that downplays town halls is wrong. #copolitics
— John Rodriguez (@johnmrod) August 16, 2017
What the huge difference between local and national coverage of yesterday’s town halls does show is that Gardner has very effective press staff–and our local media gets played like a fiddle by them over and over. The real “embarrassment” yesterday was a local press who were somehow persuaded to value politeness over their own stated principles–and left very real Coloradans who have been struggling to be heard by their U.S. Senator for months flapping in the breeze.
Those attendees should be proud. And their detractors yesterday should feel shame today.