Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, in July 2015.

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Colorado U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, like many of his colleagues, hasn’t held a public town hall-style meeting during the recent congressional recess. Instead, his office put together a conference phone call, in which the senator fielded questions from constituents.

The first question out of the gate: Russia’s interference in the election. Gardner says he supports a permanent “cyber committee” to investigate because, "It is unacceptable that the Russians interfered in our elections — and we know for sure they did."

Despite that, and the often divisive and caustic tone of the 2016 presidential election campaign season, he insisted there's a "remarkable opportunity in front of us to come together as a country."

On voting for Trump’s cabinet picks:

“It’s important the president has people around him that he wants." Gardner added that he voted to allow an up-or-down vote on Loretta Lynch when she was nominated by President Obama as attorney general, although he ultimately voted against her appointment. He also said he would not have blocked Clinton nominees had she been elected because, "elections have consequences."

On whether he backs Colorado’s billion-dollar-a-year Marijuana industry:

"I've done a great deal to stand up for pot industry...once people supported it. Colorado finds itself in heart of a democracy laboratory,” Gardner said, adding that the new U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, told him the tension between federal enforcement of marijuana laws and states that have legalized cannabis was not a priority for his office.

The president’s spokesman, Sean Spicer, has made remarks that contradict Sessions, and Gardner says he’s seeking White House clarification.

On Americans who may be left with no health insurance if Trump and the Republicans scrap Obamacare as promised:

Gardner said he believes that just because we have the program, it doesn’t mean we can’t do better.”

“I hear from people concerned about pre-existing conditions. It's near and dear to my heart. My mom survived breast cancer. My father has been in and out of hospital. These are things we need to get right. I haven't heard anyone say we're going to get rid of pre-existing condition coverage."

On protecting communities from abandoned mine waste pollution:

Gardner says he supports a proposed “Good Samaritan” law that would allow going into old mines, many in Colorado, to clean up and eliminate seepage into waterways.

No one asked Gardner why he hadn’t held a public town hall recently. Two callers thanked him for at least being on the phone. Other callers said they weren’t “paid protesters,” an apparent reference to Gardner’s dismissal of political demonstrations.  

The senator said his next appointment was a meeting with the president. The conference call lasted about 45 minutes.

Transcript From Sen. Gardner's Tele-Town Hall

Sen. Gardner: Throughout this call, we’ll be talking about the numerous bipartisan achievements that we have made happen over the past several years, including funding for Zika virus; a passage of a bipartisan transportation bill for the first time in eighteen years; the 21st Century Cures Act to help fast-track lifesaving medical treatment; those are just a few. So again, we’re waiting for people to join us across the country, Star*3 and I think we’re ready to go to our first question. Megan, we’re ready for the first question.

Megan: Hi, everyone. As some of you may know, we are also taking questions from our website. So while people are still joining the call, we are going to begin with a question from Marilyn. Again, this was submitted on our website and the question is, “Do you support an independent investigation into Russian interference in our election and if not, why?”

Sen. Gardner: Thank you, Marilyn, very much for the question. I have supported an investigation into Russia. In fact, I have gone even further than most have. I believe we ought to create a separate, Select Cyber Committee that will look into the Russian allegations. This is something that we’re going to see more of. It’s unacceptable that the Russians tried to interfere with our election, which we know they did. There’s no doubt they tried to interfere and that’s why I have been very public about a Select Committee on Cyber to investigate the Russian hacking. We also, I think, have to make sure that we pass legislation to create cyber sub – a permanent cyber committee in the United States Senate to make sure that we continue to investigate these and other challenges to our nation’s security. Thanks, Marilyn, very much for the call and we’ll go to the next question.

Megan: Our next question comes from Andrew in Denver. Andrew, you’re on live with the senator.

Andrew: Thank you for taking the call, Senator Gardner. I appreciate your being on the phone with us. My question is about the importance of defunding Planned Parenthood. I know you were an advocate of that back in 2011 when the issue first came up in Congress. That was before we even saw any of the videos that have caused such an outrage and those videos have been largely debunked. The only people that have been charged have been the producers; every investigative organization that’s looked at them has exonerated Planned Parenthood and we know that the federal money Planned Parenthood gets is not for abortion. There’s federal law that prevents that; it’s for birth control and STD prevention. We’ve seen the success of those efforts in Colorado reducing teen pregnancies by 40%. So my question is in a state that’s voted pro-choice, against the personhood amendment multiple times, does your antipathy to Planned Parenthood represent your own personal religious convictions?

Sen. Gardner: Well Andrew, thank you very much for the question. I am pro-life and I don’t think there’s any doubt about that or the record that I have had throughout my time in the Senate or the House, but I do think it’s important to address the important issue of healthcare that you talked about. I think one of the best ways that we could be more effective in providing healthcare to all areas of Colorado is to make sure that these federally funded healthcare clinics have a chance to receive dollars that they otherwise don’t have access to, providing even more opportunities for people to have the healthcare that they are looking for. And so I have supported efforts in the past that would take the dollars made available that you referenced and make them available to more federally funded clinics that would actually provide access to additional people across the state of Colorado and many more locations. But I’ve been focused on growing the economy, of doing what we can to make sure that people have the kinds of healthcare they need despite the fact that the Affordable Care Act isn’t providing the kinds of opportunities that we believe we can build as a great country and great society. So those are the kinds of things that I’m going to be continuing to work on is, “How do we provide additional access, additional care to people across the state of Colorado while working in the best interest of people from corner to corner.” So Andrew, thanks very much for the question. We’ll go to the next online or next on-call question.

Megan: Our next question comes from Brian, a caller in Fort Collins.

Brian: Good morning, Senator Gardner. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you directly. I – and I hope you won’t take this as being too confrontational, but would you please respond to the following statement that the action taken by you and other Senate Republicans in refusing to – in the words of the Constitution – advise and consent to President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee was a violation not only of the letter but of the spirit of the Constitution, and if you are willing to concede that at all, would you concede that the only available remedy under the Constitution is to refuse to approve any Supreme Court nominee other than Merrick Garland or as a compromise, a candidate that can get at least sixty votes in the Senate.

Sen. Gardner: Brian, thank you very much for the question. That was – I enjoyed being in Fort Collins last week. A couple of things. Number one, I think Joe Biden stated it very clearly when he issued the Biden Rule, where he said, “No confirmations in the last year of the presidency,” and we’re happy to share more information about the Biden Rule that Joe Biden himself had laid out. And I also think it’s important to talk about what Chuck Schumer had actually laid out in the last several years of the Bush Administration, was that President Bush wouldn’t get a Supreme Court Justice for the last two years, basically, of his administration. But it’s not those reasons that I think – that, in my mind at least, that Merrick Garland did not receive the confirmation of the Supreme Court. I think it was bigger than that. You have to go back a number of years to find a Supreme Court Justice who was nominated in the election year by a president opposite of the party in the majority of the Senate and confirmed in that same year. That’s a number of years ago. And so I think what I believed – if you had a confirmation process that drug out a little bit longer than perhaps normal, then you ended up seating a new Supreme Court Justice sometime in October, then the new Justice wouldn’t be seated until just a couple weeks before the new election of the United – new election for the President of the United States was held. And so in essence, you’d have a very significant change in the composition of the Supreme Court just a couple of weeks – three, four weeks – before Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump were to become president. Of course, when the vacancy occurred, we didn’t know who it would be. It could’ve been Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush or Donald Trump. So I believe the American people should make that decision through the election in November. Be that – had that been Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or somebody other than Donald Trump, I believe because of the timing, it was necessary for the American people to have their say. Megan, we’ll go to the next question.

Megan: I’d like to remind everyone to please press Star*3 if you’d like to ask a question and a member of our staff will assist you. We are going to take another question that was submitted through our website. It is coming from Rebecca and the question is, “What are you going to do to protect the human rights and civil rights of Muslims, refugees and immigrants in your home state of Colorado who are under threat in the current political climate?”

Sen. Gardner: Well thank you very much for that very, very important question. First of all, when President Trump issued his executive order several weeks ago, I made it known my objection to the executive order, believing that it was overly broad and that it was the wrong policy to pursue. We spent a tremendous amount of time and resources in this office helping people around the globe get back to their homes in Colorado that they had a legal right to be. And so condemning that, condemning broad statements of racism, condemning – in the strongest terms – the horrible and heinous acts that have occurred in Jewish cemeteries around the country, we must condemn anti-Semitism wherever it occurs and we also must condemn violence against those of the Muslim faith. We’ve seen horrible and horrendous acts in Kansas and other places that are unacceptable and beneath us as a great nation. And so we’ll continue to condemn those and work with people in the United States on tolerance, on dignity and making sure that people understand that this is a nation that was built by bringing all walks of life from around the globe to make this country great, and we’re standing up for those of the Muslim faith around the globe too. If you look at what’s happening in Myanmar, for instance, the Rohingya is a persecuted Muslim minority. I have visited with Aung San Suu Kyi personally, the leader of Myanmar, to make sure that the minority rights of Muslims are restored and maintained, to make sure that they are given full rights of citizenship in Myanmar and simply aren’t outcast as lesser citizens in that nation. Those are the same conversations that I have around the globe, but here in the United States, it’s happening too. That’s why when it came to a human trafficking bill that we passed last year, I talked about the lessons we’ve learned from the abuse of people working on sheep ranches in Western Colorado at a committee hearing to make sure that people understand that the type of crimes against humanity that you’re referring to – whether it’s human trafficking, civil rights obligations – don’t just happen overseas, but they can happen in our own backyard too and we have to address them and make sure that we’re not just lecturing overseas, but we’re learning the lessons in our own backyard and taking the corrective actions to make sure it doesn’t happen here, and when it does happen here, make sure that it’s called out and corrected. So thank you very much for the question. Now for those of you who have just joined the call, this is a live telephone Town Hall meeting. This is United States Senator Cory Gardner. Thank you for participating in it. We’ve waited for a while to get additional people across the state on the call. So if you have a question, please press Star*3 and a member of our staff will assist you. I also want to thank and apologize to all of you. This had originally been scheduled for – at ten o'clock Colorado time. We had to move it to 9:30 Colorado time. I had been – I will be at a meeting over at the White House. I would love to hear your thoughts and concerns that I should carry with me to the meeting with the president, and would love to take that Colorado voice with me to the White House. So please feel free to share those opinions with me as well and we’ll go to the next question.

Megan: Our next question comes from Jim in Lakewood.

Jim: Hi, Senator. Thank you for having this Town Hall. You ran as a moderate Republican and even voted for a candidate other than Trump. Since the inauguration, you have voted with the Trump Administration 100% of the time. You represent a state that went blue in the election. How do you justify your votes?

Sen. Gardner: Well thank you for that. Look, if you look at the votes that we’ve taken in the Senate, those votes have been on the president’s cabinet members and several resolutions of disapprovals. I think it’s important that the president have the people around him that the president nominates. That’s true of President Barack Obama. In fact, if you look at my vote on Loretta Lynch, President Barack Obama’s Attorney General, I received a lot of heavy lobbying to vote against the cloture vote and cloture’s a fancy way of saying, “To cut off debate and allow the nomination to reach the floor.” There was a lot of people who wanted me to vote against Loretta Lynch and to say that – vote against her nomination from even coming to the floor, and even though I disagreed with many of the positions that Loretta Lynch has taken and took as Attorney General, I believed that the president had a right to that nomination making the floor, and so I voted to end debate, and so again, elections have consequences. Had it been Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders who were elected to president, I’m sure I wouldn’t have liked the – some of the positions that the cabinet members took, but the elections have consequences, and those officials would have been confirmed. I’m sure there were senators – I was not here when Barack Obama was placing the majority of his cabinet members in the cabinet, but I’m sure there are some who did not agree with every position that Attorney General Eric Holder or others took, but they were confirmed with bipartisan support because of the election. So on the resolutions of disapproval, I’ll make it very clear. I think the last eight years, there was a significant amount of regulatory overreach. In fact, we saw billions upon billions of dollars in new regulations being placed on the backs of businesses and small business owners, job creators around the country that stifles job creation. And I believe those kinds of debates are best left in Congress and that we should have those conversations about how to make sure that we’re – that the benefits of a proposal or benefits of a regulation outweigh the cost, and then that discussion can be best delivered by the Congress, the body that is directly accountable to the people. So that’s what I have supported and I think going forward, to make it very clear, where I disagree with the president – as I have on Russia's sanctions – I’ve been a firm supporter of encouraging and making more Russia sanctions enacted. I’ve been somebody who stood up against the cyber-attacks that Russia perpetrated against this country, called for clear investigation, making sure that we never stand for that. I objected to the accusation that we’re three to five million people who voted illegally in this country. There’s no evidence of that and I’ve said that multiple times on national television. I objected to the president’s executive order and overreach, and so we’ll continue to do what I believe is right for the people of Colorado.

Megan: Our next question comes from Smathar in Englewood.

Smathar: Hi, good morning, Senator Gardner and thank you for taking my call. I – my question actually – I wanted to – before I ask you my question, if it’s OK to follow up on the Russian comments and I really do appreciate it.

Sen. Gardner: Sure; no, no. What was your name? I’m sorry; I didn’t quite catch it.

Smathar: My name is Smathar.

Sen. Gardner: Smathar? OK, that’s what it was. OK, so very good; Smathar, nice to meet you.

Smathar: Nice to meet you too. So I wanted to ask you just before asking my question, which is about the Innovation and Competitiveness Act, I want to follow up on the Russian situation, and I know that you’ve taken a strong stance against Russia and cyber-attacks and all that. I was wondering why you haven’t caused a bilateral independent investigation of Trump’s campaign and his administration’s connections to Russia about that. So that’s my – the follow-up I wanted to introduce, but in terms of the Innovation Act, I really do appreciate – as my husband is a scientist and a researcher – that it's really important and I’m very happy that you made science a bipartisan issue again. I think it’s something we can all get behind, but I was just wondering, what specifically is that going to help Colorado and how do you reconcile that with supporting the voucher schools – for public school system that you have expressed by supporting the Douglas court case and your Supreme Court [unclear].

Sen. Gardner: Well, sure; I’ll try to get to all three questions there. Number one, I’ve supported the Intel Committee’s investigation of Russia’s interference with the election and I think it’s important that we have the FBI ongoing investigation as well, and that we don’t, I believe, have a full conclusion from the FBI in terms of outcome of their investigation that continues, and it’s important that we have that. That is an independent investigation by the FBI. I think the Intel Committee, which is a bipartisan – Intel Committee, which is a bipartisan effort – Mark Warner, who I know very well, worked with – on a number of collaborative issues, including cyber security issues – a Democrat from Virginia is working with the Intel Committee chairman, Richard Burr, to investigate Donald Trump and I have called for the creation of the Select Committee on Cyber to investigate Russia. So I have done that; I think the second question was the American Innovative and Competitiveness Act. I’m very excited about this piece of legislation, which is a major reauthorization, the first time in over a decade this legislation has made it out of commerce committee. Kelvin Droegemeier, the president of the National Science Board – former president of the National Science Board has credited this legislation with making science bipartisan again. What it does – it does a number of things. Number one, it highlights manufacturing and the manufacturing extension partnerships in Colorado, which is known as Manufacturer's Edge. This is an ability for us to help get manufacturers' goods to the market, better commercialization, better transferability of inventions to the marketplace. We struggled at the House of Representatives to – when it came to this legislation, the House of Representatives wanted to have Congress declare what the science was. I believe science should declare what the science is and so our legislation makes it clear that scientists will determine where science goes, not Congress. That’s important to me. Colorado – the University of Colorado and other Colorado institutions are some of the highest recipients of National Science funds – National Science Foundation dollars in the country, significantly involved with ARPA-E. I just spoke yesterday to 1,400 scientists from ARPA-E doing cutting-edge work on energy developments and pretty cool stuff, measuring methane and other substances in Colorado at Colorado State University and beyond. The American Innovation and Competitiveness Act will highlight this work, expedite innovation to the market and make sure that no one around the globe is leading this country’s research and development other than the United States, that we remain number one and we become that aspirational country that people and immigrants around the globe want to be to make sure that they can achieve their lives’ goals and better our lives – the lives – the collective lives of humanity. The third question was, I believe, about the Douglas County school situation. Look, I do support school choice; I think it’s important that we have competition. I believe it’s not always right in every area, but I don’t think there’s a single way that we should have in terms of only one way to educate our children. I think parents should have a choice over their children’s education and I think Congress should get out of the classroom and let students, parents, teachers, administrators and the state school board do what’s best and right for the state of Colorado. So I believe that parents know best how to educate their child and that they ought to be able to pursue the kind of education that they want for their student and their child. So that’s it; thank you very much for the question and if – again, this is United States Senator Cory Gardner. If you have a question, please press Star*3. It’s a live telephone Town Hall across the state. I will – again, if you have issues that you would like for me to deliver to the White House – prior to this call, I explained – or during this call, I explained that we had to move the meeting up because of an invitation to join the president in a meeting today to discuss issues, and I would love to share these issues, your comments, your concerns with the president. So Megan, we’ll go to the next question.

Megan: The next question comes from Megan in Boulder.

Megan from Boulder: Good morning, Senator Gardner. Thank you for taking my call. Good morning, fellow Coloradans across the state. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. My question is about marijuana in Colorado. We’ve seen both Jeff Sessions and Sean Spicer make strong statements connecting marijuana and opioids over the last week. They seem to be ramping up their intent to attack states that has made clear that they want medical and recreational marijuana. My question to you is: the state of Colorado made $1.3 billion dollars last year in revenue from marijuana and we have tens of thousands, probably dozens and dozens of thousands of jobs. I know in 2016, 18,000 Coloradans were hired to work in the industry. My – I have two questions for you. My first is number one, are you planning to stand up against these falsehoods that are being spread around from ignorant people in D.C. like Sean Spicer and Jeff Sessions, and tell them that from your perspective as a senator for the great state of Colorado that you have seen firsthand what’s been going out here and that it actually is successful. And my second question is what are you planning to do to protect our state constitution because we’ve written marijuana into it? So my question is what are you going to do you protect our state constitution?

Sen. Gardner: Yeah, sorry about that; I put it on mute instead of – sorry about that. I apologize. I’ve done a great deal to stand up for Colorado’s industry on this and I think most people recognize that when this ballot initiative came through, I, like Governor Hickenlooper and others, had opposed the ballot initiative but once the people of Colorado supported it, you know, the founders of our country designed the states to be laboratories of democracy, and Colorado finds itself in the heart of the laboratory. And that’s what I have explained to everyone. I’ve introduced legislation to decriminalize the banking for marijuana industry. I’ve introduced legislation to make sure that we allow medical marijuana to be delisted or decriminalized, however you want to say it, de-scheduled, making sure that the cannabinoid oils, the Charlotte’s Web, and others, are available across the country; continue to stand up for that, continue to work with Rand Paul and others on the states’ rights issue. Prior to the confirmation of Jeff Sessions, I had a long and lengthy visit with Jeff Sessions about his views and it was in that conversation where I believe he said that he would not make this a priority, which was at odds with—or, at least it seems to be at odds with what Sean Spicer said. We’ve asked the White House for clarification on this matter and we’ll continue to pursue what I believe is in the best interests of Colorado as they stand up for this issue. And so, we’ll continue to push back on comments from the White House that I hear that are at odds with what I was told directly by the Attorney General.

The other part of the question, I think, was the protection of the state constitution. Look, I think that’s—I kind of answered that in the first part of the question by making sure that we push back on the White House when they are at odds with either the Colorado constitution or at odds with what we have had in conversations with the White House. The other thing that I’ll do—and I know this wasn’t the question, but it was about protecting the Colorado constitution—is each and every day, one of the things that I work on is water rights in Colorado. And I am constantly making sure that we fight and stand up for Colorado’s constitutional water rights to protect those rights and other rights around the constitution from federal overreach. So a little bit different answer at least on the water part than you asked, but I think it’s clear that I’m going to stand up for—and have stood up for—Colorado. And we’ll go to the next question.

Megan: Again, everyone who is just joining, thank you, and please press Star*3 if you’d like to ask a question. Next question comes from Heather in Littleton.

Heather: Yes, Senator, I’d like to thank you for taking my call today. Good morning.

Sen. Gardner: Thanks, Heather.

Heather: Good morning. As a parent of a child with a preexisting health condition, in the past I have multiple times been denied health insurance for our family because of her preexisting condition. I’m wondering what you will do now that me and families like me all over this state require or rely on the Affordable Care Act to have health insurance for our family—what you’re going to do to make sure that our families will still have affordable health care if the Affordable Care Act is taken away. I’d also just quickly like to point out that I’m not being paid to ask this question just in case that comes up later. Thank you.

Sen. Gardner: Well, Heather, thank you very much for your concern and question. Look, I think this is a very, very important issue that we get right. What happened six years ago with the passage of the Affordable Care Act—unfortunately, it left many Coloradans and many people across this country with higher insurance costs, inability to access the doctor that they were promised they would be able to keep, they lost the plan, 750,000 Coloradans had their plans canceled that they were promised they’d be able to keep, and I think there’s an important distinction to make in this debate over coverage versus access.

While the Affordable Care Act had a mandate that said you must have insurance or you pay a fine. What happened—and I hear this every day—is people who say, “Well, yeah, I was paying $300 a month for insurance, now I’m paying $1500 a month for insurance, and I have a $7000 deductible, and I can’t afford to use the insurance.”So, they’re paying tens of thousands of dollars each and every year. So they have coverage, but do they have access? They aren’t able to use it because of the high cost of their insurance, they can’t afford the deductible. And so there are people that I hear from like you, Heather, each and every day. People who are concerned about preexisting conditions. I spoke to a parent whose very, very young child had a heart condition, and they were very concerned about the preexisting condition. And so, this is something that’s near and dear to my heart.

Look, I’m going to tell you a very personal story. Over the past couple of years my mom survived breast cancer. Over the past several weeks my father has been in and out of the hospital. When our daughter turned one year old, or about to turn one year old, she was diagnosed with macrocystic vascular encephalopathy. These are things that are very near and dear to me, that we get right. I think most of the debate that you hear from Congress is: How do we make sure people with preexisting conditions have coverage? I haven’t heard anybody say we’re going to get rid of preexisting conditions coverage.

We want to make sure that people have the opportunity to afford the insurance that they have with preexisting conditions. So this is an argument about access because if we increase affordability, then we have access to the kind of healthcare that people with preexisting conditions are fighting and striving for. So whether it’s you, whether it’s your child, whether it’s my parents, these are important issues that we get right.

Over the past six years we’ve seen a very partisan debate. Now is a chance for Republicans and Democrats to come together to put something in place that will lower the cost of care, increase the quality of care, and do so in a way that we can all be proud of. Too many people lost their insurance. Too many people can’t use their insurance. We can do better. And I think it’s very important that we recognize that just because we have it, doesn’t mean that we can’t do better.

Megan: Again, if you are just joining the call, please press Star*3, and a member of our staff will assist you. Next question comes from Chris in Denver. Chris, you’re on live with the Senator.

Chris: Yes, Senator Gardner, thank you for taking my call. Again, I wanted to reiterate, I’m not a paid protester either, but I am concerned about some of the actions you’ve taken or not taken on the environment. You talked a lot today about what you’ve said in the press, or whatever. I’m wondering what legislation you’re going to be taking up to protect Colorado communities from mining pollution now that the President has decided to roll back those stream protections and also mining loyalty protections that would have required these companies to actually bond at a level that would guarantee for cleanups like the EPA. What are you going to do specifically in terms of legislation on any of this stuff beyond from the press releases?

Sen. Gardner: Yeah, you bet. You bet, Chris. Thanks for the question. One of the conversations I have had over the past several years in the Senate, we came very close to its passage last year and will continue to work for its passage including conversation I’ve had with the new EPA administrators is passage of a Good Samaritan law. Good Samaritan law has been introduced by Senator Pete Domenici from New Mexico, Senator Ken Salazar from Colorado, Senator Mark Udall from Colorado, Wayne Allard from Colorado over the past several decades. This is legislation that would allow us to go into old mines—we have thousands of them, tens of thousands across the West, thousands in Colorado, a handful that pose a very significant threat to us—to clean up the mines and eradicate, eliminate the seepage into our waterways that’s hurting our environment. That’s one way that we ought to be doing and stepping forward to help our environment.

Number two, I’ve been a strong supporter of making the Land and Water Conservation Fund permanent. That’s something to protect our public lands and will help our environment by making sure that we maintain the most pristine lands. This is a program that is the crown jewel of our nation’s conservation program. It’s the backbone of our conservation program. The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been available in all 50 states protecting land in each one of those, I’m one of the few Republicans that supports making it permanent and have just joined the effort with my colleagues across the aisle to make sure that we have funding and a permanent process to move it forward.

I’ve also been a leader in renewable energy and energy efficiency. I created the first ever Energy Efficiency caucus in the House of Representatives. Over in the Senate I’ve passed legislation that pushes forward with performance contracting that could not only save taxpayers $20 billion, create thousands of private sector jobs, it would do a great job to reduce emissions. I’ve also been a leader on the production tax credit moving forward with wind energy, making sure that we have all of the above energy policy that allows innovation to occur and our environment to thrive.

So if you’d like to have further conversations, I would love to have you reach out to the office. And for those of you who’ve just joined the call, we have offices across the state of Colorado and you can find those on our website at gardner.senate.gov, and again we’re a live telephone town hall for those of you who have just joined the call. I am going to be traveling and visiting with the President in just a few minutes. I would love to hear your comments and opinions about what I should deliver to the President. If you’re interested in having a conversation, I’d love to give your thoughts to the President, and we’ll be doing additional tele-town halls throughout the year at different times. We did this one this morning. Because some people are working, in the evenings, we’ll do others in the evenings and making sure that we’re varying the times throughout the day to make sure we reach as many people across Colorado as possible. Megan, we’ll go to the next question.

Megan: The next question comes from Mark in Loveland. Mark, you’re on live with the Senator.

Mark: Senator Gardner, first let me thank you for your service and for taking this question. A couple of nights ago on CNN, Senator Warner stated that the House Intel Committee has not yet received testimony regarding any contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. If this testimony, when received, appears to warrant an investigation, will you have the courage to demand that Jeff Sessions recuse himself from any role in it and that an independent special prosecutor be appointed so that the American people can have faith in the outcome? Thank you.

Sen. Gardner: Thank you for the question. I’m unfamiliar with the House investigation. You may have been referring to Senator Warner and his role in the Senate Intel Committee. So, I’m assuming that may be what you meant.

Mark: That’s not what I said.

Sen. Gardner: Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you said that.

Mark: No, I said that Senator Warner on CNN had referred to the House Intel Committee.

Sen. Gardner: Okay, yeah. So, I’m not sure what Senator Warner was referring to about the House Intel Committee, but I’ll tell you this.

Mark: Okay, maybe—I’m sorry. Maybe it was the—I’m sorry. Go ahead.

Sen. Gardner: Yeah. No, then I think that we have to have testimony from anybody who is engaged proper. The committee has, I believe, subpoena power if that needs to be used. They ought to use it if somebody’s refusing testimony. I would hope that people would come in of their own volition and free will to testify and provide a comment during the investigation.

This is an investigation that’s being carried out by the Intel Committee and the FBI right now and I think it’s premature to say anything about US Attorney’s Office—or, excuse me, the Attorney General’s Office investigation. And let’s wait and see what the outcome of this investigation is before anything else. I think it’s important that we have our facts and our understanding of what’s happened before any further decisions are being made. Megan, we’ll go to the next question.

Megan: Next question comes from Jane in Durango. Jane, you’re on with the Senator.

Jane: Hi, thanks I appreciate it. Thank you, I appreciate it. I’m just curious if you will represent your constituents here in southwest Colorado and support the BLM methane rule?

Sen. Gardner: Well, thank you for those. Jane, thank you very much for that question. I just met with your County Commissioner, Gwen. Gwen was here just a couple of hours ago, so I met with a number of county commissioners, actually in southwestern Colorado from San Miguel County and over in Silverton and beyond. So we have been debating what’s been known as a congressional review act resolution of disapproval on the BLM methane rule.

For those of you on the call who may not be as familiar with this, the BLM issued a rule last year late in the year that was based on a methane rule that was put forward in Colorado. Colorado working with local industry put together a regulation that would regulate methane emissions on both state and public lands. Because Colorado is a delegated power state under the Clean Air Act, this would apply to public lands in Colorado as well. The Colorado law does not apply to the Indian tribes because there is a sovereignty issue that would prevent the state rule from going into effect on those tribal lands.

So the BLM rule that you’re referring to is a federal version of what Colorado has done. There is debate on whether that will be overturned, and if it’s overturned, the way it would work is that the Congress would then be the ones who would have to come up with a new methane regulation should it be overturned, and that work would be done by Congress. I will tell you that I think it’s very important for Congress to do the work instead of having regulatory agencies do all of the work. I think it’s important that Congress be involved, and they’re the body that is closest to the people and closest to being able to respond to the needs or concerns of the people.

This is an issue that I’m hearing from both sides of this issue. Some strongly support overturning the BLM rule, like I believe a number of community chambers of commerce, business organizations on the Western Slope, the Colorado Business Roundtable, there are a number like you who believe that it should not be overturned. So I continue to receive that feedback. I have not made a public position on this and continue to listen to both sides of this debate. And with that, thank you very much, and we’ll go to the next question.

Megan: The next question comes from Chitan [ph] in Aurora.

Chitan: I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you. Can you hear me?

Sen. Gardner: Yep, I can hear you. Go ahead, I’m sorry. Thanks.

Chitan: Alright. Thank you for taking the time here. I’m a political affairs intern with the Borgen Project, and my question is in response to President Trump’s recent pledge to increase the military budget. From an economic and national security perspective, I argue that it is essential to increase foreign aid spending to help educate and feed the world’s poor as well as expand our consumer markets. I have couple quotes for you, one from former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge: “By building new markets overseas for the American products, the international affairs budget creates jobs and boosts the economy here at home.” Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates: “Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.” And current Secretary General ‘Mad Dog’ Maddis: “If you don’t fund the State Department fully then I need to buy more ammunition.” Will you support an increase in the international affairs budget? Why or why not?

Sen. Gardner: I have supported various increases in international aid budgets, particularly as it relates to Israel and others. In fact, if you look at the foreign aid budget, it represents a very small percentage of our federal budget, and if you look at the amount of dollars that we spend, it represents a very small portion of that budget. In fact, I believe it’s under 2 percent, but we do tremendous good with the dollars through foreign aid, whether it’s preventing HIV/AIDS around the globe, whether it’s providing opportunities for Africa to electrify—one of the big initiatives Congress has pursued is the Electrify Africa or the Power Africa Act, which is enabling and empowering people to realize their full potential across Africa, and this is an incredible way for the United States to show the goodwill and good intentions of the American people without doing so at the barrel of a gun or the bottom of a bomb.

So what we have to do is recognize that diplomacy is far less expensive both from a humanity perspective as well as a budgetary perspective. Diplomacy is less expensive than the Defense Department engagement. And so, I think that you’re right. I have significant issues when it comes to slashing foreign aid because I believe that’s one way we can be effective in terms of promoting our values and making sure that we can break cycles of poverty around the globe, prevent human trafficking, stop the abuse of women and girls around the globe, and that we can do that with State Department, USAID is a very important work that we’re doing in many countries around the globe, and we’ll continue to do that.

I think your point on defense though, we have to recognize too, though, that we have some of the lowest levels of equipment in our Navy and Air Force since World War I/World War II levels. And so we do have a very significant crisis at hand when it comes to national security, how we’re going to make sure that we’re protecting the people of this nation and doing that with equipment that not only protects our security but gives the men and women on the front lines of freedom the ability to protect and defend themselves. Because if they don’t have the tools—if they’re robbing parts off of an airplane so they can keep the other airplane running, shame on us for not giving our men and women the ability to defend themselves while they’re defending us.

So, look, we’ve got to do the right thing throughout this budget debate, and that’s doing what we do best as Americans, finding that balance to make sure that we find the way forward first for diplomacy, backing it up with strength in military but knowing that it is always better to avoid the conflict than to get into the conflict. So I want to thank you for that question.

Again, throughout the call I’ve mentioned that I will be visiting with the President. I look forward to taking the questions that I received today with me, expressing concern to the White House, expressing those to the President. I apologize that we had to move the time and just want to thank all of you for participating in this town hall, and the many questions that I’ve received. It’s an honor to represent and serve the people of Colorado.

I know I didn’t get to everybody’s questions, but if we can be of any assistance to you, please don’t hesitate to contact one of our offices. We have locations in Denver, Pueblo, Grand Junction, Greeley, Yuma, Colorado Springs and Washington. You can find the contact information and email me directly on our website: gardner.senate.gov. There you can also sign up for our newsletter and follow us on social media, stay up to date on what’s happening in Colorado and Washington, and look out for our next opportunity to be able to visit and have this conversation again.

Thanks again for participating in today’s calls. We have just a remarkable opportunity ahead of us to come together as a country, because I think all of us—regardless of who you supported in this past election or whether you’re Republican, Democrat or other—believe that the best way this country succeeds is by coming together, uniting as a people and fighting for a brighter opportunity tomorrow than we’re able to have today. Thanks very much to everyone on this call. God bless, and look forward to visiting with you again.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify that Sen. Gardner voted in favor of allowing a Senate floor vote on President Obama's nominee for attorney general, Loretta Lynch. He voted against her nomination in that full Senate vote.