Bernie and Biden: Where Do 2020 Democratic Candidates Stand? - Rolling Stone
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The RS Politics 2020 Democratic Primary Policy Guide

Where every current candidate stand on health care, the climate crisis, closing the wealth gap, and more

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The collection of Democrats vying to win the party’s nomination to take on President Trump in 2020 was larger and more diverse than any group of White House hopefuls since the modern primary process began. But with primary season fully underway, the field of over two dozen candidates has been whittled down to two.

Below is a guide to where Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders stand on a variety of crucial issues. Scroll through at your convenience or click a candidate’s name to jump directly to their policy positions. For a look at where the candidates stand in the marathon horse race to secure the party’s nomination, check out the RS Politics 2020 Democratic Primary Leaderboard. Both guides will be updated as the primary progresses and candidates continue to develop policy positions.


Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., arrives to speak at George Washington University in Washington, on his policy of democratic socialism, the economic philosophy that has guided his political careerElection 2020 Bernie Sanders, Washington, USA - 12 Jun 2019

Bernie Sanders

Medicare for All

Sanders is the author of Medicare for All legislation in the Senate. His bill would transform Medicare into cradle-to-grave insurance coverage for all American residents, financed by taxes, so there would be no fees at doctors offices, emergency rooms, or hospitals. Over a decade, the government would need to fund and administer a $32 trillion program, but studies have suggested overall U.S. spending on health care could drop, even as tens of millions gain coverage. “Here is the truth that the drug and insurance companies do not want you to know,” Sanders tweeted last May. “Expanding Medicare to everyone will save the American people money.”

Closing the Wealth Gap

When Sanders, the democratic socialist, preaches “revolution,” he is talking about wresting power and wealth from the billionaire class to create security and opportunity for working people and “an economy that works for all.” Sanders is targeting the wealth of America’s oligarchs, and has proposed hiking the estate tax to 77 percent on the fortunes of the very wealthiest, aiming to raise “$2.2 trillion from the nation’s 588 billionaires,” including $74 billion from the Koch brothers alone. “If the Koch brothers and the billionaire class hate my guts, I welcome their hatred,” Sanders has long said. It’s a line he cribbed from FDR, from whom he has also taken the idea of an Economic Bill of Rights, calling for, among other things, the government to guarantee a “decent-paying job” to everyone who can work. “A job guarantee will lower the crime rate, improve mental health, and create a stronger sense of community,” Sanders has said. “It will create a much healthier and happier America.” He’s also been a longtime proponent of raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour (a “starvation wage”) to $15 per hour, insisting: “It is not a radical idea to say a job should lift you out of poverty, not keep you in it.”  

The Climate Crisis

A co-sponsor of the Green New Deal resolution released by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey, Sanders has released his own $16.3 trillion plan to combat the climate crisis. Regarded as the most ambitious plan of anyone remaining the field, Sanders’ proposal calls for declaring the climate crisis a national emergency, investment in clean energy sources, and setting aside $200 billion to help other nations cope with the effects of climate change. Sanders says his plan would pay for itself in 15 years while creating 20 million new jobs. In January, Sanders was endorsed by the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led coalition of progressive climate activists.

Foreign Policy

Sanders’ rhetoric on foreign policy has often mirrored his domestic priorities, condemning the power of corporate multinationals and oligarchic concentrations of wealth. His record leans toward an anti-interventionist stance — he voted against the Iraq war and more recently did not support ousting Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro, citing the U.S’s “long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin-American countries,” adding, “we must not go down that road again.” Sanders has called for Congress to reclaim its power to declare war and in April invoked the War Powers Resolution to cut off U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. “We’re not going to invest in never-ending wars,” he has said.

During an interview last July with Pod Save America, Sanders offered sharp criticisms of Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu, and said that he would “absolutely” considering cutting American aid to Israel in order to force the nation to behave differently. “You have an extreme right-wing government with many racist tendencies,” he said of the nation under Netanyahu, adding that “our policy cannot just be pro-Israel, pro-Israel, pro-Israel; it has got to be pro-region working with all of the people, all of the countries in that area.”


Sanders has been slow to evolve on gun control. He voted for the NRA-backed 2005 bill that made most gun makers immune from accountability for misuse of their weapons, sparking the reckless marketing of military-style weapons. During his 2016 campaign, Sanders cited his concern for mom-and-pop gun shops to justify his vote. In his announcement speech for his 2020 run, Sanders sounded more like a conventional progressive: “I’m running for president because we must end the epidemic of gun violence in this country,” he said. “We need to take on the NRA, expand background checks, end the gun-show loophole, and ban the sale and distribution of assault weapons.”

Free College

Sanders pushed the call for free college to the fore in his 2016 campaign, and continues to champion the policy in 2020. He has called for free public college tuition, with the federal government covering 67 percent of this cost and states the remaining 33 percent. His plan seeks to “fully fund” historically black colleges and universities — financed by a transaction fee for Wall Street trades on stocks, bonds, and derivatives. Sanders is proposing to use the same Wall Street tax to fund a debt jubilee, wiping out all $1.6 trillion in outstanding student loans. “If we could bail out Wall Street, we sure as hell can #CancelStudentDebt,” he tweeted after announcing his new debt relief legislation last June.

Legal Weed

Sanders supports the Marijuana Justice Act, which would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it would no longer be federally prohibited and legality would be left up to the states. The act would also invest at least $500 million a year in communities hardest hit by the Drug War and withhold federal Department of Justice funding from states that enforce their own pot laws unequally. 

He ratcheted up his rhetoric on the issue during an appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience last August, saying that, if elected, he would use an executive order to remove marijuana from the list of Schedule I narcotics, which also includes heroin. “That is insane,” he told Rogan. “Heroin is a killer drug. You can argue the plusses and minuses of marijuana, but marijuana ain’t heroin. So we have to end that and that’s what I will do as president of the United States. I believe we can do that through executive order and I will do that.”

Abolishing the Electoral College

Sanders wants to “reexamine” the Electoral College. “It is hard to defend the current system in which one candidate receives 3 million votes less than his opponent, but still becomes president,” he said.

Packing the Supreme Court

Sanders has voiced support for reforming the Supreme Court — perhaps by rotating on new justices from the appellate courts — but he’s concerned that conservatives could retaliate if progressives pack the court. “My worry is that the next time the Republicans are in power they will do the same thing. So I think that is not the ultimate solution,” he said at the 2019 We The People summit.

Criminal Justice Reform

Sanders voted for the 1994 Crime Bill, placing him in company with Joe Biden. Today he wants to end the drug war, including by legalizing marijuana. Sanders also seeks to end cash bail, mandatory minimums, private prisons, and the death penalty.


Sanders, who is not given to fiscal conservatism, has balked at reparations for slavery, telling The View last year: “I think that right now our job is to address the crises facing the American people in our communities. And I think there are better ways to do that than just writing out a check.”

He elaborated on his position during an appearance on “Black Coffee” with Marc Lamont Hill. “My preferred solution,” Sanders said, “is … focusing a very substantial amount of federal money on distressed communities in America, which in most cases, not all, will be African-American communities. That means paying attention and rebuilding schools; making sure the young people who are graduating high school are not falling through the cracks — that they have the job training or the ability to go to college; making sure there is decent housing and that the environment in those communities is adequate; and making sure everybody has health care.”

Family Care

In addition to calling for universal pre-K, Sanders wants universal child care. “In a society with our resources, it is unconscionable that we do not properly invest in our children from the very first stages of their lives,” he tweeted last February. “We need universal, publicly funded childcare.”

Reproductive Rights

Sanders has been on the record as staunchly pro-choice since 1972, when he was quoted in a Vermont newspaper saying: “It strikes me as incredible that politicians think that they have the right to tell a woman what she can or cannot do with her body.” He opposes the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal spending on most abortions, limiting access for women on Medicaid, in particular.

Voting Rights

Sanders seeks to re-enfranchise people with felony records, including those currently behind bars. He’d abolish Voter ID laws, “restore” the Voting Rights Act, create automatic voter registration at the federal level for all Americans over 18, and make Election Day a national holiday. “The great political crisis we face is not voter fraud, which is virtually nonexistent,” he tweeted last April. “The crisis we face is voter suppression. Our movement is about ending voter suppression, restoring the Voting Rights Act and implementing automatic voter registration.”

Taking on Wall Street

Sanders uses a Wall Street transaction tax to fund free college. With Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders also has a proposal to cap all interest rates for credit cards and other consumer lenders at 15 percent.


Sanders speaks about immigration in more conservative terms than some 2020 competitors. “What we need is comprehensive immigration reform,” he said while stumping in Iowa last year. “If you open the borders, my God, there’s a lot of poverty in this world, and you’re going to have people from all over the world. And I don’t think that’s something that we can do at this point. Can’t do it. So that is not my position.”


Sanders has long blasted free trade deals — “unfair trade agreements written by multi-national corporations” — as harmful to the American working class, and he calls for “a trade policy that benefits American workers and creates living-wage jobs. He hits Trump as being feckless in slowing offshoring of jobs and closing the trade deficit. He wants to close the tax breaks that provide incentives to ship jobs overseas. Sanders also wants to expand “buy American” policies to increase job growth at home. He would also make sure “binding labor, environmental, and human rights standards are written into the core text of all trade agreements.”

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