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U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, attends a news conference with Olympians and Democratic U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, to announce legislation to create a U.S. Olympic Committee oversight panel. The news conference was held on June 17, 2019, at DeGette's offices in Denver. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner on Thursday repeatedly refused to say whether he thinks it’s appropriate for the president to ask a foreign government to investigate a political rival.

In two sometimes-tense scrums with groups of reporters before and after an event with the Colorado Chamber of Commerce, the normally upbeat Colorado Republican rejected questions, accused a reporter of being biased and then jostled his way out of a downtown Denver hotel. It was an uncharacteristic display of frustration.

The tension was indicative of the pressure Gardner and other Republicans are facing amid the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. Democrats are trying to push GOP senators from swing states, including Gardner, into joining their impeachment efforts. 

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The friction on Thursday started with a question from a reporter with Denver television news station Fox31.

“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?” reporter Joe St. George asked.

“Look, this is what we’re gonna get into: The Senate Intelligence Committee is having an investigation, a bipartisan investigation,” Gardner said. “Unfortunately, though, what we’ve seen is a very political process take over.” 

When St. George pressed him further, Gardner said: “Joe, I’ve answered your question.”

“No, you didn’t,” St. George responded.

The exchanges with reporters were among the first times Gardner has faced in-person questions on House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. Until Thursday, he had declined to speak at length about the inquiry — only releasing written statements about it — and thus Colorado Democrats have been trying to build pressure for answers. 

The floodgates opened at the Colorado Chamber event as a group of several reporters pushed him for a response. 

Trump asked the leader of Ukraine — first in a private phone call and then in remarks to reporters — to investigate Democrat Joe Biden, one of the leading 2020 challengers to his presidency, and Biden’s son. Then he doubled down, urging China to look into Biden as well.

Gardner, one of the most endangered congressional Republicans in 2020, has endorsed the president’s reelection bid but also has at times tried to distance himself from the White House. Most recently, he called on Trump to reverse a decision allowing Turkish troops to cross into Syria at the expense of Kurds, longtime U.S. allies. 

MORE: Why Cory Gardner endorsed Donald Trump — and whether it helps or hurts him

Gardner also called the impeachment inquiry a “political circus” and said Thursday that Democrats are trying to use the probe for political gain.

“The question will be answered, that’s what the investigation is about,” Gardner said. “But I think so many people want to have a circus now and have the political fight now and that’s just not what the American people deserve.”

In a roundtable with the Colorado Chamber of Commerce — in between exchanges with reporters — Gardner blasted the Affordable Care Act and Senate Bill 181, the oil and gas regulation overhaul passed this spring by statehouse Democrats. Gardner said the measure is costing people jobs and saw it as a personal attack against his Eastern Plains community, which has benefitted from drilling. 

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, center, during a tour of abandoned mines in Clear Creek County in August 2018. He was uncharacteristically frustrated with reporters on Thursday. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

“It’s economics, it’s jobs, it’s the strength of this state and it’s the security of this country,” said Gardner, who lives in Yuma. “I also take it personally.”

Later, as he was leaving the event at the downtown Denver Westin, he was asked by a reporter about his tweet linking Senate Bill 181 to oil-field services giant Halliburton’s layoff of 178 people in Grand Junction.

MORE: Read more politics and government coverage from The Colorado Sun.

“You didn’t like the tweet? Who are you with?” Gardner said.

“I’m with 9News,” the reporter, Anusha Roy, said.

“So, you must have your own opinion,” Gardner pressed. “What’s your opinion?”

Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...