Colorado D.C. Roundup: 'Skinny Repeal' Defeat, Transgender Servicepeople, Interior Confirmation

Jul 28, 2017

The future of health care and the politics of gender have been front and center in the national headlines this week. Colorado’s congressional delegation -- made up of the representatives and senators elected to office -- have been part of the action. Here’s a round-up of the votes, reactions and statements from your Colorado representatives.

Health care in the Senate

One of the Trump administration’s priorities has been the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. On July 25, the Senate voted to open debate on health care, allowing votes and debates on amendments for the bill that passed the House of Representatives previously.

The debate itself is controversial. Sen. John McCain returned from Arizona where he was receiving treatment for brain cancer to vote in favor of the debate, while also calling for a “return to order.”

Republican Sen. Cory Gardner voted in favor of opening debate. Prior to this vote, Gardner hasn’t stated where he stands on various proposals from his colleagues in the Senate.

“We can no longer subject Coloradans to a failing healthcare system without working toward solutions, and today’s vote will allow that debate to continue,” Gardner said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet opposed the whole process, calling it “shameful.”

“Whether Republicans choose to vote for repeal-and-replace or repeal-and-delay, we know both outcomes would be devastating for Colorado families, hospitals, and rural communities,” he said in a statement. “The American people deserve better than this.”

In the evening following the initial procedural vote, the Senate voted on a repeal and replacement bill. Gardner voted yes, while Bennet voted no.

The next day they voted on a partial repeal amendment, which focused on removing specific parts of Obamacare such as the individual mandate. Gardner voted yes; Bennet voted no.

After midnight, the Senate moved for one last-ditch effort to pass the so-called "skinny repeal," but the effort was defeated when McCain voted alongside Democrats and two other Republican senators. Gardner voted yes, with his party, and Bennet voted no.

"While this is a win for tonight, we cannot be complacent," Bennet said in a statement released afterwards. "There are millions of people who still need us to fix our broken health care system. Now is the time to work together to increase competition, affordability and transparency; to lower costs and improve quality; and to craft a bill that is responsive to the needs of Americans."

Transgender people serving in the military

In a series of three tweets on July 26, President Trump said that the military would no longer “accept or allow” transgender people to serve, saying it is a “disruption … from the mission” and calling the potential health care cost “tremendous.”

Many of Colorado’s congressional delegation came out against the statement, regardless of political affiliation. 

Rep. Ken Buck, R-Greely, pushed back in a statement.

“America needs a military comprised of patriots willing to sacrifice for this country,” he said. “Any American who is physically and emotionally qualified should be allowed to serve.”

As the Weld County District Attorney, Buck led the prosecution in the murder of transgender woman Angie Zapata in 2008.

Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, was very direct in her opposition to Trump’s proposal, saying it is “about bigotry, not safety.”

Support for Trump came from some corners, including Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-El Paso County.

“There are too many unanswered medical, housing, readiness and deployment questions to allow the previous policies of the Obama administration to continue,” he said in a statement.

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, took issue with policy being released in a tweet, saying that Trump should have let Defense Secretary James Mattis “finish his review of the policy.”

Since then, the officials from the Department of Defense have said that the military’s current guidelines regarding transgender people serving haven’t changed and won’t until the White House send a rules change and the secretary of defense issues new guidelines. Top Pentagon officials will work on the implementation.

Senate confirmation of David Bernhardt as deputy secretary of the Interior

In a vote that fell largely along party lines, the Senate voted to confirm lawyer and Colorado-native David Bernhardt as deputy secretary of the Interior Department. 

Bernhardt’s nomination was considered controversial by several environmental groups due to his history as a lawyer for oil and gas companies. A complaint filed by the Campaign for Accountability contends that Bernhardt continued to receive payments as a lobbyist after he had been officially delisted.

Both Gardner and Bennet voted to confirm Bernhardt.

“I’ve known David for many years and know he is the right man for the job,” Gardner said. “I look forward to working with David on issues important to Colorado as he assumes his new role.”

Bennet’s support for Bernhardt pitted him against his fellow Democrats, which largely voted against his confirmation. 

“We are counting on Deputy Secretary Bernhardt to uphold his commitment to protect Colorado’s forward-leaning methane rules and ensure we are not put at a disadvantage,” Bennet said in a statement. “We’re also grateful for his commitment to protect Colorado’s public lands. We look forward to having him back in Colorado so he can put these words into action.” 

Vail Resorts going green

Bennet released a statement this week about Vail Resorts's commitment to having zero net emissions and waste to landfill by 2030. 

“Colorado businesses continue to lead the fight against climate change because they know how important clean energy and conservation efforts are to growing our economy and protecting the planet for our children,” the statement reads. “We applaud Vail Resorts on this impressive commitment to tackle climate change from multiple angles—from reducing emissions and waste to protecting our forests. It is because of leadership like this throughout our state that Colorado is the epicenter of outdoor recreation.”

[Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect the final vote on the "skinny repeal" early Friday morning.]