Transcript: Sen. Cory Gardner on "Face the Nation," Sept. 24, 2017

Leaders from across the globe descended upon New York City this week for the United Nations General Assembly, where President Trump gave an incendiary speech covering United States' handling of global flashpoints like the recent provocations from North Korea and the Iranian nuclear agreement.

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Col., who sits on the Foreign Relations committee, joined "Face the Nation" Sunday. He discussed North Korea, as well as the Graham-Cassidy bill -- and more.

What follows is a transcript of the interview, which aired Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, on "Face the Nation."


JOHN DICKERSON: And now we turn to Colorado Republican, Cory Gardner, a key voice for sanctions against North Korea in the Senate. He joins us from Yuma, Colorado. Senator, before we get to North Korea I want to start with Graham-Cassidy, the health care bill moving through the Senate that's likely to be brought up next week. Last week you said that you were waiting for the assessment from the Congressional Budget Office. John McCain has said there's no way the Congressional Budget Office can give the numbers that would adequately tell what's gonna happen with this bill and that's why he's not supporting it. What's your position?

CORY GARDNER: Well, I think there's still more information that we're looking for. I think the C.B.O. will have a role to play in this. I believe there's information that will be coming through a committee hearing on Monday and additional text changes that will add additional information to H.H.S.'s analysis, the Health and Human Service analysis of the bill.

So what we have right now in place for Colorado has led to double-digit health insurance increases. We've seen the insurance commissioner in Colorado certify increases of 27% insurance rates for next year. We've seen that on top of double-digit rates increased last year. It's unacceptable. So I hope we can find something, work together, put something in place that actually works to lower the cost of health care and increase the quality of care.

JOHN DICKERSON: There have been some extraordinary quotes this week from your colleagues. One is from Senator Chuck Grassley talking really about the blunt political calculus here. Senator Grassley said, "I could maybe give you 10 reasons why this bill shouldn't be considered, but Republicans campaigned on this so often that you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign. That's pretty much as much of a reason as the substance of the bill."

Senator Pat Roberts, another of your Republican colleagues, essentially said that if this bill isn't passed, that Republicans would lose control of the Senate. And there's a New York Times piece in which you're quoted as saying, "Donors are furious we haven't kept our promise." The picture that emerges from all of this is a rush for political reasons to support this and not substantive reasons. What are your thoughts about that?

CORY GARDNER: Well, this has nothing to do with politics. It has nothing to do with donors. It has everything to do with the people of this country who are suffering each and every day under a health care bill that is failing to meet their needs, that's bankrupting them. I meet with countless people across the state of Colorado, all four corners here, who are basically paying a second mortgage every month to afford their insurance, to pay for their insurance that they can't actually afford to use.

Half a million people in Colorado lost their health insurance, had their health insurance canceled, excuse me, because they were told it wasn't good enough. It didn't meet the specifications even though they wanted to keep that health insurance. And so we have a system right now that has led to higher costs, that has led to fewer choices in terms of being able to keep their doctors.

People are paying $10,000 or more in deductibles, $8,000 in deductibles. They're paying $1,200, $1,500 a month for insurance. It's not working. That's the reason why we need new policy. That's what this fight is about. It's to make sure that the American people are better off.

JOHN DICKERSON: But, senator, there's been a great deal of opposition from the American Medical Association, from the directors of Medicaid in the states to the substance of the bill. So all the problems you named can exist. But for this particular remedy, the criticism is that it's being forced through for political reasons.

We all know from our reporting that there is great anger at the grassroots and at the donor level. And then you have senators basically affirming that. It seems hard to argue that there is not tremendous political pressure and that that's overweighing the substantive critiques to this bill.

CORY GARDNER: Well, I think that the people who are opponents of the bill certainly want this to be about politics and not policy. But the bottom line is for the past seven years we've made it a very high priority to put something in place for the American people of the Affordable Care Act that actually works.

And that's what we have to do. Look, I hear stories from places like Holyoke, Colorado, from Denver, Colorado, from Glenwood Springs, Colorado of people who have seen their health insurance premiums skyrocket. They lost the doctor that they were promised they could keep. The average family of four was told they would see lower health-care costs of $2,500 per family a year, but that simply hasn't materialized.

And so what's good policy is what matters to the American people. Now, if people are going to play politics, that's what's they're going to do. But I think what we have an obligation to do, as the Senate majority, is hopefully bipartisan. People on both sides of the aisle will come together to pass a bill that works for the American people to lower costs and put something in place that works better than the status quo because the status quo is simply not good enough.

JOHN DICKERSON: All right. Let's see. We'll move on now to North Korea. You've been working on this issue for a long time, pushing for sanctions. Why do you think sanctions are going to work with North Korea?

CORY GARDNER: You know, we have a long ways to go when it comes to the diplomatic runway toward North Korea. Last year when Congress passed my legislation, the North Korea Policy Sanctions Enhancement Act, North Korea was the eighth-most sanctioned nation on earth. As a result of that legislation it's now the fifth or fourth-most sanctioned nation, meaning that we have a long ways to go to continue to ratchet up the economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea and the enablers of North Korea.

Our number one goal with North Korea as it relates to North Korea must and always will be peaceful denuclearization of the North Korean regime. We will stand to protect our great allies, South Korea, Japan, protect the U.S. homeland. But we have a lot of work to do on the diplomatic and economic side before we think of any other option.

JOHN DICKERSON: But I guess my point is Vladimir Putin said the North Koreans would eat grass before giving up their nuclear program, that they are uniquely resilient to sanctions. They've gone through famines with lots of loss of life and still haven't changed their way of behaving. Why will they now?

CORY GARDNER: Well, Vladimir Putin ought to try to work with us to denuclearize North Korea. China needs to do a better job of taking responsibility to work toward denuclearization of North Korea. Look, this is a regime that has made multiple promises over the past 20 years. A bipartisan failure.

The last eight years of strategic patience led us to where we are today with nuclear tests, and multiple missile launches, and advancement in ballistic missile capability. It's unacceptable to allow North Korea to maintain and retain a nuclear program. Why? It will lead to not only continued threats against the homeland, perhaps further than that threat.

And it will also lead to proliferation throughout the area. I've already been approached by members of Korea's national assembly to put in place tactical nuclear weapons by the United States on the South Korean peninsula. If we are going to be avoiding proliferation in the region, which we must do, then we have to make sure that we continue to work with our partners around the globe to peacefully denuclearize the regime. China's responsible for 90% of the economy in North Korea. It's time they do more.

JOHN DICKERSON: Quickly, senator, just before we go, you spoke out about the president's tepid reaction to the violence in Charlottesville. The president has now stepped into the middle of the controversy about the NFL. I just wonder what you make of his remarks this week.

CORY GARDNER: Look, I made it very clear in the aftermath of Charlottesville that there is no room in this country for hate, that the KKK, Neo-Nazis, white supremacist groups are hateful, that there's no room for them, and we must call evil by its name. And that is the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and white supremacists.

When it comes to this recent spat with the NFL, look, there are far more important things that we ought to be focusing on. You've mentioned them. North Korea, Iran, concern about the health care bill. That's what I'm going to continue to focus on, making sure that we take care of this country's needs in a way that people know they're better off.

JOHN DICKERSON: All right. Senator Gardner, thanks so much for being with us. And we'll be back in a moment.

CORY GARDNER: Thanks John.