Republican Sen. Cory Gardner is a ‘no’ vote against the removal of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. On the floor of the Senate, he said it’s an act that “would nullify the 2016 election and rob roughly half the country of their preferred candidate for the 2020 elections.”
“I don't believe we should be removing for the first time in our country's history, the duly elected president of the United States,” he told CPR News in an interview before Wednesday’s historic Senate vote to explain his decision.
For months Colorado’s junior Republican senator had been relatively quiet on impeachment. He joined most of his Republican colleagues and signed onto a resolution to condemn the House impeachment process, though it never came to a floor vote. Beyond that, he hadn’t come out strongly on whether or not Trump did anything wrong, citing his role as an impartial juror in the trial.
Then came his statement that no further witnesses were needed in the impeachment trial.
In his floor remarks Wednesday, he said that the House’s case “cannot be ‘overwhelming’ and ‘airtight’ and yet incomplete,” in reference to the calls for more investigation and testimony.
CPR News asked Gardner to weigh in on the underlying question in this impeachment case — whether it was appropriate for the president to pressure a U.S ally to take actions that would benefit him politically.
“This is a policy question,” Gardner said. “Does the United States have the ability to investigate how its taxpayer dollars are being spent? A concern about corruption, particularly in Ukraine was clear. It's been clear for many administrations, including President Obama who appointed a Vice President Biden to be the chief of corruption, looking into corruption in Ukraine. So we have to be able as a country to determine how our money is being spent. And that is not an impeachable offense.”
However, some members of the GOP have been more critical of Trump’s actions to push Ukrainian leaders to investigate the former vice president and his son, Hunter Biden.
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said in a statement, “It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation. When elected officials inappropriately interfere with such investigations, it undermines the principle of equal justice under the law.”
In a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine called the president’s actions inappropriate and wrong.” Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski characterized Trump’s conduct as “shameful.”
All three Republicans, however, said it didn’t rise to the level of removal. Mitt Romney broke ranks with his fellow GOP senators and will vote to convict.
“I don't speak for anyone in my conference, but I think it's important to note that we cannot allow partisan divisions, the incredible factionalism that we saw lead to an impeachment for the first time of the duly elected president of the United States,” Gardner told CPR.
Gardner is expected to face a tough reelection campaign in 2020. The president lost Colorado in 2016 and in the following midterm elections, Democrats won every statewide office and flipped a congressional district from red to blue with the election of Rep. Jason Crow — another sign Gardner is in a challenging spot.
Birkeland: Senator, thanks for being here. I want to focus on this historic vote and how you came to your decision. First off, why vote to acquit the president?
Gardner: Well, this is a heavy burden to remove for the first time in our nation's history, a duly elected president of the United States. And that burden was not met. You can't just simply come to the Senate, say you have an airtight case. We should just impeach the president and the quickest investigation ever to take place in the House of Representatives and then turn around and ask the Senate to do more work. If a case is airtight, then it shouldn't need more tightening. And that's exactly what we saw, so this is a high burden over a policy consideration that I don't believe we should be removing, for the first time in our country's history, the duly elected president of the United States.
Birkeland: What about this underlying issue in the case that the president was accused of pressuring a U.S ally to take actions that would benefit him politically. From what you've learned about what happened did the president's actions cross any lines for you?
Gardner: Well, I think that's the very heart of the case. This is a policy question. Does the United States have the ability to investigate how its taxpayer dollars are being spent? A concern about corruption, particularly in Ukraine was clear. It's been clear for many administrations including president Obama who appointed vice president Biden to be the chief of corruption looking into corruption in Ukraine. So we have to be able as a country to determine how our money is being spent and that is not an impeachable offense.
Birkeland: So in your mind, the president didn't cross the line because it has to do with the overall issue of corruption?
Gardner: The question before the Senate in the impeachment trial was whether or not the president has the ability to investigate how taxpayer dollars are being spent and that is not something, a policy difference cannot be used for grounds of impeachment.
Birkeland: It sounds like you're comfortable with what he and his allies did related to Ukraine. Is that fair?
Gardner: The question before the trial was whether or not the United States government has the ability to determine how our taxpayer dollars are being spent. We have to have that ability. That's what President Obama asserted when Vice President Biden was named to address corruption in Ukraine. And that's what we have done all around the globe. And you heard that in the trial. But to think that we can't investigate corruption simply because it involves a particular family, that's just not the way we work.
Birkeland: Voters in November will make a decision on President Trump and you’re up for reelection as well. Voters across the political spectrum have said they do want to know what you think about this, but of course, the election is months away. How much do you think this will play into your reelection efforts?
Gardner: There were some who were hoping this would play into that election effort. Chuck Schumer said this is a win-win situation because we either impeach the president or it impacts the political futures of the Senate majority. And that is a very sick way to look at this. I look at this as a very serious moment in our country's history, a very sad moment in our country's history that we have to move forward from, to actually start accomplishing things for the people of Colorado.
Birkeland: This vote sets a precedent that the White House has the authority not to cooperate with impeachment investigations. What do you think that will mean for the future?
Gardner: Well, that's just not true. Just because President Clinton lied and was impeached and did not receive the actual conviction in the Senate, doesn't mean that he could turn around and lie again. What we have to recognize is the precedent that would have been set here is actually the precedent of weaponizing impeachments.
The House carried out the fastest impeachment investigation in the history of our country. They did so not by authorizing it with the full House, but retroactively authorizing it and then sent it over to the Senate expecting the Senate to do its work. This is a blatant attack on separation of powers. It impacts our constitutional rights and the prerogatives of the separate but equal branches of government. And it certainly would allow any House, Republican, Democrat, to just decide, you know what, we're going to move to impeach, give us a couple of days. We'll send it over to the Senate and expect them to do the job.
Birkeland: The government's watchdog concluded the Trump administration broke the law by withholding Ukraine aid. Should there be any consequence for a president when they do that?
Gardner: Well, look, I think the aid was released. It was released because Congress was pushing this aid to get released and it was released before the end of the fiscal year. I strongly supported Ukraine’s lethal aid. In fact, I remember pushing president Obama to give lethal aid to the Ukrainians. I think President Obama was worried that it would affect his relationship with Vladimir Putin. People were dying in Ukraine and they needed this lethal aid and that's why I continued to do what I do and supporting Ukraine.
Birkeland: Finally, Senator, I wanted to make sure listeners are clear on your conclusion on the underlying evidence in the impeachment trial. You feel it showed no improper behavior by the president? Yes.
Gardner: The question was whether or not you can use taxpayer dollars with impunity, or does the government have the ability to investigate corruption and how those taxpayer dollars are being spent? And that's a policy difference and we should not be impeaching presidents based on policy differences.
Birkeland Thank you, Senator. We appreciate you taking the time.
Gardner: Thanks. Thank you very much Bente. Thanks.