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In the first debate for his reelection bid, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado gave a lengthy non-answer when asked about the COVID-19 outbreak at a meatpacking plant whose parent company donated more to Gardner’s campaigns than all but one other member of Congress.

Insider was the first to report on Gardner’s ties to JBS meatpacking — the largest meatpacking company in the world — whose plant in Greely, Colorado, was hit by over 280 coronavirus cases in April. 

“I worked very closely with the State of Colorado and Governor [Jared] Polis, and in fact, if you look at the record, you will see that Governor Polis said that any employee at JBS who wants a test can get a test. That’s not me saying it, that’s not the news saying it, that’s Governor Polis saying there were tests for employees if they wanted them,” Gardner said during the final Colorado Senate debate on Tuesday.

Since his reelection campaign in 2012, Gardner has pulled in $24,000 from the company’s political action committee. Among members of Congress he has received either the most or the second most in total donations from the PAC every time he has run for reelection.

In the 2020 election cycle, only Republican Rep. Josh Winegarner of Texas got more in JBS PAC money than Gardner.

The company’s majority owners, Joesley and Wesley Batista of Brazil, are in legal trouble, with JBS meatpacking entering into multiple plea agreements Wednesday morning that resulted in a $256 million fine for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and another $25 million penalty from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Gardner was asked about the company’s PAC donations to his campaign and if any COVID-19 tests had actually been delivered to the plant as promised. He did not explicitly state whether the tests ever arrived, but the local union has been adamant that the tests never made it to the plant.

Gardner also didn’t condemn JBS’ practices, instead calling the workers “heroes,” as he’s done before.

One of the most vulnerable Republican senators this fall, Gardner did not provide a comment for Insider’s initial story on JBS and the outbreak, but during the debate repeated a line he’s used before to distance himself from the outbreak. This, despite the fact that he and Vice President Mike Pence bragged in April about expedited testing coming to the plant from the Trump administration.

In a comment to Insider, a spokesman for JBS listed a series of COVID-19 precautions being taken following the outbreak, but actual coronavirus tests were not on that list.

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