“Senator, you suck!”
Those words greeted Sen. Cory Gardner Tuesday morning at the first in-person town hall he’s held in recent memory. Activist groups upset over Gardner’s support for the Republican health care bill have targeted him for his lack of public access for months.
“I love you too!” Gardner replied at the rowdy event in Colorado Springs, his first of three such gatherings of the day. His schedule includes stops in Greeley and Lakewood as well.
The combative tone continued for the next 90 minutes, with many audience questions focusing on health care.
“Why did you vote to hurt those people?” one woman asked Gardner, referring to his recent vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. She said her mother, who was suffering from pancreatic cancer, was able to live longer because of the Affordable Care Act.
“I’m voting for HER,” someone in the audience shouted.
“I’m glad it worked. And I’m sorry for your loss,” Gardner replied. He then recounted his own family’s health issues, including his mother’s fight with breast cancer.
But, he said, pivoting to the issue about rising costs, “The goal is not to help other people and not your mom. The goal is to make sure that we’re making something work for more people — for everyone. Because what we have right now is not working for some of us.”
The senator’s last in-person appearance was at a planned news event in Durango earlier this month alongside Sen. Michael Bennet, Gov. John Hickenlooper and Rep. Scott Tipton. It was supposed to serve as an update on the Gold King Mine cleanup. Instead, residents angry about health care uncertainty packed the room and called on Gardner to oppose his party’s health care plans.
Senate Republicans have not yet won enough votes to make any changes to the nation’s health care system. But Democrats have implored their allies to keep speaking out against changes to Obamacare, so protesters are expected at Gardner’s additional town halls.
Gardner was on national television over the weekend blasting President Donald Trump for mincing words about racial violence in Virginia. Gardner said that the president “must call evil by its name.”
That earned Gardner some praise from the crowd in Colorado Springs.
“I was so proud of you. I saw you, and I saw a different Cory Gardner,” Sharon Akins said, her voice wavering. “And I loved it.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.