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Impeachment Proceedings Are Tricky Business For Republican Senators Facing Reelection


Republican voters are keeping a close watch on their Republican senators - in particular, where they stand on the impeachment inquiry and whether they're sticking by President Trump. Colorado Senator Cory Gardner will have a tough race in 2020, so Colorado Public Radio's Bente Birkeland wanted to find out what his conservative constituents think.

BENTE BIRKELAND, BYLINE: Cory Gardner joined most of his Senate Republican colleagues and signed on to a resolution condemning the House impeachment process, but he hasn't come out strongly on whether President Trump did anything wrong. Here's what he said last week.


CORY GARDNER: Well, my position is to take it very seriously - the investigation that's taking place - to not fall for the partisan talking points and make sure that we end the political circus and actually have this done fairly and transparently.

BIRKELAND: In October, a clip of Gardner dodging a reporter's questions on the substance of impeachment went viral.


JOE ST GEORGE: Do you believe it's appropriate for the president of the United States to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival, yes or no?

GARDNER: Well, look. This...

BIRKELAND: The video from Denver's Fox 31 racked up more than 2 million views.


GARDNER: Unfortunately, though, what we've seen is a very political process take over. If you look what Al Green in Texas, member of Congress, has said - we need to impeach President Trump now because we might not be able to beat him in November - that's about politics. That's not what this serious investigation should be about.

ST GEORGE: But is it appropriate...

GARDNER: Joe, I've answered your question.

ST GEORGE: No, you didn't. Is it...

BIRKELAND: And some conservative voters are frustrated that Gardner is only addressing the impeachment process.

At a community gathering in Castle Rock, a city south of Denver, 70-year-old self-described fiscal conservative Claire Lutz (ph) says she doesn't believe Trump committed an impeachable offense and wants to hear Gardner address that.

CLAIRE LUTZ: I'd like to hear something from him backing him. I just feel that a lot of the politicians - they look out for themselves.

BIRKELAND: She thinks the inquiry is a waste of money when Congress could be working together but isn't sure whether she'll vote for Gardner again.

LUTZ: I'm going to wait a lot on this impeachment thing. Then I'm going to erase everybody that worked against President Trump.

BIRKELAND: Republican Wade Frerie (ph) plans to vote for Gardner but wants him to say more, too.

WADE FRERIE: I think he should support the president and be open about that, be more vocal. And so I'd like to hear more from him, whatever it is.

BIRKELAND: Frerie says he disagrees with Trump on a lot of occasions but calls the inquiry a sham.

Stephanie Ross Kelly (ph) supports the impeachment inquiry. She's a Republican but backed a third-party candidate for president in 2016.

STEPHANIE ROSS KELLY: Financially, I feel like our economy is doing really well, but he's just an outrageous person. It's just hard to get past that piece of it.

BIRKELAND: Ross Kelly says her vote for Gardner hinges on how he and other lawmakers conduct themselves during the impeachment inquiry.

ROSS KELLY: I don't think I like how quiet he is - think that surprised me. But usually, I align with the Republican Party. But I think our family's falling into more moderate - where we could pretty much sway either way.

BIRKELAND: Other voters we talked to in this Republican-majority county said they don't care as much about Gardner's position on impeachment. They're more concerned about immigration, taxes and the overall job market. Cory Gardner is running for a second Senate term in a state President Trump lost in 2016. Two years later, Colorado Democrats won every statewide office and flipped a congressional seat from red to blue.

For NPR News, I'm Bente Birkeland in Denver.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bente Birkeland has covered Colorado politics and government since spring of 2006. She loves the variety and challenge of the state capitol beat and talking to people from all walks of life. Bente's work has aired on NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered, American PublicMedia'sMarketplace, and she was a contributor for WNYC's The Next Big Thing. She has won numerous local and national awards, including best beat reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors. Bente grew up in Minnesota and England, and loves skiing, hiking, and is an aspiring cello player. She lives in Lakewood with her husband.
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