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Sen. Gardner Takes Criticism From Voters During Town Hall

GREELEY, Colo. (CBS4/AP)- Sen. Cory Gardner is meeting with voters along the Front Range on Tuesday, in the first face-to-face town halls open to the public this year.

Among the issues discussed, health care and racism.

The Republican senator told an audience in Colorado Springs that it's important to make sure people with pre-existing conditions have health care and that Medicare is solvent.

He also said he would not pressure Pres. Donald Trump to fire staff members linked to white supremacists.

cory gardner
Sen. Cory Gardner at a town hall in Colorado Springs (credit: CBS)

"I'm going to stand up and express my disagreements time and time again. I didn't think he was strong enough on NATO," said Gardner.

In Greeley, some people who spoke with CBS4 expressed their criticism of Gardner, saying he doesn't make himself available to the people who elected him and doesn't listen to his constituents.

Gardner started his Greeley meeting 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.

Health care was top on the minds of most at 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.

Despite the critical view many have of the senator, there have been no protests outside the town hall in Greeley. One man did temporarily block the entrance with a sign opposing the senator but he was turned away.

Those who wish to speak with Sen. Gardner must fill out a form, that form then is drawn out at random. Each person called forward can ask one question of the senator.

"Even more disappointed in his vote for Betsy DeVos, as a lifetime educator, a teacher, a principal, a national board certified teacher, I know my stuff and I'm not qualified to do that job," said one woman at the town hall.

"I will compliment him, however, on the stand that he took this last weekend on Meet the Press about calling Trump out, about not specifically reporting what happened in Charlottesville," said another woman.

The town hall will last about an hour-and-a-half. Doors open for the town hall in Lakewood at 3 p.m. Voters are encouraged to get there early to guarantee a spot.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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