Transcript: Sen. Cory Gardner on "Face the Nation," March 11, 2018

President Trump's imposition of new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports this week caused a split in the Republican Party, with critics calling the tariffs protectionist and ultimately harmful to American workers. The president said he is imposing the levies to bolster American production of steel and aluminum, and his administration dismissed concerns over possible price hikes for consumers.

Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado, joined us to discuss the prospect of talks with North Korea, his position on the new tariffs and where the GOP is on trade. 

The following is a transcript of the interview with Gardner that aired Sunday, March 11, 2018, on "Face the Nation."  

MARGARET BRENNAN: We're joined now by Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, a leading Republican voice in Congress on North Korea policy and he joins us from his family's farm equipment business in Yuma, Colorado, which is -- you got tractor parts behind you there, sir.

SEN. CORY GARDNER: We got a lot of stuff that I used to stock in here a long, long time ago.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I want to ask you on the news of the moment. You and five other Republican senators sent a letter to the administration asking them to outline their North Korea strategy. You just heard the CIA director outline his thoughts here. Did you hear the strategy you were asking for?

SEN. CORY GARDNER: Well I think what I heard him say is, is right, that we have, have found ourselves in this position because of maximum pressure doctrine turning away from the failed doctrine of strategic patience and are now really crippling what was left of the North Korean economy. But what we have to hear more of is how we are going to get to those concrete verifiable steps toward denuclearization before this meeting occurs. I've talked a lot about the diplomatic runway, the length we have left on the diplomatic runway. Ways we can work with North Korea, work with China who's enabled North Korea in many cases to make sure that we're putting maximum pressure on them, but we have to have those steps, those real concrete steps before this meeting occurs, because after this meeting, there's going to be very little left of that diplomatic runway.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well -- so those four steps that the director said this administration has guaranteed that have gone farther than past administrations in his claim. Those are not enough for you?

SEN. CORY GARDNER: If you go back to 1994 to the agreed framework, you go back to 2005, North Korea has made a lot of promises, and they have reneged on every single one of those promises. And so what we have to do is to, to assure that we're in a different position than we were back in '94, back in 2005, back in 2007 is to see concrete steps --

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you want a natural freeze of the nuclear program before talks start.

SEN. CORY GARDNER: Well I'd like to see some concrete steps, more than just a cessation of testing because you can still do computer modeling. Look, the United States is making advances every day on our nuclear program and we're not testing nuclear missiles and nuclear weapons each day, but we're still making advancements. And so what we need to see is North Korea actually start living up to some of the agreements, the agreements that they have already made, that they said they would to the United States decades ago.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You are also one of about 100 Republicans who have urged the president to reconsider these tariffs on steel and aluminum he signed off on this week. He's not changing his mind. So what kind of legislative work around are you proposing?

SEN. CORY GARDNER Well we have some legislative tools at our disposal. The question is of course how do we get that to the president for his signature. Our Founders set up a, a system where the president has to agree with legislation that comes out of Congress. There are ways that we can narrow the framework that the president is using to increase or, or levy those tariffs. There are things that we can do. But I think most importantly is this a recognition that we agree on fair trade deals, that we agree that we want the United States treated in a way that we're treating other nations and if we can do better than we should do better. But I'm concerned that a, a tariff can result in a tax on the very same people that we're trying to help in this economy, that they could actually be hurt instead of being helped by this action. So, let's work and spend the next few weeks trying to figure out exactly how narrowly tailored these tariffs can be, go after the bad actors. If that's China, then let's make sure that we hold them accountable and responsible.

But I spoke with the CEO of EVRAZ steel mill in Colorado, Conrad Winkler. We talked a little bit about just the impact that NAFTA would have on them if we were to withdraw doubled with the steel tariff. He's very grateful that Canada has been removed from the steel tariffs. Who else is going to be removed from this process? We'll wait and see. But I think there's a lot of conversations that we need to have with this White House to make sure that the economic benefit outweighs economic harm of such tariff actions.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Would you ask for a carve-out for countries that have a security relationship with the United States like South Korea, Japan?

SEN. CORY GARDNER: I think it's incredibly important that we have our allies standing with us not just on the economy, but on security matters. And if you look at the North Korea situation, what South Korea is dealing with, what Japan is dealing with. And that's why a lot of the times when I talk about North Korea I talk about the trilateral relationship between Japan, South Korea and the United States. This isn't just the United States alone, it's not just South Korea alone. This is an important relationship that we have to get right. So, if Japan is cheating us then let's- let's get that fixed, but right now what we ought to be focusing on is how we can get this right for the economy, open up new opportunities to trade not fewer. Let's hold the responsible actors like China responsible for their actions --


SEN. CORY GARDNER: -- and not bring our friends into a way that could cause harm.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Last night at a Pennsylvania rally, President Trump said Ronald Reagan was not great on trade. Is the Republican agenda still pro free trade?

SEN. CORY GARDNER: You know absolutely there is -- I think everyone in Congress agrees that opening up new markets is better for the United States --

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you disagree with the president?

SEN. CORY GARDNER: The president's not wrong when he says- the president is not wrong when he says that we need fair deals. If somebody is taking advantage of us if, if our markets are open and nobody has -- and they're not paying tariffs to get into this country, but yet we turn around and have to pay tariffs to get into their country, then something's wrong with that. I think the American people understand that. But where we're going to get this wrong is if we start into a trade war that results in our allies penalizing us, increasing costs of consumer goods, making it more difficult for the American people to afford goods that they commonly buy at the grocery store. I'm particularly concerned about the impact this could have on agriculture because agriculture is really going to be on the frontlines --


SEN. CORY GARDNER: -- of any kind of a trade retaliation that we see. And I'm in a, in a big ag state right here where most of our top 10 exports are agriculture. So we have to get this right. We have to narrowly tailor this to the bad actors. I do believe that in general, tariffs are a tax on the American people and the people who are going to be harmed by this are the very people who are- who are trying to help so much that the people have struggled far too long over the past decade that haven't seen a wage increase in years.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to quickly ask you about guns. Texas Senator John Cornyn has a bill proposing strengthening the background check system. Is it correct that you have put a hold on this?

SEN. CORY GARDNER: I think there are some of us who are talking about due process issues in the bill and legislation. I've talked to Senator Cornyn and I hope that Senator Cornyn will realize that we need to work this due process matter out. This isn't a issue of whether you like this or not, it's a question of constitutional rights and protecting the people of this country, protecting them from harm --

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you are blocking the bill for now?

SEN. CORY GARDNER: -- and, and making sure we're protecting people from harm and making sure that we get this right and if there's a constitutional issue at, at stake then that should be worked out.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But to clarify from your answer there. Are you blocking this bill from the floor?

SEN. CORY GARDNER: This bill can come to the floor and we will continue to work through an amendment process and I hope that we can fix those amendments.

MARGARET BRENNAN: After you fix this bill you will allow it to go to the floor but not before this?

SEN. CORY GARDNER: Well I think if we can have an, an amendment process that works to fix due process concerns real constitutional issues, then I hope that's something that we can do. I hope that people who support this bill are interested, like all of us, in making sure we're protecting the American people from harm.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Senator Gardner, thank you very much for joining "Face the Nation."

SEN. GARDNER: Thanks for having me. Thank you.