Hickenlooper virtual town hall 4-14-21

U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, a Colorado Democrat, answers questions during a virtual town hall on Wednesday, April 14, 2021.

U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper said he supports statehood for the District of Columbia and wants to give the Senate's "traditional system" a chance to work before calling for an end to the filibuster during a virtual town hall the Colorado Democrat held online Wednesday night.

Hickenlooper fielded more than a dozen questions during the hour-long meeting, which streamed on Facebook, YouTube and the lawmaker's official website. A spokesman said at least 1,000 people participated in the event and submitted more than 1,500 questions.

It was Hickenlooper's first town hall meeting, taking place 101 days after the former governor and Denver mayor was sworn in as Colorado's junior senator in January.

"What I have been trying to do for these first three months in Washington is really get my arms around process and people and how we are going to make a difference on all these issues, so many issues that are critical in nature," Hickenlooper said.

"I'm an optimist. We've got a long way to go, but I'm very excited to get there and recognize that my success — our success — is really dependent on keeping in touch with all of you."

Calling himself an optimist, Hickenlooper said he's had "meaningful" conversations with at least 20 Republican senators and is hopeful that building strong relationships across the aisle can lead to a more functional Senate.

As for reforming the filibuster, a legislative maneuver that requires a 60-vote supermajority to advance most legislation, Hickenlooper said he isn't ready to abandon his approach just yet.

"We'll see, there's a lot of possibilities of adjusting the filibuster. There are a number of people who are talking about evolving back into the way it used to be, which is a talking filibuster and allowing people to hold the floor, but they've got to keep talking."

Hickenlooper added: "I'm not crazy about the way both parties oftentimes try to keep all the members, all the senators from their party in lockstep, and everyone votes 'no' or everyone votes 'yes.'"

Declaring his support for recently introduced legislation to make Washington, D.C., the 51st state, he said, "There's over 700,000 people that have no representation to speak of. There are a couple states in the United States right now that are smaller. We'll see where this goes, but I've signed on as one of the supporters of this bill."

Added Hickenlooper: "It's become this partisan issue. We'll try to depolarize it if we can."

Other topics ranged from legislation on climate change and infrastructure to gun violence and the future of Space Command.

“Climate change is the existential threat of our time," Hickenlooper said. "Most experts think we have 10, 11 years, maybe 12 years on the outside to start making a dramatic difference in how we deal with emissions."

Hickenlooper said he continues to support establishing a price on carbon as an incentive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — and is encouraged that moderate Republicans in the Senate sound like they're ready to talk turkey about the policy.

"To a large extent, having a price on carbon is not going to solve climate change by itself, but it is one of those systems where once it is in place, other things will fall equally into place," Hickenlooper said.

Asked what qualifies as infrastructure — in an implicit rebuke of Republican responses to the Biden administration's infrastructure proposal — Hickenlooper said the concept covers broadband and public health facilities, in addition to the more traditional roads and bridges.

President Joe Biden and his advisers "want to make sure in the process of building this infrastructure they are turbo-charging our economy," he said.

"I don't think it matters so much whether you call it infrastructure or not. I think in almost every case I’ve been looking at it as those things that are necessary and on which we can build a strong, equitable economy. In other words, make sure we address the inequity we saw all too clearly during the pandemic."

Noting that as governor he attended nearly two dozen funerals for Coloradans killed by gun violence, Hickenlooper said that last month's shooting at a Boulder King Soopers "was such a shock," prompting a flashback to earlier mass shootings.

"I felt a more intense sadness than I ever could remember," he said.

Hickenlooper compared attempts to curb gun violence to the "blocking and tackling" that took place over decades to make automobile travel safer.

"That's a concerted national effort. It's investments, it's people really putting a strong focus on specific aspects of highway safety," he said, adding that it could take a similar steady approach with gun safety.

A bill to require universal background checks, he said, "is one of those things that shouldn't be partisan. It just helps us keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. And we'll get it done in the Senate — you watch."

Hickenlooper said he's been working with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet to "ensure an objective, fair system was carried out" when President Donald Trump overruled a recommendation to locate Space Command headquarters in Colorado Springs, instead handing it in the closing days of his administration to Huntsville, Alabama.

“By every account I’ve heard, Donald Trump had his finger on the scale," Hickenlooper said, noting that a "nudge" from a president can have an outsized effect. Hickenlooper said he's waiting to see the framework and scores used to decide where the headquarters would land but "that hasn't happened yet."

"We will have a chance in the next two years to go over the process and make sure it was done fairly," he said.

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