Cory Gardner does not mind the spotlight, as long as there is a reason for it.

"Part of my job is to explain in detail how the process works in Washington, not in short doses for social media, but really explain what we are doing and why," said the senator from Colorado, in Cleveland with his 13-year-old daughter to address the Cuyahoga County Republicans' Lincoln Day dinner.

"Other kids go to the beach for spring break, my kid goes to Cleveland," he joked, explaining their plans to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the more historic parts of Cleveland's downtown and one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, Ohio City.

Onstage at the annual fundraiser last Thursday, he took a more serious turn, describing in great detail "the process" in both chambers of Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare and hand President Trump something to sign.

"He was really incredible. You could hear a pin drop as he explained everything," said Robert Frost, county GOP chairman.

Gardner's visit was the idea of Ohio Sen. Rob Portman when a scheduling conflict required him to be elsewhere during the county's biggest fundraiser of the year.

"I can see why he suggested him," Frost said of Portman's recommendation of Gardner. "He is down-to-earth, articulate and has a wide grasp of the issues burning on Capitol Hill."

The event sold out immediately, Frost added, when Gardner's appearance was announced.

Obamacare has placed Gardner in the spotlight in a different way with his constituents, who worry about losing their health insurance if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

He joined several other Republican senators in signing a letter of concern, stating that the initial GOP plan didn't adequately cover Medicaid recipients in states such as Colorado that voted to expand Medicaid under the ACA.

"Everyone in the media has portrayed the repeal of Obamacare as this chaotic, upside-down, cloak-and-dagger soap opera," Frost said. "What we learned from Gardner is that, when it comes to process, well, process is messy and complicated, but that is what it is supposed to be.

"Funny how you forget that after eight years of not following regular order," a reference to the expansive use of executive orders by the Obama administration.

Eight years ago, the incredibly complex ACA legislation went straight from the House leadership's offices to the House floor for a vote, Gardner said. "There was no debate, there was no discussion, it was crammed down the throat of Congress to be voted on."

Gardner, who wasn't part of the GOP electoral sweeps that seized the House majority in 2010 and the Senate's in 2014, said Republicans have chosen to return to "regular order" in enacting legislation in Congress.

What exactly does that mean? Simply put, the House and the Senate will abide by traditional rules, precedents and customs that constitute an orderly, deliberative policymaking process.

"We wanted the process to work again," he said. "Sometimes we have been more successful than others."

Obamacare's proposed repeal and replacement, he said, is a prime example of how, when the process is open, you have debate in committees and on the floor of both chambers. "You have give and take. Yes, it gets a little messy, but you start with a process that may not be perfect [and] you work through ... to get people to buy in to the bill.

"Honestly, you make the bill better through that debate. That is why we are having a debate. In fact, that is what Congress should be doing. It's supposed to be a little messy and a little prickly, that's how you get to a better bill."

Gardner said some of the media coverage sounds as if many analysts would prefer having someone come down from a mountaintop and deliver healthcare commandments. "That's not how it works in Congress," he said. "[There is] trading back and forth of ideas. No one just writes a bill and then everyone goes hook, line and sinker for it."

He hopes the final bill includes input from Democrats because, he said, they "are complicit in holding Americans subject to the Affordable Care Act, a failing, collapsing policy."

Gardner admits to being frustrated by the media coverage. "We could use a little more focus on putting something in place that is better than the Affordable Care Act. Instead, you have the sort of palace-intrigue questions on process that miss the broader point of continuing to subject the American people to Obamacare."

Son of Yuma

Gardner, 42, is molded by his family's deep roots in Colorado's Great Plains and the small town that brought that family to life on the American frontier.

The father of three lives in the same home, in the same small town of Yuma, that has housed his family for generations.

A devout preservationist when it comes to American history in all forms, his office is filled with maps and century-old photos of his family and its tractor business.

His interest in politics began early, when his father sat on the town council. He began as a Democrat, just like his dad.

He went off to college to become a lawyer and wound up in Washington as a Republican, working for the National Corn Growers Trade Association, a job he said felt natural because of his love of history, agriculture and politics.

Gardner is disarmingly optimistic, which his Democratic critics dismiss as a tactic. But it is hard to argue that it's not genuine when it is so relentlessly part of every conversation. He sounds authentically happy about his life, his family and his role in governing.

His own political career began as an appointment to Colorado's House of Representatives in 2005, followed by election to a full term in 2006. After winning a U.S. House seat in 2010's GOP wave, he rode another wave to unseat incumbent Colorado Democrat Mark Udall for the Senate in 2010.

Greatest threat

The interview with Gardner came in the midst of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's Asia tour, during which Tillerson urged China to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

Many analysts consider that to be the biggest security threat facing the Trump administration.

Gardner, who met with Tillerson right before the Asia trip, expects the administration to continuously focus on North Korea.

"We must persuade China to take a more vigorous role in pressuring and restraining their neighbor," he said.

As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and chair of its East Asia subcommittee, Gardner is focused on North Korea. Last year, he sponsored a sanctions bill that unanimously passed the committee, which eventually led then-President Obama to sign the North Korea Sanctions Policy and Enhancement Act.

It's the rare bill that received overwhelming bipartisan support, passing the Senate 96-0 and the House of Representatives 408-2.

"The bill imposes mandatory sanctions on individuals who contribute to North Korea's nuclear program and proliferation activities, including cyberattacks and cybercriminals," Gardner explained.

Unfortunately, North Korea also is an example of bipartisan failure over several decades, he said. "As a result, we have a mad man leading the regime, a regime that has now reached significant capabilities."

He said his bill "was the first ever commanding mandatory investigations on North Korea that includes mandatory sanctions on the Chinese or any entity around the globe that violates our sanctions."

Gardner is happy with the bill because, he said, it has teeth. "The real bite of the law comes from secondary sanctions, which are mandatory ... so if a Chinese company violates our sanctions, we would then be required by law to ... put a sanction on that Chinese entity.

"It is the only way we are going to change the behavior of North Korea. It cannot be done by the United States alone. It is going to be by a coalition of the United States, Japan, South Korea and China, because China controls so much of North Korea's economy."

How did this become his passion?

It began when he was elected to the Senate in 2014 and placed on the Foreign Relations Committee.

"Trade issues and the Asia-Pacific really mean a lot to my home state of Colorado because of its location in the west and proximity to the Pacific," he said.

When he looked at the East Asia subcommittee, he thought most senators were concerned with the Middle East: "Everyone paying attention to Iran, Iraq and Syria, no one is paying attention to the one regime that is actually detonating nuclear bombs.

"Iran is not detonating now — they are doing some crazy things, don't get me wrong, but they are not detonating nuclear bombs today. North Korea is."

He believes the Trump administration zeroed in on just that threat when it broke with diplomatic efforts to talk North Korea out of a nuclear confrontation, following Tillerson's Asia trip.

In response, North Korean officials held a bizarre news conference in China, blaming a potential nuclear war on the United States and pledging to continue nuclear testing as a self-defense measure.

North Korea has accumulated a substantial nuclear stockpile, and experts agree it is dangerously close to being able to strike not only U.S. allies in Asia, but the U.S. mainland.

Gardner believes the Trump administration recognizes U.S. policy failures of the last decade regarding North Korea and "that China cannot be left off the hook when it comes to its obligations to denuclearize the regime."

"We have to continue to build our relationship with South Korea and Japan and push China to do more and to live up to expectations of a great power," he said.

China controls 90 percent of North Korea's economy, he said, and could shut off that nation's global-market access. "I think we also have to entertain the possibility of a global embargo in North Korea, just like we did on Iran.

"This growing aggression must be met with a tough policy response from the United States, including new sanctions, show-of-force exercises in the region and we must strengthen our alliances in the region."

Gardner said he believes that U.S. allies must know that Washington will stand with them against North Korean threats, and he looks forward to working with the Trump administration on its next steps.