GREELEY, Colo. (AP) — A smiling Republican Sen. Cory Gardner faced a barrage of harsh criticism in a series of town hall meetings Tuesday in Colorado.
Hundreds of angry voters greeted the GOP senator in the northern Colorado town of Greeley. He also held rowdy town hall meetings in Colorado Springs and Lakewood, a suburb of Denver.
"Look, I try to do right by the state of Colorado," Gardner said to a chorus of boos in Greeley.
Gardner said he invited disagreements, but at times he was unable to speak above shouted obscenities from the crowds.
Gardner started his Greeley and Lakewood meetings by denouncing racist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. Gardner said the racists should "go back into their cave."
The crowd applauded. But the town hall meeting turned nasty very quickly.
Voters asked Gardner to defend a long list of decisions by President Donald Trump, from withdrawing from the Paris climate accord to appointing a school-choice supporter as secretary of education.
The crowd in Lakewood was so raucous that one man was escorted out by security. The man was shouting, "He's defending a racist!"
Health care was top on the minds at most of the town halls. Gardner asked the Greeley crowd how many supported single-payer health care, and an overwhelming majority in the high-school auditorium raised their hands.
Gardner said he fundamentally disagrees with single-payer health care, which he called unsustainably expensive, saying the better health care solution is an improved economy with more people getting health care through an employer plan. The skeptical crowd repeatedly booed him.
"This was so partisan, what you came up with," said town-hall commenter Scott McLean of Greeley, 63.
Gardner replied that the Senate would resume health-care discussions in the fall. "I hope that we'll have everybody at the table going forward," he said.
The crowd scoffed, some shouting additional profanities as Gardner stood without responding to the jeers.
Gardner tried to show the Greeley crowd graphs showing increased government spending on health care. The crowd responded with boos and angry shouts.
"What happens when this spending continues going up and we have no way to pay for it?" Gardner asked, his voice barely audible over a jeering crowd.
"Even if we disagree, we cannot continue shouting each other down in this country," he said.
Just a couple people appeared to hear the senator, applauding quietly from their seats.
Gardner continued his call for calmer debate in Lakewood.
"What will make this country stronger is if we have the ability to listen to both sides, who disagree," he said.
Health care was a major issue in Lakewood, where Joe Beaver asked Gardner a question about cutting Medicaid.
"I felt like it was about time [he talked to us]," said Beaver, who uses a wheelchair and has protested outside Gardner's office. "I did not feel like I got a satisfactory answer from him today."
On the other side, Republicans criticized Gardner for not repealling and replacing Obamacare.
"Contrary to what you saw here today, there are a lot of people who still believe and still believe it needs to happen," said Joan Poston, a Trump supporter who told Gardner to remember who put him in office. "He was probably surprised when he got called out."