Hickenlooper, Still Pushing For Fed Minimum Wage Hike, Isn’t Ready To Ditch The Filibuster Yet

March 12, 2021
Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo.Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo.Alex Brandon/AP
Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021, on the fifth day of the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.

Democratic Sen. John Hickenlooper said he’ll continue to push to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour after the proposal was removed from the stimulus package recently signed by President Joe Biden.

The increase, from the current $7.25 per hour, would have been phased in over the next four years. Negotiators took it out of the American Rescue Plan bill to win the votes they needed for passage.

Hickenlooper said he backs the increase and believes some Republicans can be persuaded to vote for it.

“We haven't had an increase in the minimum wage for 10 years. I mean, that's outrageous, it's just ridiculous,’’ he told Colorado Matters. “And it's part of why we've got so much homelessness, it's part of why there's social unrest at every level. Once again, you freeze that minimum wage and the people at the top are making a fortune and the people working in many cases, 50 and 60 hours a week can barely make rent.”

Republican support for any Democratic initiative has been rare since Biden was inaugurated and Democrats took narrow control of the Senate. That’s led to calls for an end to the filibuster, the procedure that effectively requires a 60-vote margin to pass legislation. 

Hickenlooper said he isn’t ready to abandon that rule.

“The filibuster is in place to protect a minority. And certainly, if you look back in the last 20 years, it's been a pendulum. Democrats go from the majority to the minority and that protection goes both ways.”

But Hickenlooper believes it’s an option if Republicans won’t compromise.

“There's just too many issues facing this country that have a real sense of urgency. I mean, infrastructure is a big one, it's part of the planned economic recovery, but climate change is another one.”


Interview Highlights:

Will Interior Secretary-designate Deb Haaland keep the Bureau of Land Management headquarters in Grand Junction?

“As we try to redefine what public lands can be and we work more closely with the outdoor recreation community you begin to see that if we redid this properly, it could really, you know, get people excited about public lands in a larger, more expansive way. And I think that serves her purpose, I think it serves the purpose of the BLM and I think it serves the purpose of Colorado, for sure. So she agreed to come out, we're going to go take a trip out to Grand Junction and we've got all the local folks out on the West Slope. I think we'll have a good turnout and we'll give her the full-court press.”

On his vote in February to ban people in the country illegally from receiving stimulus checks

Hickenlooper was one of eight Democrats to vote for the amendment, which was symbolic and didn’t affect the eventual stimulus package. Undocumented immigrants are banned from receiving checks unless they are in a mixed-status household where at least one member has a social security number.

“A narrow vote with all kinds of tricky language is often going to distort what your history shows and what your vision for the future is. And I think I want to make sure that I do everything I can, that we get to a comprehensive reform bill around immigration and that we make sure that we have a pathway to citizenship.”

On who didn’t get enough help in the stimulus package

“There are little nooks and crannies where I've gone around the state like catering companies and that industry is on its back … there's nothing for catering. So I think that's one of those places where, you know, it doesn't have to be a huge amount of money but a few billion dollars would have made a huge difference to an industry that's been all but wiped out.”

Read The Transcript:

Ryan Warner: Senator, thanks for being with us. 

Sen. John Hickenlooper: Of course.

 RW: There's an argument that the economy is already recovering and that the stimulus package is too generous. What are your thoughts?

JH: Well, that's something I disagree with. You know, this is a, a bill that's designed to make sure we get COVID relief, both vaccines and resources to make sure that the vaccines are distributed so we can get through this pandemic, but also designed to make sure we kick start the economy. And I think that's a big part of what we're going to be measured against, you know, as this bill gets rolled out. Some, somebody wiser than myself pointed out that if you're, you know, if you're buying a new pair of shoes and you get shoes that aren't big enough, that are too small, you're, you're stuck. You're not, you're not going to get too much walking. Whereas if they're a little big, you know, you can go forward. And I think that's it. The magic here is that we've got to make sure that this economy has a strong restart. Unlike what happened in 2010 and 2011 where they kept cutting away at this at the stimulus to the point where it did not have the necessary effect.

 RW: What does the package lack that you would have liked to have seen?

JH: I would have wanted of course, a little more support for restaurants. There's $25 billion in here for restaurants. I think that's important. You know, there are little nooks and crannies, where I've gone around the state like catering companies and that industry is on its back. And that the, the money for live music stage relief, there's $1.25 billion of additional resources in this bill for them, but there's nothing for catering. So I think that's one of those places where, you know, it doesn't have to be a huge amount of money, but a few billion dollars would have made a huge difference to an industry that's been all but wiped out, not because of their own problems. I mean, it's just the pandemic hit them and knocked them on their back.

 RW: The Senate took out president Biden's proposed $15 minimum wage, which would have been phased in. Do you support an increase and if so, would you like to see it added to the next economic package? Assuming there is one?

JH: Well, I think it's going to have to be negotiated. I do support a $15 minimum wage, again, rolled out at a different rate, but I think that we're going to have to negotiate almost certainly and try and get Republican support and I'm ever the optimist. I think we will be able to get that support, but you know, we haven't had an increase in the minimum wage for 10 years. I mean, that's outrageous, it's just ridiculous. And it's part of why we've got so much homelessness, it's part of why there's social unrest at every level. Once again, you freeze that minimum wage and the people at the top are making a fortune and the people working in many cases, 50 and 60 hours a week can barely make rent.

 RW: Are you seeing Republicans at all budge on this issue or seem open to discussion when it comes to the minimum wage? 

JH: I think there are a number of Republicans that are open to discussion. We'll see how far the discussion goes. But I think that some of the moderate Republicans, Susan Collins, for example, is open to talking about this and, you know, to a certain extent, if you do the minimum wage properly, what it does is it expands the number of consumers that you have in, in all kinds of industries, not just, you know, going to restaurants and buying clothes, but purchasing automobiles or, you know, TV sets. The purchasing power is going to ripple through the whole economy. And I think that's one of the things that sometimes the business community doesn't recognize and not to say that we don't have to make sure that we roll it out and stage it carefully.

 RW: I want to point out that the Congressional Budget Office has said that raising the minimum wage could cost 1.4 million jobs. Is that a trade-off then that you are comfortable with?

JH: I think that a, I don't understand that. So I've requested and I will get the breakdown of where that came from. I find that hard to understand how so many jobs are gonna, are going to disappear you know, trust, but verify.

 RW: Right. You talked about negotiating with Republicans. One way to kind of do an end run around the GOP is to eliminate the filibuster. And I'll just say that the Democrats margin in the Senate is so thin that the stimulus had to go through a complicated process called reconciliation. And that is because of filibuster rules, which basically requires 60 votes to get anything passed. Is it time to get rid of the filibuster in your mind, Senator Hickenlooper?

JH: Well, it's frustrating and I understand the level of frustration, but the filibuster is in place to protect a minority. And certainly if you look back in the last 20 years, it's been a pendulum. Democrats go from the majority to the minority and that protection goes both ways. And let's see how we do with the infrastructure bill. That's the next big project that's going to be on, on the docket. And let's hope Republicans will be more willing to collaborate and work together with Democrats so that we can show that the filibuster, you know, that you can get 60 votes, that not everything is going to end up with a filibuster. Right.

 RW: I think what I hear you saying is Republicans shape up or ship out or, you know.

JH: I guess you could look at it that way. 

 RW: We'll get rid of, we'll get rid of the filibuster, if you don't collaborate. Is that what I hear you saying?

JH: Well, there are a number of different tools in the toolbox. And I think if after several months we continue not to make any progress. I mean, there's just too many issues facing this country that have a real sense of urgency. I mean, infrastructure is a big one. It's part of the planned economic recovery, but climate change is another one. I mean, we cannot just sit here on our hands and do nothing. We've got to begin moving aggressively and a large percentage of the business community recognizes that and is willing to, to begin making the necessary changes. And in some cases, some sacrifices to move strongly in the direction of addressing climate change.

 RW: There is talk of keeping the filibuster intact, but requiring the senator who calls it to actually stand there and talk until it's resolved, like no food, no breaks, I guess, think of, you know, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” but I want to get quite precise with you. Are you, Senator Hickenlooper, willing to get rid of the filibuster -- if you don't see a genuine compromise among Republicans?

JH: So, and you know this Ryan, I'm not, I don't jump into hypotheticals, there's just too many variations involved and I am being honest and direct with you that I want to give it a few months. I want to work at finding common ground and working towards 60 votes. And if that doesn't work, then we'll have to certainly, that's what they call a talking filibuster. And that's certainly one of the, the options that's out there and you still have a filibuster, but it's a very different creature.

 RW: Only months into your term you've already cast a vote that's been really controversial in Colorado. In February you were one of eight Democrats who voted for an amendment to prevent people in the country illegally from getting stimulus checks. This was essentially a symbolic amendment, but it set off a lot of criticism from immigration advocates. Will you explain your thinking?

JH: Well, I think the key here is that the way that bill was the language was so convoluted that it really distorted, right? Actually, I guess you could say it distorted my entire lifetime of working on this issue. So, you know, when I was mayor we were one of the first cities in America to set up an office of immigrant affairs. While I was governor, we passed legislation to make sure that people would have documentation, could get a driver's license, that the Dreamers could get in-state tuition. You know, I've been working from the very beginning. My, my north star has been consistently and without variation, trying to get comprehensive immigration reform. You know, secure the border but you also make sure that you have a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million or 12 million people that are, that are here without documentation right now,

 RW: This vote then you say is in contrast to your record, were you confused then by the vote or? 

JH: No. What I'm emphasizing here is that a narrow vote with all kinds of tricky language is often going to distort what your history shows and what's your vision for the future is. And I think I want to make sure that I do everything I can, that we get to a comprehensive reform bill around immigration, and that we make sure that we have a pathway to citizenship. I mean, we've been, you tell me, Ryan, we've been kicking the can down the road for over 20 years longer than I've been in public service, back when I was still, you know, running restaurants and washing pint glasses we were having the same discussions. My sense is that this might be the moment to try and find a way that we can bring, you know, again, you're going to need to find ten Republicans to pass something in this Senate.

 RW: I just want to ask you briefly about the president's pick for interior secretary, Deb Haaland. Is she the right choice?

JH: You know, we had a private meeting, it was on Zoom but a private meeting, but we also had a, I was allowed to ask her questions in her confirmation hearing. And I like her. You know, she's a big supporter of outdoor recreation. When I asked her about the BLM headquarters being in Grand Junction, you know, to have the BLM, which has all the land that they control, or almost all the land, is west of the Mississippi. And I think it's a very powerful statement that they have their headquarters or a significant office out here in the West. 

They already have many of the jobs you're out here, but as we try to redefine what public lands can be, and we work more closely with the outdoor recreation community, you begin to see that if we redid this properly, it could really, you know, get people excited about public lands in a larger, more expansive way. And I think that serves her purpose. I think it serves the purpose of the BLM and I think it serves the purpose of Colorado, for sure. So she agreed to come out, we're going to go take a trip out to Grand Junction and we've got all the local folks out on the West Slope. I think we'll have a good turnout and we'll, we'll give her the full court press.

 RW: Will she have your support despite some criticism from the oil and gas industry that she is too big a fan of regulations, before we go?

JH: Yeah, I think she's going to have my support. She like, in any of these nominations, she's in a difficult position, she's got her own beliefs. She's also got the president's agenda, which she has to support. Most of what she's been, not all, but most of what she's been criticized for that have been positions of the president. And when we give her a chance, I have every expectation that she's going to be a successful Secretary of the Interior. And she has repeatedly said that she recognizes that we've got, you know, a, a larger energy mix and that she's got to be the Secretary of the Interior for everybody.

 RW: Senator, thank you. 

JH: You bet.