Colorado’s Cory Gardner joined me this AM to discuss the Alexander-Murray “health-care compromise” and the Senate election cycle of 2018:
HH: Pleased to welcome back United States Senator Cory Gardner from Colorado, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Good morning, Senator Gardner, always a pleasure to have you.
CG: Good morning, great to be with you.
HH: Before we turn to politics, let me ask you about the policy of the agreement reached between Senator Alexander and Senator Murray yesterday. Have you been briefed on it? What did the Republicans get out of that so-called deal?
CG: We had a very 30,000 foot view of the agreement. Look, I don’t think the American people are excited about the fact that we’re going to hand billions of dollars over to the insurance companies who are going to decrease the rate of increase by a couple of percentage points. What we’ve got to do is repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and actually drive down the cost of health insurance. So maybe this is a starting point. I need to get more details. I need to get information. But bailing out insurance companies is not a free market solution.
HH: But what, if anything, did the Republicans get out of it from that 30,000 overview you got, Senator Gardner?
CG: You know, it sounds like there may be some changes to the way the states are allowed to move forward on innovations, flexibilities. There was some conversations on whether or not HHS, Seema Verma and others would be able to give states the ability to do certain things that they want to do in order to drive down costs. And that’s good. Don’t get me wrong. That’s very good. But if this is just going to put Obamacare on life support, I don’t know that that’s exactly what this country needs right now. And what I think this country needs is a plan that allows the American people to buy the kind of policy that they want to buy that protects them in terms of their ability of choice in the marketplace, drives a competitive marketplace, and actually starts lowering costs.
HH: Well, if that’s all there is, that’s not enough. It won’t get through the House. I’ll be against it, because we need an interstate market, and we need to get rid of the mandate. Is there going to be…
CG: And there’s some talk about whether that would allow an interstate market to occur. There’s some ideas being floated around on creating interstate compacts that would allow states to join together. It’s something I tried to do in the state legislature, but it was defeated by Democrats who said only the government knows what’s best for people, which is just what they continue to believe by continuing to stand up for Obamacare.
HH: Just open the Federal Employees Health Benefits program to every American and you’ve got an interstate program. But I gather you’re not sold, yet, Senator, so there really isn’t a deal?
CG: There’s more work to be done, and again, what we’ve got to do, we can’t just continue this failed status quo. And that’s what people like Chuck Schumer seem to want to do.
HH: All right, let’s switch to politics. You’re the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. There are eight, only eight Republicans up – Jeff Flake, Dean Heller, Roger Wicker, Deb Fischer, Ted Cruz, Orrin Hatch and John Barrasso. There’s a vacancy in Tennessee where Marsha Blackburn looks like she’s going to come through. Two of these are definitely in danger, Senators Flake and Heller. And now, Steve Bannon has said he’s going after all of your seven incumbents. What’s your reply to Mr. Bannon?
CG: You know, I think if you look at states like Tennessee where Marsha Blackburn, he’s supporting Marsha Blackburn, I think Marsha Blackburn could be an excellent United States Senator. We’ve got a couple of candidates that are running in West Virginia – Evan Jenkins, Patrick Morrisey. He’s behind Patrick Morrisey. I think Patrick Morrisey could be good. On the incumbent side of things that you asked directly about, look, I mean, Deb Fischer is an incredible representative for the state of Nebraska. John Barrasso is an incredible Senator for the state of Wyoming. Both of those members of the Senate are in their states. They’re working hard in every nook and cranny doing what the people of their states want them to do, and ultimately, they’re going to win, because they’re great conservative warriors, believers of freedom and opportunity, and that’s what they show their state each and every day.
HH: Are you standing behind Roger Wicker as well?
CG: And Roger Wicker, too. Yeah, you know, obviously these incumbents, including Jeff Flake and Dean Heller, are good, great representatives of their state. They’ve done a great job in the Senate. They’re running strong campaigns. And if you look at them, they’re voting for a Republican agenda. They’re voting for repeals of the Affordable Care Act. They’re voting to, you know, Dean Heller in his instance, was a co-sponsor of one of the latest plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. So these are people who are fighting for their states, they’re doing what’s right, and that’s why they’re going to win come November of 2018.
HH: So is it correct that your reply to Steve Bannon is we hear you, but we are standing with our incumbents?
CG: Look, I respect everybody’s right to be involved in primaries and elections, but I want to do one thing and one thing only, and that’s create more opportunity for the people of this country. And I believe that the incumbents that are running this year will do that, not Democrats. And if we do anything that allows Democrats to take this majority, that’s a step backwards, not a step forward.
HH: Now can you, do you know for sure that Jeff Flake and Orrin Hatch are running for reelection? There is much buzz that one or both of them will not do so. And frankly, we need to know soon, Senator Gardner, if either or both of those are not running.
CG: I have no reason to believe that they are going to do anything but run for reelection, so they’re both out raising money for their campaigns. They’re both out working hard. They’ve both committed to run, and I think they’re, as far as anyone is concerned in terms of me, I have no doubt that they’re running.
HH: Would it be detrimental to the party were they to announce much later than now that they weren’t running?
CG: You know, I know there’s a lot of speculation on getting in, getting late, getting out. Obviously, if somebody’s going to do something different, they need to let that be known so that people can figure out what they’re going to do. I’m somebody who announced for my candidacy in March of 2014, which was eight or nine months…
HH: I remember.
CG: Yeah, an eight or nine month runway, so I’m the last person telling people they need to do something in a hurry.
HH: All right, there are, I count a dozen Democrats – Bill Nelson in Florida, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, Maria Cantwell in Washington State, Virginia’s Tim Kaine, Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, Jon Tester in Montana, Claire McCaskill in Missouri, Debbie Stabenow in Michigan, and Joe Donnelly in Indiana, who are vulnerable. Do you agree with that assessment?
CG: You know, these are, yes, I absolutely do. And some of these numbers that we’ve seen in places like Wisconsin where you know, a year ago, 12 months ago or 10 months ago, Tammy Baldwin was looking strong in Wisconsin. But there has been a very significant erosion of support in Wisconsin for Tammy Baldwin. That is going to be a competitive, great opportunity to pick up a seat. She’s effectively, I think there’s one other or so, but she’s, you know, the most significant statewide Democrat left in Wisconsin. Bill Nelson is the only statewide Democrat left in Florida. You mentioned Josh Mandel running a very strong campaign. I mean, look, in Missouri, we just had Josh Hawley announce, the attorney general. I think there was a public poll last week that showed he was ahead in the first public poll that came out after his announcement in Missouri. And we’ve got Indiana and North Dakota. Look, there are significant opportunities ahead of us with one big, bright, flaming caveat. If we don’t do what we said we would do to the American people, it’s going to be a rough election. We pass tax reform, we continue our regulatory repeal efforts, we put judges on the bench who are going to be guardians of the Constitution, this is going to be an incredible 2018 election.
HH: Senator Gardner, one of the things people are looking for is fewer recess and more votes. Is the Senate going to stay there and move every nominee, because your colleague, Bob Corker, for example, has a hold, a hold on a dozen ambassadorial nominees to Europe right now, and the party is hurt by that. Have you talked to Senator Corker about that kind of delaying tactic, and to Senator Grassley about the blue slips?
CG: You know, I think we’ve got to pick up 7/11 schedule around here. Let’s stay here all night and let’s roll out the cots. Let’s stay here over the weekends. Let’s get it done, and I think that’s what you’ll start seeing in the Senate. And I know there’s a lot of people that are committed to doing that.
HH: Now, but let’s go specifically to the blue slips. Have you talked to Senator Grassley, because this goes to you. You’ve got a Democratic senator. You can’t get a Colorado judge if that Democratic senator doesn’t turn in a blue slip for the Circuit. That just seems, it’s so wrong. It’s so not Constitutional.
CG: Yeah, and I don’t think you can go home and explain to the American people that well, I know the Constitution says a president shall nominate, and the Senate shall confirm a judicial nominee, but however, there’s this sort of fabrication of a piece of paper that needs to be signed by members of the Senate. And you know, one of the things that I think, I’m going to get the exact number wrong, so this is a rough ballpark figure here, but something on the order, magnitude of 40% of United States Senators could block 60% of Circuit Court nominees if this were to allow to be utilized and manipulated and abused. And so give the President’s nominees a vote. That’s what, you know, when we have the chance to do this, and let’s let the American people decide. As I’ve said all along, including when it comes to Neil Gorsuch and Merrick Garland, let the American people decide.
HH: Now Bob Corker is a good guy. I like Bob Corker. But he’s got a hold on nine ambassadors to Europe. I don’t know why. I don’t understand this at all. If he thinks we’re on the verge of World War III, you know, Republican Party people have to act like a party sometimes. You’re trying to raise money from Republicans. Some of these people have been nominated to ambassadorships are big bundlers and contributors. What does Bob Corker tell you about throwing up roadblocks against our own people?
CG: You know, again, I have not, I don’t know why. I know we had a great confirmation panel some time ago. I’ll circle back with Senator Corker to find out exactly what’s happening there, but they do need to move. We do need to move on these nominees. Look, there was some time ago, I think Roy Blunt was using a figure, Senator Blunt was using a figure that said if we continue on the pace of nominations that we’re using right now, we will have confirmed all of President Trump’s nominees in 11 years.
HH: Yeah, there you go. Last question, we’ve got a minute, Senator Gardner. If we get our act together, I think you could pick up five seats net. I really do. But they’ve got to get their act together. Does the conference believe that?
CG: Yes, they do. And I think they’re hearing it loud and clear from people around their states and people, the constituencies that they represent. They’re certainly hearing it from me. Each and every day that says look, we face an incredible opportunity ahead of us, but there’s a strong sense that if we don’t get, and I believe it, that if we don’t do things like tax reform, continue our efforts on regulatory reform, make advances on driving down the cost of health care, it’s going to be long election cycle.
HH: Senator Cory Gardner, keep coming back. It’s a pleasure to talk to you from Colorado, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
End of interview.