Gardner and Bennet talk policy during extended town hall

Sen. Gardner was joined by Sen. Bennet, Gov. Hickenlooper and U.S. Rep. Tipton - as most of the questions were aimed at Gardner.

DURANGO - From claiming to single-payer health care would cost $32 trillion to saying female senators were in on closed door meetings prior to the Obamacare repeal's collapse, Sen. Cory Gardner (R) had a lively town hall.

He was joined by Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Michael Bennet (D) to talk to constituents in Durango and take questions - and take questions they did.

Gardner was grilled over his views on health care - and responded to every question, keeping a cheerful demeanor as the crowd grew rowdy and at times antagonistic toward the freshman senator. He was forced several times to talk over people in the crowd to answer questions.

The town hall only lasted for 30 minutes, but both senators stayed quite a bit longer to take more questions while Hickenlooper left.

 

 

When pressed on his views, Gardner said he didn't support 12 million undocumented immigrants being rounded up and deported.

"But I do believe in immigration reform," he said, "and I believe in border security."

A constituent pointed out that 60 percent of people who are in the country illegally came here legally and overstayed their visas. Gardner replied that means the system itself is broken.

While a lot of Gardner's responses drew shouts from the crowd but he was not without his supporters in the crowd, including one woman who brought up how her premiums under the ACA are skyrocketing.

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He told the crowd he wouldn't support a single-payer health care system, citing a report in NPR that it would increase the costs to the federal government by $32 trillion. 

Political reporter Brandon Rittiman looked into the claim and found that Gardner exaggerated the number - or perhaps hadn't looked into the study linked in the article. While the cost to the federal government would increase by $32 trillion, the cost to taxpayers would lower by 21.9 trillion and states would pay $4.1 trillion less.

The study comes from the Tax Policy Center, a left-leaning think-tank.

Both senators, however, agreed that something needed to be done about Obamacare - they just didn't agree on what to do.

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Gardner told the crowd he believed people should be able to make a profit off health care. Bennet brought up how premiums in western Colorado are the highest in the country under Obamacare.

Gardner's views on the ACA led to a sit-in protest conducted by a group of disabled activists who were later arrested. They wanted him to fix, instead of repeal, the ACA. He voted for a repeal multiple times before the movement died.

 

 

There were several times when Gardner was sparring with a constituent that clearly did not support him when he brought the whole room to laughs with his quippy responses. 

In one exchange, Gardner brought up Fox News and a woman shouted, "I don't watch Fox News!" Gardner joked it off, "Well I figured you didn't." The crowd laughed. He went on to point out neither Fox News nor MSNBC show the whole story when it comes to politics on Capitol Hill.

The senators touched on public land as well, and the worry about the $11 billion backlog of the required maintenance to our nation's parks. Both agreed something needed to be done, they just didn't get into what.

Both senators were asked their thoughts on President Trump's tweets regarding trans people in the military - and both said they didn't support Trump's statements barring them. 

"Anybody who's capable and willing to serve should be able to serve," Gardner said.

Bennet basically parroted that sentiment, adding that he didn't think Trump should ever tweet.

 

 

No reporters were given the chance to ask a question during the town hall (names were picked out of a hat) or the overflow Q & A period. A slew stood in the back with their hands raised - but were never called on by either senator or the moderator.

Gardner also offered to speak one-on-one with 9NEWS reporter Jordan Chavez after the town hall, which ended just before 4:30 p.m. Expect his interview shortly.

The impetus for the town hall was a visit from the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt. He came to see Gold Mine two years after the agency let nearly 3 million gallons of wastewater loose into the Animus River.

MORECriminal investigation into Gold King mine spill underway

That wastewater made its way from Colorado into New Mexico, Utah and even Arizona. It turned out there weren't rules governing the EPA's handling of old mines - and then New Mexico sued Colorado over it. In June, the Supreme Court decided not to hear arguments in the case.

When questioned about their views on the environment and the EPA's previous attempts to preserve the natural beauty of the state, Gardner said sometimes the EPA overextends itself. 

"There's any number of things that I'm doing to make sure we're protecting our air and our environment," Gardner explained before ratcheting off a short list of proposals he has in the works.

An audience member asked if the pair would work together to get things done in Washington. Gardner said even if they don't vote the same way, that doesn't mean they aren't working together.

Bennet added it was easier to work together in the past; he said Congress has become polarized in recent years.

 

 

The final two questions focused on climate change and getting more women and minorities in STEM fields; Gardner says he believes in climate change and supports legislation encouraging more access to STEM programs.

The town hall went well over an hour past the originally scheduled time of just 30 minutes.

Besides the senators and Hickenlooper, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton (R) was also there.

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Corrections and clarifications: An earlier version of this article claimed that Sen. Gardner exaggerated the cost of single-payer health care when he said it would cost $32 trillion. 9NEWS erroneously said that included proposals from Sen. Bernie Sanders back when he ran for president. The article has been updated with the correct information from the study.

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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