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Republican Sen. Gardner Weighs In On Obama's Speech


And for some reaction to the president's speech, we're joined now by Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: Now, the president laid out a lot of objectively good news for the country. The economy is stronger. Deficits are shrinking - restrained health care cost. He said both parties could use this moment to build trust and also to work together. So, for you, what are the areas you see as where, in fact, you and the Republican Party can work with the president?

GARDNER: I do think the president listed some areas last night that where we can work together. Trade is an area where we will be able to work together. The president talked about making college more affordable. We can work together on those areas. Now, the details of his plan, the cost of his plan - those are things that we're going to have to determine and figure out a little bit more as we move forward. But I do believe last night's speech really almost was written by two different speechwriters because the first half issued significant veto threat and talked about areas that you know Republicans will not support - increasing taxes on America's business creators. And then he turned around at the end of the speech and talked about how we ought to work together. And so his insistence on bipartisanship was - which is a good thing - seemed to have significant loopholes.

MONTAGNE: As you suggest, the Republicans will not be looking kindly on the president's desire to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Although the way he put it - closing loopholes for those who are unfairly favored by the tax system - would have appeal to the middle class.

GARDNER: Again, I think the president wants to divide this country. He had an opportunity to come to Congress last night to talk about areas where we could work together. And make no doubt about it. When you're adding hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes on America's job creators, you're hurting the middle class. Look, we have a very veneered economy right now. It looks good. The numbers look good. The president mentioned the numbers look good - corporate earnings, stocks, the indexes.

But when you scratch that surface and you get to what's underneath, you see people who are hurting across this country - people who aren't in the kind of jobs that they're looking for, whose median household has declined. That's the real problem for this country. And unfortunately, last night, the president laid out more taxes and bigger government - something that he's been talking about for six years that has led to the conditions that we see today. And so I think the president missed a real opportunity to work together last night.

MONTAGNE: Well, Senator Gardner, you just used the expression veneered economy, suggesting that this uptick in our economy is fragile or thin. But, you know, one of the loudest cheers the president got, at least from the Democratic side of the chamber, was on raising the minimum wage. And this went on the ballot in many states last November. It even passed in several conservative states. It seems to be quite a popular issue. Has that changed the political calculus in a Republican-controlled Congress about passing a federal minimum wage hike?

GARDNER: Well, in fact, I think that in many ways, you answered part of the question yourself. And the question, which is the states did pass minimum-wage increases - Colorado - we have a minimum wage that's indexed to inflation. And so I think that is something that is best left to the determination of the states. Colorado knows better than Washington, DC, what the people of that state need. But more importantly, we need to grow the economy. We need to make sure that we are actually getting government out of the way to let America work - reducing regulations, not increasing the tax burden on small businesses, not increasing the regulatory burden on businesses so that they are able to increase wages, that people are able to find the kind of jobs that they are looking for. Now look, the president did admit that the deficit is increasing. By the sheer fact that we are increasing the deficit, even if it's $1, that means we are still adding to what is a historically high, unacceptable debt.

MONTAGNE: Senator, we just have one minute left. Let me turn to immigration. You've warned your fellow Republicans against blocking President Obama's actions on immigration without offering other solutions. The Latino population of Colorado is already an important voting bloc. What do you see ahead for immigration policy? Any action on that?

GARDNER: Well, I look forward to the Republicans and Democrats coming together with a policy that will work to reform our broken immigration system. I believe that starts with a - securing our borders. I believe that starts with a workable guest-worker program. I do think the president has overreached. Two years ago, the president said he lacked the kind of authority that he has now asserted. He himself said he lacked that authority. And so I do think we have to have a solution, though. We can't just simply back and say no to these ideas. We have to come up with an alternative. But I look forward to putting forward that Republican alternative to make sure that we combat the president's overreach.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

GARDNER: Thank you for having me.

MONTAGNE: That was Senator Cory Gardner. He's a Republican of Colorado and reacting to the president's State of the Union speech last night. And throughout the program, we will be bringing you reactions from both Republicans and Democrats. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.