It is fair to assume that Cory Gardner — whose name rarely appears without the notation that his Senate seat is in serious jeopardy this November — is growing increasingly worried. And now, as the kids say, we have the receipts.

On Wednesday, as you may have heard, Gardner drew an Obama-in-Syria-like line in the sand. A day later, Gardner quickly erased it, just as Mitch McConnell was preparing to stomp all over it.

Mike Littwin

The Gardner rebellion, as I like to call it, lasted less than a day. It began with a series of tweets — what else? — from Gardner saying that the Senate’s Memorial Day recess was “unfathomable” in light of the coronavirus crisis and the economic crisis it has spawned. There was much work to be done, Gardner tweeted, and he was prepared to call out McConnell — although failing to mention McConnell by name — on the Senate floor, doing whatever he could to halt the weeklong recess.

Whatever you think of Gardner’s politics, you’d probably agree that he’s an able and shrewd politician. I’ll put it this way. In increasingly blue Colorado, Gardner is the only Republican to have won a top-of-the-ballot election in the state since 2004.

The other thing to know about Gardner is that despite his claims to be the third most bipartisan member of the hyper-partisan Senate, Gardner — hardly the rebellious type — is a good soldier who beams at a Donald Trump rally in Colorado Springs as Trump was saying Cory has backed him 100 percent.

So when Gardner challenged McConnell, with whom he’s closer than you should be with anyone in these socially distancing times, I figured he must have had McConnell’s wink-wink approval and that Gardner would walk away with some kind of symbolic win. It wasn’t likely he could get much more than that. In line with Trump’s disastrous mishandling of the pandemic, the president is in no hurry to have another major coronavirus stimulus bill passed, and McConnell has said the latest House bill addressing coronavirus was DOA, which may not be the most felicitous expression to use when the American death count is all too rapidly approaching 100,000.

Turns out, I was wrong about the wink-wink. It seems there was no agreement. Gardner stuck his neck out, and when McConnell raised the figurative ax, it was game over. When Gardner agreed to let the recess go unchallenged, he got what Sen. John Thune, the GOP whip, called “some things down the road,” which is Susan Collins’ favorite, compromise wording. 

Meanwhile, Gardner was touting McConnell’s announcement that the Senate would take up the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act sometime in June. That bill does help Colorado parks and would fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and has bipartisan support — notably including from Michael Bennet — and the support of Trump. What it doesn’t have is anything to do with coronavirus.

What makes the failed Gardner rebellion so interesting is that he was absolutely right to take it up. It’s not the recess itself that was unfathomable — this is the U.S. Senate we’re talking about — it’s the unwillingness of Trump, McConnell and friends to take the necessary steps to ward off further disaster. 

Here are the steps that Gardner mentioned in his tweet storm that needed to be addressed immediately: 

  • “Address ongoing public health crisis with nursing homes & assisted living centers.
  • “Modify PPP rescue program to reflect ongoing challenges by employees & employers.
  • “Pass a stimulus bill to address growing unemployment & help states reopen.”

“Anyone who thinks now is the time to go on recess hasn’t been listening,” Gardner continued, considering the pain and suffering in Colorado and across America.

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According to a recent U.S. Census survey (h/t Denver Post), nearly half of Colorado households have lost income during the pandemic. And the news gets even louder and more necessary to hear. Most economists now believe that as countrywide unemployment claims approach 40 million, many of those jobs will not come back. One Stanford economist says that as many as 40% of those jobs won’t come back.

The linchpin of Gardner’s reelection campaign is that he can get things done in Washington. I’m not sure this is a winning approach. Trump is deeply underwater in Colorado and, in large part because of that, Gardner trails John Hickenlooper — with whom he got into the inevitable spat over the Gardner cave — by a significant margin according to two recent Democratic-leaning pollsters. (Just asking here, but why won’t anyone poll Andrew Romanoff vs. Gardner?)

And he knows, too, that Trump, per usual, is dominating the news, and not in a way that could possibly benefit Gardner. There was Trump’s refusal to be photographed wearing a mask at a mask-required Ford plant. Worse still, for Trump anyway, a major study of 96,000 coronavirus patients around the world has been released showing that Trump’s favorite anti-coronavirus drug, hydroxychloroquine, causes a significantly higher risk of death. Of course, Trump claims to be taking the drug. You are free to be skeptical, as I am, and you’re also free to question why Trump continually misleads the public in matters of science and medicine.

In Gardner’s tweet storm, he said. “Our country is facing the worst stretch of American job losses on record – we must provide new incentives to get our country back to work.”

Most of America and even most of the Senate agrees with that. In fact, the Senate tried to get a bill passed Thursday to reform the Paycheck Protection Program, which was designed, if poorly, to help small businesses. They didn’t pass it. And so they went home.

And now we are left to wonder what the reaction would have been if Gardner had actually taken the floor and had rallied a few Republicans with him. I’m going to guess that it would have been glowing. It might even have impressed some voters. But it would definitely not have impressed Mitch McConnell or Donald Trump, and so, of course, it never happened. And Gardner just went home, too.

Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.

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