Cory Gardner Reminds Colleagues To Balance Principles And Practicality In Final Senate Address

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David Zalubowski/AP
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., speaks during a news conference at the Bright Beginnings Learning Center early Friday, July 24, 2020, in Greenwood Village, Colo.

Republican Sen. Cory Gardner delivered his farewell address on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon, calling on his colleagues to work together and “make it count” during their time in the Senate. 

With his family and staff watching from the gallery, Gardner recalled the words of another former Colorado Senator, Bill Armstrong, who said, “while he was firm in his principal, he was flexible on the detail.”

“We all come to this place because of our core values and beliefs about this nation. Those principles make us who we are,” Gardner said. He likened those principles to the pillars of a building, necessary for the structural integrity of the place. But when it comes to something like the paint color, that’s a detail that can be negotiated.

“We can respect the pillar and find agreement on the paint,” he said.

He urged them to always recognize the difference between the paint and the pillar. “We cannot govern when every tactic and detail is elevated to the level of principle. There is no compromise with this approach,” he said.

“Most of you will still be [in the Senate] next Congress,” Gardner said. “Don't waste this opportunity to be who this nation needs you to be at this moment of great challenge.”

In Congress, Gardner earned a reputation for being a cheerful and optimistic guy, something that fellow Coloradan Sen. Michael Bennet mentioned in his tribute. 

“You probably also heard that Colorado has 300 days of sunshine a year. As it turns out, so does Cory Gardner,” Bennet said. “He's been a consistent source of warmth and optimism in a body desperate for both.”

Bennet spoke about how well the two worked together despite their policy differences. “I have never for a moment doubted Cory's commitment to serving the interests of Colorado and his genuine appreciation for what makes us the best state in America.”

Earlier in the day, Sen. John Thune of North Dakota, talked about Gardner’s sense of humor, relating a story about how Gardner left his colleagues 5-hour Energy drinks during the impeachment hearing. “And I got to say,” Thune continued, “you kind of need a 5-hour Energy drink to keep up with Cory.”

In his remarks, the Senate Majority Whip stressed Gardner’s focus and drive, especially when it came to Colorado, saying “he’s left it all on the field during his time in the Senate.”

“I think he knew that when he was elected that he might not be here forever, and he has made every moment over the past six years count,” Thune said. “He’s a results-oriented person. He’s interested in getting things done.” 

It was a sentiment echoed by many that took the floor to speak about Gardner.

“Agree with him or not. You can't say he isn't working hard every single second that he's been here,” Bennet said.

Bennet said he would miss working with Gardner, but added that he doesn’t think this is the last we’ll hear from the 46-year-old.

“I suspect Sen. Gardner is not done with his contribution to the country, to the state of Colorado, to his community,” Bennet said. “And I look forward to continuing our work together in whatever capacity he ends up choosing to serve.”

Gardner said it was a privilege to work in the Senate and represent Colorado. And he noted, despite Congress’s low approval rating (he described Congress being as popular as a “Rocky mountain oyster in a bull pen”), there have been accomplishments.

“I hope that we can use those successes to drive even more successes and show the American people that faith in this institution is actually well-deserved.”

Several of Gardner’s Senate colleagues spoke about his policy successes, from the Great American Outdoors Act to funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit to his response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gardner also took time in his speech to marvel at the “hallmark” of America’s political system: the peaceful transfer or power. 

He recalled sitting on the floor of the House of Representatives with his daughter Alyson to witness the handing over of the gavel from the Democrats to the Republicans when he was first sworn in as a congressman. Gardner was elected to Congress as part of the Tea Party wave in 2010. He ran for Senate four years later, defeating Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Udall. This fall he lost his bid for a second term to former Gov. John Hickenlooper. 

“I speak on the Senate floor with a heart of gratitude that as I leave with a new Congress set to begin, I go home, not because of, or due to the threat of violence or revolution,” Gardner said, “but because of that same constitutional governance that has given this country over two centuries of strength and certainty, a jewel among nations, exceptionally blessed by God.”

That observation could be seen as a veiled reference to the current chaos and confusion President Donald Trump is sowing about the country’s election results. Gardner did not mention Trump once in his speech, or the politics of the day.

Instead, Gardner urged his colleagues to give the next generation the best start possible. 

And with that, he uttered the final words of his address, “Madam president, this kid from Yuma yields the floor.”

Gardner put away his papers and bumped fists and elbows with the growing group of colleagues — Republicans and Democrats — waiting in line to say their goodbyes.