NEW: Gardner Campaign Dismisses CORE Act — “It’s Not a Concern”
Gardner’s “halfhearted” edits to the bill were “redundant” & “nonspecific” — then he “never responded to follow-up requests,” showing he is “unserious about the ‘CORE Act’s’ fate”
Denver, CO – While Senator Cory Gardner desperately tries to greenwash his record, new reporting from E&E News explains his reluctance to support the bipartisan CORE Act to protect 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado: “It’s not a concern” to him. Gardner has refused to support the collaborative wilderness bill under the guise that he has edits to the bill, but the Senator’s “halfhearted” changes were “redundant,” “nonspecific, outside of the scope of the bill or not rooted in requests from Colorado,” showing he is “unserious about the ‘CORE Act’s’ fate.”
Then Gardner “never responded to follow-up requests for more information that might have resulted in some bipartisan agreement.”
Gardner has “shown he has the ability to leverage [his] vulnerability for political gain” and “has the power” to get the CORE Act passed, but “if he doesn’t use it, he’s in the way” of passing the landmark legislation. Gardner was bailed out by the White House, with the Trump Administration threatening to veto the bill if passed to protect Gardner, an “unusual action for a region-specific lands bill.”
Read highlights from E&E News below or the full story HERE:
By Jennifer Yachnin and Emma Dumain | August 12, 2020
Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse (D) succeeded last month in inserting the measure into the House’s fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, the annual must-pass military spending bill (E&E Daily, July 21).
Still, with the House and Senate expected to start meeting soon to hash out the differences in their respective versions of the NDAA, Gardner could be called to weigh in on whether negotiators should scrap the “CORE Act” or keep it.
Aides for the Colorado Republican on Capitol Hill did not return repeated requests for comment for this article.
Gardner has a complicated relationship with the “CORE Act.” In June, he told the Gunnison Country Times that while he does not support the bill as written, he is “certainly not stopping it. They could pass it and I’m not objecting to it.”
‘He has the power’
Last October, the Democratic-controlled House passed the “CORE Act” as a stand-alone measure, 227-182, with only five Republicans voting “yes.”
The legislation became politicized due to the White House issuing a veto threat — an unusual action for a region-specific lands bill that made some Democrats think the Trump administration was working to protect Gardner and Tipton ahead of a potentially contentious election cycle.
The Senate never took any action on the legislation, but with the measure wrapped into the NDAA, the chamber now has little choice. The “CORE Act’s” proponents say this is likely their last chance this Congress to get the bill over the finish line.
“If it receives bipartisan support in the Senate, we could actually pass the most consequential Colorado public lands legislation in decades,” Bennet said in a statement to E&E News, adding that “it’s not unprecedented by any stretch” to attach a Colorado lands bill to the defense authorization.
“In fact,” Bennet continued, “I worked with Representative Tipton to pass the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act — which was the last Colorado wilderness proposal to get signed into law — in 2014 as part of the annual NDAA.”
Neguse, in a separate statement, noted that the “CORE Act’s” inclusion in the NDAA “makes perfect sense” in that it would, among other things, create a National Historic Landscape in honor of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division and name an overlook in memory of a local World War II veteran.
“Having both of our Senators support the CORE Act could definitely have a significant impact on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s interest in bringing the bill up for a vote, as well as the NDAA conference process in the Senate,” Neguse continued. “To have both Colorado Senators support this bipartisan public lands bill would go a long way.”
Bennet and Neguse aren’t being subtle: They want Gardner to step up and support the effort.
As one of the most vulnerable incumbents of the 2020 election cycle, Gardner has shown he has the ability to leverage that vulnerability for political gain.
For months, Gardner had been pushing McConnell (R-Ky.) to schedule floor time for the Great American Outdoors Act. That McConnell finally put the bill on the floor in June, in the midst of a pandemic, was a decision that cannot be ignored in the context of Gardner’s tough reelection fight.
Sources say he could now easily apply the same pressure to leadership when it comes to the “CORE Act” and that it isn’t enough for him to say he’s staying neutral out of deference to Tipton.
“He has the power. If he doesn’t use it, he’s in the way,” said a source familiar with the dynamics surrounding the “CORE Act,” alluding to Gardner’s repeated insistence that he isn’t “standing in the way” of the bill.
Gunnison County Commissioner Jonathan Houck (D) — who represents a quintessential region of Colorado, home to the Crested Butte ski area, Blue Mesa Reservoir and Curecanti National Recreation Area — is among those local officials who have repeatedly lobbied Gardner to get in line with the “CORE Act.”
“Senator Gardner has said that he would not stand in the way of it, but I don’t feel that he has engaged the communities that support it at a level that reflects the broad support it has, and not just from county commissioners, but from ranchers, recreationists” and others, Houck said.
He later added: “Senator Gardner has stood to the side.“
‘Sided with President Trump’
Last month, Gardner was shrugging off the possibility he’d have to intervene, telling The Colorado Sun it was unlikely the “CORE Act” would survive in the NDAA.
“I don’t think it will happen. I think it’s too late for any amendments here,” he said.
Still, in an effort to paint himself as productive on the matter, Gardner separately told the Gunnison newspaper last month he had provided Bennet and Neguse suggestions on how to improve their legislation.
Congressional sources familiar with those discussions, however, told E&E News that Gardner and his staff had, several months earlier, made a series of halfhearted attempts at compromise, where they argued for new legislative language but never responded to follow-up requests for more information that might have resulted in some bipartisan agreement.
“Yes, Senator Gardner did provide Senator Bennet’s office with some ideas last fall,” one Senate aide told E&E News. “In most cases, those ideas were nonspecific, outside of the scope of the bill or not rooted in requests from Colorado.”
Sources said there first was a meeting in October, around the time of House passage of the “CORE Act.” Gardner and Tipton approached Bennet with a list of asks that seemed, to the Democratic staff, redundant.
The Republicans called for more engagement with local residents and advocates, who had already been consulted on relevant portions of the bill.
In December, Gardner’s staff marked up a copy of the “CORE Act” with many of the same requests for changes, with Bennet’s staff continuing to ask for clarification. Where specifically, for instance, would Gardner like to see boundary adjustments, and what changes would he like to see in the bill text?
“Senator Bennet’s office responded to them with an open mind in December 2019 and asked for specific language and further clarification,” said the Senate aide, “and has not received a response.”
This sequence of events, critics say, shows Gardner is unserious about the “CORE Act’s” fate.
Any opposition to the bill could also become a weapon to undercut Gardner’s newfound credentials as a conservation hero.
“Senator Gardner’s been in Washington for a decade, but he’s failed to create any new Colorado wilderness,” Hickenlooper campaign aide Alyssa Roberts told E&E News.
“Coloradans want a senator who will actually stand up for our public lands and outdoor economy, not one who’s sided with President Trump to undo protections and refuses to support the locally driven ‘CORE Act.'”
‘It’s not a concern’
Gardner campaign spokeswoman Meghan Graf fired back when asked whether Gardner’s lack of advocacy for one conservation bill takes away from his success with the Great American Outdoors Act.
“It’s not a concern for us.
A Senate aide familiar with the legislation said that “Bennet has sought every opportunity to pass the ‘CORE Act’ in the Senate, but Republicans continue to block it from consideration.” Bennet is also in the minority, giving him few opportunities to secure legislative victories by himself.
Denver-based political consultant Rick Ridder, with RBI Strategies and Research, suggested Wadhams’ assertions contrast sharply to previous focus groups he’s conducted in which voters were asked about Gardner’s work on environmental and conservation issues and responded with “blank stares.”
“Voters basically saw Cory do nothing in the conservation world for 5 ½ years” as well as during his four years in the House, Ridder said. “There is a little bit of a disconnect there.”