Team Hickenlooper denies event with Joe Manchin planned, despite No Labels invitation to Hickenlooper’s house

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Colorado Senator John Hickenlooper at an event marking the end construction on the Interstate 25 South Gap project near Larkspur between Castle Rock and Colorado Springs on Monday, November 22, 2021.

It’s a political mystery: Sen. John Hickenlooper’s office says he never planned to open his home for an event with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a fellow Democrat who has drawn the anger of many in the party.

That’s despite an invitation from the national political group No Labels that advertised exactly such an event.

The emailed invitation, which was obtained by CPR News, said that Manchin would be traveling to Colorado for two private events. The first, on Aug. 15, “will be held at the home of your own Senator Hickenlooper,” the invitation stated, adding that it would be a chance “to be part of a discussion with Senator Manchin.”

But on the same day that a round of invitations was sent, Hickenlooper’s office flatly denied that any event was planned with Manchin or No Labels. Spokesperson Alyssa Roberts offered no explanation for why a prominent outside group would advertise an event with the senator to influential Coloradans.

“There was never an event planned with No Labels and Senator Hickenlooper will not be hosting an event for Senator Manchin,” Roberts reiterated in an email on Tuesday.

Neither Manchin’s office nor No Labels have responded to requests for comment. They have not said publicly whether Manchin will indeed make a trip to Colorado. Invitations also referred to an Aug. 16 event in Aspen.

Manchin has enraged many in his party by repeatedly blocking Democrats’ hopes to pass major legislation while they hold a razor-thin majority. And when invitations to the supposed event were publicized, some Democrats turned their frustration on Hickenlooper.

“How many more ways can @Hickenlooper demonstrate how out of touch he is with the crises we face? Or maybe he just doesn’t care. Either way, this is enraging and pathetic. Colorado and our country deserve better,” tweeted state Rep. Emily Sirota, a progressive Democrat.

Much of the criticism has focused on Manchin’s refusal to help pass a significant climate spending package, especially as another summer of extreme weather wracks the world. He has also stood in the way of a permanent expansion of the Child Tax Credit, a top priority for Colorado’s other senator, Michael Bennet.

Some invitations for the supposed Hickenlooper-Manchin event went out last Wednesday, several days after Manchin’s latest break from Democrats. CPR News was given a copy of the invitation directly from a recipient, who provided it on condition of anonymity. The invitation was signed by Liz Morrison, the co-executive director of No Labels. Morrison did not respond to emails and a phone call requesting comment.

No Labels is a political organization that describes itself as a “rebellious but constructive third force in American government,” that wants to reduce partisanship. People and committees associated with the organization have given $1.8 million to politicians in 2022, including $17,300 to Manchin, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets.

No Labels also invited Joe O’Dea, the GOP candidate running against Bennet, to events featuring Manchin on Aug. 15 in Denver and Aug. 16 in Aspen, according to the O’Dea campaign. The invitation, which did not mention Hickenlooper or the specific locations of the events, was extended on July 13, and O’Dea expressed interest in attending, a campaign spokesperson said.

Earlier, O’Dea had name checked Manchin in a speech. After winning the GOP primary last month, O’Dea promised, if elected, to operate independently and “be more like a Republican Joe Manchin.”

While O’Dea was expressing interest in his invitation two weeks ago, influential Democratic donors were learning of the event that No Labels was advertising as featuring Hickenlooper — and some were trying to put a stop to it, according to a Democratic source with direct knowledge. 

For its part, No Labels has had a bad relationship with some Colorado Democrats since 2014, when the organization campaigned against incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and in favor of Republican Cory Gardner, who went on to win the seat.

Meanwhile, Manchin has been the biggest obstacle in Congress — aside from Republicans — in passing President Biden’s agenda. 

Democrats have worked to persuade Manchin for months to support plans for investments in renewable energy and other climate change responses, along with a proposal to join other countries in setting a global minimum tax for corporations.

Manchin has said he would reconsider major spending plans if inflation decreases. He is still open to addressing health care proposals.

While Hickenlooper’s office made it clear Manchin will not be appearing with the senator, the two have reportedly been friendly. Last year Manchin invited Hickenlooper to join G22 — a bipartisan group of senators that helped pass the $1 trillion infrastructure bill.

“I have a good relationship with Joe Manchin and real respect. I mean, he's representing ... one of the most conservative states in America and in my experience, I think his values are deeply held. He's very frugal. I'm pretty frugal myself, so we share some of those qualities,” Hickenlooper told CPR in November, after that package was signed.

Last week, Hickenlooper called on the Senate to cancel some of its upcoming August recess in order to continue negotiations with Manchin and others on the climate package.