"You continue to deny that the federal Life Begins At Conception Act, which you sponsor, is a personhood bill to ban abortion, and we are not going to debate that here because it's a fact. Your co-sponsors say so; your opponents say so; and independent fact-checkers say so. "So let's instead talk about what this entire episode may say about your judgment more broadly. It would seem that a charitable interpretation would be that you have a difficult time admitting when you're wrong, and a less charitable interpretation is that you're not telling us the truth. Which is it?"
Rep. Cory Gardner's (R-Colo.) "personhood" problem long ago stopped being simply about his support for a radical piece of legislation. As his U.S. Senate campaign has unfolded in Colorado -- a race the far-right candidate is now actually favored to win -- Gardner has instead been dogged by questions about his integrity, his character, and his competence, all because of this key issue.
To briefly recap, the Republican congressman has spent much of his career supporting personhood, which would ban all abortions and common forms of birth control. Gardner dropped his longtime support for the policy at the state level, but continues to champion the policy at the federal level. Asked to explain, the right-wing Coloradan routinely says there is no federal personhood bill -- though our eyes and reality say differently -- and that the legislation does not say what it plainly says.
Last night, Kyle Clark, a reporter for the NBC affiliate in Denver, pressed Gardner on this in ways no one else has:
Gardner dodged the question, saying the federal legislation is "simply a statement that I support life." This claim, unfortunately, is a rather brazen lie.
The reporter, aware of reality, pressed further. "Why does no one else think that?" Clark asked. "That's what we're getting at." Gardner dodged again, insisting he's already answered these questions.
Clark, to his credit, stuck with it. "What I'm asking you about here is what appears to be the willing suspension of the facts. People who agree with you on the issue of life think you're wrong about how you describe the bill. Everybody seems to have a cohesive idea about what this is -- with the exception of you. And I'm wondering, what should voters glean from that?"
Gardner dodged again, saying people have different opinions about reproductive rights, which is true, but completely unrelated to what he was asked.
This matters. A lot.
I can appreciate why some, especially on the right and at the Denver Post's editorial page, may find this focus excessive. There's no shortage of important issues in the 2014 elections, and investing considerable time and energy on one part of the GOP congressman's work as a legislator may seem unnecessary. At first blush, it's not an unreasonable point.
But that's what made Kyle Clark's questioning so worthwhile: this isn't just about personhood. Cory Gardner championed radical legislation to remove women's access to abortion and forms of contraception. Then he lied about it. Then he lied about it some more. Asked to explain himself, the Republican won't apologize for his often shameless dishonesty, and can't coherently justify why his claims so plainly contradict reality.
In other words, this may just be one issue among many, but it's offering the public a chance to learn who Cory Gardner really is, what he does, and why kind of politician he'd be if elected to the Senate. As Clark's line of questioning suggests, the challenge for Colorado voters is asking what else the congressman isn't telling the truth about.