McConnell Celebrates “Truly Exceptional” Senator Cory Gardner

‘For six years, Coloradans have been represented by this remarkable person, who lives and works with relentless focus and infectious joy. Globe-trotting diplomacy. A thick stack of signature bills signed into law. And generational accomplishments that were only possible because he was here.’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks today on the Senate floor regarding Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO):

“It’s my honor today to pay tribute to a truly exceptional U.S. Senator.

“Someone who arrived in this body with a full head of steam; a determination to cram as much service as possible into every day he got to wake up and serve his neighbors who sent him here.

“Our good friend Cory Gardner, the junior Senator for Colorado, has been a man on a mission from the day he arrived.

“He already knew the institution. He was already one of the highest-energy high-achievers that anybody who knew him had ever met. So he got to work. And he’s spent six years delivering a dizzying list of accomplishments.

“If you’ve heard about Cory Gardner’s early days, you know this high-speed “can-do” attitude is nothing new.

“Case in point: One evening when Cory was a boy, he and his friends got tired of their hoop sessions ending at sundown, because the public basketball court lacked sufficient lighting.

“The group of friends considered how to remedy this. Cory’s dad happened to be a town councilman. So a little government relations took place around the dinner table.

“Well, no Senator who Cory’s ever pressed for a vote will be surprised to hear that the lighting infrastructure was soon adjusted, and the kids could take their pick-up games into primetime. 

“So young Cory was no stranger to persistence, or to public service.

“But it was in high school that he scored an opportunity to taste a level beyond Yuma’s local government.

“He won admission to the U.S. Senate Youth Program. It’s a scholarship that brings promising students from around the country to these halls for a quick immersion experience.

“Teenaged Cory Gardner liked the looks of this place. He made a mental note. By the way, to this day, Cory, along with his fellow alumna Senator Collins, continue to make sure that special experience is paid forward.

“It didn’t take Cory long to come back and begin strolling these hallways for real. After earning honors at Colorado State and a law degree from CU Boulder, he wound up working for our former colleague Senator Wayne Allard -- and rising quickly through the ranks.

“In short order, he developed a reputation as a highly effective advocate for Coloradans.

“In fact he was so well-liked, so effective, and so thoroughly the proud son of Yuma that folks started to wonder if it wasn’t time for Cory to put his own name on a door somewhere.

“So it wasn’t long before the men and women of Colorado’s state House District 63 found out firsthand what happens when you hire Cory Gardner to fight on your behalf: You get results. Big time.

“Not much later, his neighbors then gave Cory a new assignment here in Congress. Again, Congressman Gardner didn’t just meet the bar, as one out of 435.

“He excelled. A powerful, energetic voice on the most consequential issues. He brought home one win after another where it mattered.


“It didn’t take long before another promotion came calling. And so, appropriately enough, the Senate’s freshman class of 2014 included a new member from the land of “14ers” — what Coloradans call their peaks higher than 14,000 feet.

“Cory was already accustomed to altitude. So here in this ‘upper chamber,’ Senator Gardner hit the ground sprinting.

“I believe he’s authored 11 standalone bills that have been signed into law in just six years.

“Without Cory’s tireless work -- and his travels to the four corners of Colorado and beyond -- the biggest conservation bill in a generation, the Great American Outdoors Act, would not be law.

“There’s been his key role in the Supreme Court confirmation of fellow Coloradan Neil Gorsuch… His mission to move the Bureau of Land Management to Grand Junction…

“And, of course, the nuts-and-bolts constituent work that Cory and his staff are famous for mastering.

“This not-so-junior Senator has used Colorado values to improve Washington, and Washington influence to advance his home state.

“He dived headfirst into his leadership role on the East Asia Subcommittee on Foreign Relations. His work with regional allies helped drive the Senate to approve meaningful sanctions against North Korea.

“And the impact of the Asia Reassurance Initiative should echo long after all of us here today have left the scene.

“The litany of Cory’s work just does not end.

“There’s the new, nationwide, three-digit suicide prevention hotline.

“There’s the fact that this freshman not only scrapped over a national defense issue with our late colleague Chairman John McCain — talk about fearless — but that he somehow emerged mostly unscathed, and with a win on space launch vehicles to show for it.

“But like I said, one of the best aspects of Cory’s operation is his almost obsessive focus on looking out for his people — one family, one story at a time.

“That’s why it’s impossible to give a speech on Senator Gardner without working your way to another name: Don Stratton.

“When Don was first met with our colleague, the 95-year-old Navy veteran was living with his wife in Colorado Springs.

“But the story began 76 years earlier, when he was among the fortunate few sailors to survive the bombing of the U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor.

“At 19, Don had survived severe burns, but insisted on returning to combat with the fleet. After the war, he raised a family and wrote a book about his experiences.

“But Don’s request to Senator Gardner wasn’t anything for himself. It concerned a comrade who’d saved his life that day 79 years ago this very week.

“At risk to himself, a sailor named Joe George had literally thrown the lifeline that brought Don and five of shipmates to safety. But Joe’s lifesaving efforts had gone unrecognized before his death.

“For years, Don didn’t even know who had saved him. So once he found out, Don Stratton made it his mission to ensure our nation formalized our gratitude for his guardian angel.

“Well, let’s just say the Strattons picked the right state to retire in. Colorado’s junior Senator was on the case. 

“Cory and his staff waded through tangles of bureaucracy. They appealed decisions all the way to the Secretary of Defense. And you better believe they secured that Bronze Star for Petty Officer First Class Joe George -- with the V device for valor, to boot.

“Don passed away earlier this year. By all accounts, he and his family had come to regard Senator Gardner not just an incredible advocate, but a true friend.


“Now in fairness, this same eagerness and almost maniacal problem-solving can also get Cory in the occasional pickle.

“I remembered recently that, just months after the Senator was sworn in, he and I were on a CODEL together in the Middle East.

“I think the itinerary was something like eight countries in six days.

“At one point, we were waiting to meet with a foreign leader.

“As everyone else was just waiting patiently in this grand palace, Cory spots what looks like a stray piece of paper lying on the floor.

“Earnestly thinking he should leave the place better than he found it, Cory bends over and picks up the trash.

“Except it wasn’t trash.

“Just then, the monarch rolls in with a color guard…

A color guard that is looking anxiously for the floor marker that was supposed to indicate where to stop marching.

“Luckily the only diplomatic fall-out was a good laugh. 

“Actually, good laughs tend to follow Cory in his wake. Our colleague finds humor in the everyday like few can, and shares it freely.

“I understand one of his favorite stories concerns a chat in the well with yours truly, and former Senator Hatch. Cory was filling me in on the efforts to legalize marijuana in states like his. Orrin comes by, and sensing an ally, I pulled him in: ‘Orrin, is this true? What the heck is going on out West?’

“Without missing a beat, our friend from Utah, a member of the LDS church, shook his head sadly and said: ‘First, it was tea. Then, coffee. And now this!

“Cory’s version of this story comes complete with his finest Hatch and McConnell impersonations. Believe me, he’s got the voices down pat.


“For six years, Coloradans have been represented by this remarkable person, who lives and works with relentless focus and infectious joy. Globe-trotting diplomacy. A thick stack of signature bills signed into law. And generational accomplishments that were only possible because he was here.

“As Cory likes to say himself: ‘Not bad for a boy from Yuma, Colorado!’

“We know what he means. But I have to observe that Cory’s roots and his accomplishments are not in conflict. Quite the contrary. It is only because Cory Gardner is exactly who he is... that he is able to do what he does.

“Cory, everyone knows darn well your transition is no quote-unquote “retirement.” This is a brief pause between great chapters.

“I bet Jaime will call it a victory if she, Alyson, Thatcher, and Caitlyn can just get you to sit still and stay home through the holidays!

“But we all know it will take about five minutes before you’ve found a dozen new ways to keep doing big things, winning victories on behalf of others, and paying forward the ways in which you’ve been blessed.

“Colorado and your country aren’t finished with you yet, Senator. Not by a long shot.

“So thank you for everything. We’ll miss you badly around here. But we can’t wait to see what course you chart next.”

Related Issues: Tributes