Exclusive: Sen. John Hickenlooper talks legislative agenda in Senate during Biden administration

John Hickenlooper 2019
Posted at 5:28 PM, Jan 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-22 19:28:48-05

DENVER — The last few weeks have been hard to process. Between the insurrection on Capitol Hill, an unprecedented military presence in Washington, D.C. leading up to and during President Biden’s inauguration, and the national death toll from COVID-19 exceeding 400,000, America has a long road to go to recovery.

Colorado’s Junior Democratic Senator, John Hickenlooper, was on Capitol Hill Jan. 6, when a mob incited by President Trump stormed Congress, forcing the Capitol into lockdown, over baseless allegations of voter fraud.

"That’s one of the worst things I’ve seen happen to this country in my lifetime, where the entire world was fixated on a nation torn by chaos,” Hickenlooper said.

It’s no secret that Americans are divided on the issues, with multiple polls showing nominal difference in support for President Trump’s impeachment, his overall approval, and the new administration — not to mention the anger brewing over a lack of progress in Washington.

But in 2011, Hickenlooper had to take on a similar state of division here in Colorado. The state legislature was divided among Democrats and Republicans, and the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements were gaining steam.

Even with an even split in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Hickenlooper says now is the time to work together to make a stronger country.

“I’ve been criticized as being ‘naïve’ for getting Republicans to work on some of these issues like COVID-19 and regenerating our economy, in terms of addressing climate changes in ways that actually creates jobs.”

While the senator says he is optimistic about working with the other side of the aisle on most of the big issues, he made it clear there has to be a baseline for truth.

Colorado’s newest Republican Congresswoman, Rep. Lauren Boebert, has flirted with the Qanon conspiracy theory that suggests Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles are running the country from the so-called “deep state”.

She’s been criticized recently for pushing false claims about the election and fake ballots in states like Arizona and Pennsylvania, where President Biden won by a narrow margin.

Hickenlooper says attacking her won’t solve anything but stressed the onus is on people like her to come back to reality.

“This country, if we’re going to survive — and we’re one of the best examples of a long-surviving democracy on this world, in the history of civilization — and it’s predicated on truth, that we all do our best and realize that we’re not perfect humans but we all work to get to the truth," Hickenlooper said. "…If she is really unwilling to do that and is going to go out and embrace these phantasmal, hallucinogenic stories that clearly have no basis in fact, then I don’t see how we’re going to be able to work together. Because you have to have some level of trust and you have to agree on a set of facts to make progress.”

Rep. Boebert has repeatedly responded to her critics, even tweeting recently, “Republicans have loads of evidence and are banned from social media if we talk about it [election fraud]. Democrats are allowed to aimlessly spread garbage conspiracy theories all day. Who’s tired of the double standard?”

Out of the countless lawsuits filed in state and federal courts regarding alleged election fraud in key swing states that went for Biden, none have been successful and most were tossed. Even the U.S. Supreme Court chose to not hear arguments regarding some of the suits brought to it.

As for lawmakers on the left, there’s an ideological battle going on in the Democratic Party over major issues like expanding healthcare.

During the primaries, progressive candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren proposed “Medicare for All”, making a public option the default health care system. They even went as far as to support abolishing private health insurance companies.

Meanwhile, moderates like Pete Buttigieg proposed Medicare for all… who want it; basically, the plan is to expand Medicare while keeping private health insurance as an option.

While governor of Colorado in 2016, Hickenlooper said he did not support a ballot initiative to create a universal healthcare system in the state but says one at the national level is possible.

“I think Coloradans want universal coverage … and I think there are a lot of opinions on how we’re going to get there” he said. “I think that’s going to take a public option, that President Biden has talked about frequently, and I think it’s going to take working with the doctors, and the insurance companies, and the hospitals, and the pharmaceutical companies. … Everyone’s going to have to be at the table if we’re going to control costs; everyone is going to have to give up a little.”

But when asked about his stance on a Green New Deal, a radical overhaul of the country’s energy grid to run on renewable energy, the senator dug in his heels, citing the urgency of anthropogenic climate change.

“We can create a lot more jobs than we’re going to lose by addressing climate change head on. … We don’t have a lot of time to negotiate and go back and forth. … I’ve already had discussions about this with a number of Republican senators.”

One issue a majority of Americans are not divided over is marijuana legalization.

a Gallup poll taken in November shows nearly 70% of Americans support legalizing or decriminalizing recreational marijuana use.

That’s a topic that caught the whole country’s attention right here in Colorado, when voters approved amendment 64 in 2012.

While then-Gov. Hickenlooper was hesitant about enacting it, he eventually warmed up to recreational legalization, and now says Congress should follow suit.

“We didn’t give in to the pro-marijuana groups” he said. “We created a system of regulation that was strict, every bit as strict as we have for alcohol, maybe even some ways stricter," Hickenlooper said. "We stopped sending millions of kids to prison, which is what we’d been doing, and we saved the cost of incarcerating those kids, we saved the cost of taking their lives away from them in many ways. We saved the cost of having all of those police officers and pursuing all of these victimless crimes. We used to send kids to prison for third-time possession of marijuana … sending kids to prison for 10 years. How can that make sense?”

Sen. Hickenlooper says between taking the strain off of the banks and allowing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to look more closely into the issue, it will save time, money, and possibly even lives. If anything, he emphasized, marijuana should be decriminalized.

In 2020, Colorado marked a milestone in marijuana sales with more than $2 billion in sales.

Finally, some progressives and Democrats have been considering more drastic steps in Congress to get a progressive agenda accomplished. One is the removal of the filibuster, a legislative procedure to block or delay bills in the Senate. The other is to appoint new Supreme Court justices, which has provoked a lot of discussion since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who was replaced by a conservative and controversial justice, Amy Coney Barrett.

Ginsburg’s last request to the Senate was the next justice not be nominated and confirmed until after the presidential election, but the Republican Party appointed and confirmed her anyway, giving conservatives a majority on the nation’s high bench.

When asked if he would support either initiative, Sen. Hickenlooper said neither was necessary. “In my experience, the people involved in legislation … are what make the real difference. We should work as hard as we can to make sure the system works. It’s been there for decades and decades and decades. Maybe I’m naïve, but I think we can make the current system work. The challenge is how do we make it work?”

“You could require senators to hold a bill back, you could actually require them to be on the floor day after day and put in the time and the work to show their commitment to it, which hasn’t been done in a while. Those kinds of things are stepping stones,” the senator added.

“Obviously, we have a lot of serious challenges facing this country," Hickenlooper said. "We don’t have the luxury of sitting back and taking forever. But I do think we owe it to the system, to the history of this democracy, that we do everything we can to give it every chance to succeed.”