Colorado's Newest Senator, Cory Gardner, On His Agenda

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's talk next with one of last night's election winners. Republican Cory Gardner won a Senate seat in Colorado, defeating Democratic Senator Mark Udall. Senator-elect Gardner, welcome to the program.

CORY GARDNER: Thank you very much for having me.

INSKEEP: And congratulations to you. What do you think you have a mandate to do, if anything?

GARDNER: Well, I think you couldn't take this as a mandate for Republicans or against Democrats. What we have a mandate for is putting solutions forward - coming together as Republicans and Democrats on ideas on the economy, on energy, on other issues, put them on the president's desk and try to end the gridlock, end the dysfunction and get (inaudible) back to a place that does its job.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk a little bit about gridlock and dysfunction then. We spoke earlier this morning with Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar - asked if Democrats will be working with Republicans because of course they can obstruct the Senate if they want to, and she said, we will work with them. Can you name one concrete thing that you believe can pass in the coming year?

GARDNER: You know, I think if you look at things like the Keystone XL Pipeline that has broad support (inaudible), the changes to the Affordable Care Act that are supported by both Republicans and Democrats - tax reform, I know when Chairman Bachus was there and, of course, when we had the opportunity to work with the House and the Senate - Dave Camp in the House - we were making progress. Now, both of those figures were changed into the new Congress, new chairman. But the fact is those are things that we can come together on. And I believe that, you know, when it comes to the mandate - the mandate to take out of this election is, in two years, if Republicans don't do their job in terms of putting solutions forward, we'll have the same kind of evening on election night; it'll just be back the other way.

INSKEEP: Well, it is interesting to note that although Republicans complained about the Democratic Senate not doing very much, there often were problems in the House of Representatives, which you've been a member of. Often, as you know very well, Republicans could not agree among themselves on vital measures. Do you think that your party is in agreement on how to proceed - and you talk about, for example, changes to the Affordable Care Act. Are you going to go for full repeal of this again or go for something that you think that the president might sign that would improve it?

GARDNER: Well, I think there will be people who will continue to pursue repeal. Ultimately repealing and replacing the bill is something that needs to happen in order to reduce the cost of health care and increase the quality of health care. But I do believe that we can find those common-ground areas of repealing that medical device tax, repealing the IPAB Board, restoring the 40-hour workweek - broad bipartisan support for the president would be in a difficult spot to disagree with or to not sign them. But I think that when it comes to the House - we have some new members of the House. Last night I spoke to the majority leader, Kevin McCarthy, after they had called the election, and we talked about the need to provide the people of this country with competent and mature governance. And I think that's the key.

INSKEEP: What approach do you intend to take as a senator to confirming or not confirming presidential appointments, especially judges?

GARDNER: Well, again I think when it comes to judges, we have to make sure that they are constitutionally bound and grounded, that they are going to be people who will interpret the Constitution, not legislate from the bench - not be legislating from the bench, but be those representatives of the Constitution. And we find that out through looking in their background and making sure that that's their history in jurisprudence.

INSKEEP: Would you be concerned if the Senate ends up holding a lot of judgeships open as has happened in past years, as you know very well?

GARDNER: Well, I think we have to find a way to make sure that quality and qualified nominees are confirmed. We have to make sure that they are put on the bench - that we don't have the kind of damage done to the judiciary that we've seen both Republicans and Democrats be a part of.

INSKEEP: But I want to just understand that. I mean, do you want to work with the president to fill these jobs, or will your party see it as a strategy to hold jobs open for extended lengths of time?

GARDNER: Well, I will work with the president on the nominees that are qualified, who are committed to upholding the Constitution and will not legislate from the bench. So the answer is yes, if they are the right nominees.

INSKEEP: One other quick thing - Senator Udall is, you know - hit you during the campaign on social issues, particularly over a personhood amendment to Colorado's constitution, which was on the ballot. You opposed that personhood amendment and said it was unfair you were being linked to it. Your opponents replied that, well, Gardner actually has sponsored - cosponsored similar legislation in Congress. In the new Congress, will you vote for such legislation if it comes before you?

GARDNER: Well, again, the legislation at the federal level is simply a statement that I support life. But what Senator Udall found out is that the people of Colorado want to talk about more than just one issue. Senator Udall focused his entire campaign as a social-issues warrior, and that was rejected by the people of Colorado, who embraced our plan of creating jobs and opportunity, growing energy independence, looking at education opportunities for the future and making sure were focused on protecting this great Colorado environment.

INSKEEP: So that means you still would vote for that federal bill.

GARDNER: No, I'm not saying that all. I'm not going to speculate about legislation that I haven't seen before. But the fact is that the bill you're referring to - that Senator Udall referred to is simply a statement about life, and Senator Udall decided that he wanted to base his entire campaign on that one piece of legislation.

INSKEEP: Senator-elect Cory Gardner of Colorado, thanks very much, enjoyed it.

GARDNER: Thank you very much. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.