Two of the Trump administration’s most powerful and embattled officials will be speaking Friday at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, as the 2018 Western Conservative Summit kicks off with a wide variety of issues before attendees — and a wide variety of viewpoints on how to address them.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a lightning rod in Colorado’s marijuana industry who is also at odds with President Donald Trump, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who’s facing a barrage of criticism for his leadership and spending decisions, are headlining the event.
Sure to be at the forefront at the two-day meeting — which calls itself the largest gathering of conservatives outside Washington, D.C. — are cannabis, immigration and guns.
“This weekend Denver, Colo., is the center of the conservative universe,” said Jeff Hunt, leader of the Centennial Institute, a Colorado Christian University think tank that organizes the annual conference.
The theme of this year’s event is “Fortifying Freedom.”
“When we talk about fortifying freedom, we are talking about fortifying it from government intervention, but we are also talking about virtues and values,” Hunt said. He highlighted that the summit will be celebrating Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of a Lakewood baker who refused to make a gay couple a wedding cake.
Sessions takes the stage Friday afternoon, and his visit to the Mile High City comes as his friction with Trump shows no signs of letting up. The president has been hounding Sessions over his decision to recuse himself from an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“The Russian Witch Hunt Hoax continues, all because Jeff Sessions didn’t tell me he was going to recuse himself. … I would have quickly picked someone else,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “So much time and money wasted, so many lives ruined … and Sessions knew better than most that there was No Collusion!”
The Russian Witch Hunt Hoax continues, all because Jeff Sessions didn’t tell me he was going to recuse himself…I would have quickly picked someone else. So much time and money wasted, so many lives ruined…and Sessions knew better than most that there was No Collusion!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2018
Sessions, a fierce marijuana critic, has also butted heads with Colorado Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner over cannabis, a split that’s sure to be on display, with both men appearing at the summit.
(A rally in protest of Sessions’ appearance and marijuana stances, organized by the cannabis industry and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, is planned for Friday afternoon in Denver.)
Also speaking Friday will be Pruitt, who is facing mounting pressure over his leadership of the agency and use of taxpayer dollars — namely his spending on travel and amenities.
Despite the tumult swirling around Sessions and Pruitt, Hunt says he is still pleased they are coming.
“We’re happy to have them,” he said.
The gathering comes as Republicans are battling to keep control of the U.S. House and Senate — a topic that Dick Wadhams, a political strategist and former Colorado Republican Party chairman, expects to be a focus of discussion.
Wadhams thinks the summit comes as conservatives have been pleased with the Trump administration’s actions on judicial appointments, taxes and deregulation. At last year’s summit, the president hadn’t reached many of his goals.
“We’re getting a better sense of the progress that’s been made by the Trump administration,” he said.
A host of other big-name Republicans are on the speaking roster, including National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch, U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Windsor, and 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler.
All four GOP candidates for Colorado governor will also be making appearances.
For more information on who’s speaking at the Western Conservative Summit and how to attend, go to ccu.edu/centennial/western-conservative-summit.
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This article was originally featured on The Denver Post.