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The RS Politics 2020 Democratic Primary Policy Guide

Where nearly two dozen candidates stand on health care, the climate crisis, closing the wealth gap, and more

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

Matthew Putney/AP/Shutterstock; Paul Sancya/AP/Shutterstock; Ronen Tivony/SOPA Images/Shutterstock

The collection of Democrats vying to win the party’s nomination to take on President Trump in 2020 is larger and more diverse than any group of White House hopefuls since the modern primary process began. The field of two dozen candidates includes seven senators, three members of the House of Representatives, three mayors, two governors, a handful of former lawmakers, a former vice president, a former tech executive, a self-help guru, six women, six people of color, and a 37-year-old trying to become America’s first LGBTQ president.

Just as diverse are the candidates’ prescriptions for how to cure the United States of its worsening case of Trumpism. The more progressive wing of the party, led by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, is calling for a single-payer health care system while pushing for higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Moderate Democrats, led by current frontrunner Joe Biden, prefer a more tempered stance focused on formulating bipartisan solutions they argue are more practical. Others, like former tech executive Andrew Yang, who has called for a “Freedom Dividend” that would give every American $1,000 per month, and self-help guru Marianne Williamson, who wants to establish a Department of Peace, are hoping Democratic voters are willing to embrace a more outside-the-box approach.

Below is a guide to where nearly two dozen declared candidates 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.


JOE BIDEN | ELIZABETH WARREN | KAMALA HARRIS | BERNIE SANDERS |  PETE BUTTIGIEG | CORY BOOKER | JULIÁN CASTROAMY KLOBUCHAR | BETO O’ROURKEJAY INSLEETULSI GABBARD | KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND | ANDREW YANG | BILL DE BLASIO | MARIANNE WILLIAMSONSTEVE BULLOCK | JOHN DELANEY | MICHAEL BENNETJOHN HICKENLOOPER  | TIM RYANSETH MOULTON | WAYNE MESSAM

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, addresses the National Action Network Convention in New YorkNational Action Network Convention, New York, USA - 05 Apr 2019

Kamala Harris


Medicare-for-All

In July, Harris unveiled her 2020 health care proposal in a Medium post titled, “My Plan for Medicare for All.” The plan calls for the expansion of the current Medicare system while allowing “private insurers to offer Medicare plans as a part of this system that adhere to strict Medicare requirements on costs and benefits.” Harris’ plan sets the U.S. on track to adopt a Medicare-for-All-style system in 10 years (a timeframe that has drawn criticism). Even at the end of this 10-year transition period, however, the private insurance industry would not be eliminated. “This isn’t about pursuing an ideology,” she wrote in the post announcing the plan. “It’s about delivering for the American people.”

The plans puts to rest months of confusion as to whether Harris, who co-sponsored Bernie Sanders’ 2017 Medicare-for-All bill, supports the elimination of the private insurance industry. During a CNN town hall in January, Harris said “let’s eliminate all of that,” ostensibly in reference to private insurance. In May, she said the comment was actually in reference to all of the red tape in the health care system, and that she does indeed support some private insurance to supplement a government plan. She appeared to reverse course during the first Democratic debates in June when she was one of only two candidates onstage (the other being Bernie Sanders) to raise their hand when asked whether they supported the elimination of the private insurance industry. But the next day she said on Morning Joe that she misheard the question from moderator Lester Holt, clarifying once again that she does support some forms of private supplemental insurance.

It’s now clear that, unlike the author of the bill she supported in 2017, Harris does indeed want to retain the private insurance industry.

Closing the Wealth Gap

Though some progressives have proposed taxing the ultra-wealthy, Harris wants to focus on offering relief for the lower and middle classes. She’s unveiled a nearly $3 trillion plan that would provide a tax credit of $3,000 for single Americans making up to $30,000 annually and $6,000 for married couples making up to $60,000. “Americans are working harder than ever, but stagnant wages mean they can’t keep up with cost-of-living increases,” she said when she unveiled the plan in the fall of 2018. “We should put money back into the pockets of American families.”

Not surprisingly, Harris isn’t a huge fan of Trump’s 2017 tax bill, which favored corporations and wealthy Americans to a disproportionate degree. In May, she called for a full repeal of the bill during a campaign stop in Michigan. “Get rid of the whole thing,” she said.

Closing the Gender Gap

Harris has released what her website describes as the “most aggressive equal pay proposal in history.” The plan calls for companies to obtain “Equal Pay Certification,” which involves proving through various means that they are not giving preferential treatment to men over women in regard to pay, promotions, and more. Companies that do not obtain an Equal Pay Certification “will face a fine for every day they discriminate against their workers.” The larger the wage gap, the larger the fine. The plan would also involve overhauling anti-discrimination laws.

The Climate Crisis

Harris has a strong record on climate action — including sponsoring a bill that would give grants to coastal communities to prepare for sea-level rise and, when she was California’s attorney general, investigating ExxonMobil for its reported lies about the risks of climate change. She is one of a handful of candidates to co-sponsor the Green New Deal, the ambitious, multifaceted plan introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) seeking to bring the United States to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. “Climate change is an existential threat to all of us, and we have got to deal with the reality of it,” Harris said in January.

Criminal Justice Reform

Harris’ record as prosecutor, district attorney, and the attorney general of California, a position she held from 2011-2017, has come under intense scrutiny as she has rolled out her presidential campaign. Though she did embrace many progressive measures as San Francisco’s DA and then as the state’s AG, she also started an anti-truancy program aimed at punishing parents whose children missed school, tried to prevent the release of prisoners despite an overcrowding problem, and supported the death penalty.

Harris has taken a more progressive stance since announcing her run for the White House. In March she called for a federal moratorium on executions, calling them “immoral, discriminatory, ineffective, and a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars.” A month later, she expressed “regret” for the anti-truancy program she instituted as DA. At a She The People forum later in April, Harris said she would “absolutely” pardon those convicted of drug-related crimes. “We have to have the courage to recognize that there are a lot of folks who have been incarcerated who should not have been incarcerated and are still in prison because they were convicted under draconian laws that have incarcerated them,” she said.

Guns

In April, Harris said that if Congress does not enact meaningful gun legislation within her first 100 days in office, she would take executive action to bring about several gun control measures. “We need reasonable gun safety laws in this country, starting with universal background checks and a renewal of the assault weapon ban,” she said at a CNN town hall event, “but they have failed to have the courage to act.”

The executive actions would require background checks of anyone buying guns from a dealer who sells more than five guns per year, impose regulations on gun manufacturers and close the “boyfriend loophole,” which allows some domestic abusers to purchase guns so long as they were not married to the victim.

Housing

In April, Harris reintroduced to the Senate her Rent Relief Act, a bill aimed at combating rising rent costs by offering a refundable tax credit to Americans making less than $100,000 a year who spending at least 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities.

Harris wasn’t done there. While speaking at the Essence Festival in July, she unveiled plans for a $100 billion program to help Americans buy homes. The plan is aimed at “put[ting] homeownership within the reach” for people of color, and would provide down-payment and closing-cost grants of up to $25,000 for low- to moderate-income families and individuals. Harris estimates the program would provide “at least 4 million families/individuals living in federally-supported or renting housing in these historically red-lined communities with down payment and closing cost assistance.”

Days after rolling out her housing plan at the Essence Festival, Harris announced that she was introducing a bill along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that would reform eviction and screening processes so that those with criminal records would access to affordable housing. “Too many people come out of the criminal justice system only to face additional barriers to transitioning back into their community,” Harris tweeted.

The Fair Chance at Housing Act of 2019, as the bill is dubbed, would replace “one-strike” policies that permit eviction after a criminal incident with a review process, prevent families from being evicted if a guest commits and infraction, and more. “By requiring a higher standard of evidence and a more holistic review process, we are taking a significant step toward giving Americans a fair chance to succeed,” Harris added.

Foreign Policy

Harris has criticized Trump’s approach to foreign policy. “America’s position in the world has never been weaker,” she said during her campaign kickoff event. “When democratic values are under attack around the globe, when authoritarianism is on the march, when nuclear proliferation is on the rise, when we have foreign powers infecting the White House like malware.”

The senator has come under scrutiny from the more progressive wing of the party for her cozy relationship with Israel, and her failure to publicly condemn the nation’s human rights abuses against Palestinians. In March, Harris reinforced her relationship with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), tweeting a picture of herself meeting with the organization’s California leaders.

Free College

In April, Harris wrote on Medium that she was co-sponsoring the College For All Act, which eliminates tuition and fees for public colleges and universities for 80 percent of Americans (those earning less than $125,000 per year).

In July, she tweeted that she’ll “establish a student loan debt forgiveness program for Pell Grant recipients who start a business that operates for three years in disadvantaged communities.” The tweeted prompted widespread criticism for its narrow focus. A day later, Harris thanked people for their “feedback” and tried to “clarify confusion” about the proposal, stressing that she’ll also help close the opportunity gap through $12 billion in direct capital investments, along with other measures detailed on her website.

Immigration

Harris has said we should “re-examine” the role of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), suggesting that it could be time to scrap the agency. She has been fiercely critical of Trump’s family separation policy at the border, and a vocal supporter of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, protecting undocumented residents who were brought to the country when they were young, who are also known as Dreamers.

Harris has been criticized, however, for supporting a policy that turned over arrested undocumented youth to ICE when she was the San Francisco district attorney. She has since said this was an “unintended consequence” of the 2008 policy and that she “did not support that consequence of that policy.” This has been disputed.

Legal Weed

In February, Harris called for the federal legalization of marijuana. “I think it gives a lot of people joy, and we need more joy,” she said on New York radio show The Breakfast Club. During the same appearance, she said she smoked a joint in college at Howard University. “And I did inhale,” she said.

In July, she introduced the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act along with House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler. “Times have changed — marijuana should not be a crime,” she said about the bill aimed at decriminalizing marijuana on a federal level. “We need to start regulating marijuana, and expunge marijuana convictions from the records of millions of Americans so they can get on with their lives. As marijuana becomes legal across the country, we must make sure everyone — especially communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs — has a real opportunity to participate in this growing industry.”

Reproductive Rights

In May, Harris unveiled a plan to institute what she calls the Reproductive Rights Act, which would prevent states “with a history of violating Roe v. Wade” from enacting abortion-restricting laws without first clearing the legislation with the Justice Department.

In June, she spoke out against the Hyde Amendment, which restricts federal funding for abortion except in extreme cases such as rape and incest. “No woman’s access to reproductive health care should be based on how much money she has,” she tweeted. “We must repeal the Hyde Amendment.”

Abolishing the Electoral College

In March, Harris said on Jimmy Kimmel Live! that she is “open to the discussion” surrounding the abolition of the Electoral College. “There’s no question that the popular vote has been diminished in terms of making the final decision about who’s the president of the United States and we need to deal with that.”

Packing the Supreme Court

Though she has not advocated for a particular position, Harris told Politico in March that she is open to the idea of adding justices to the Supreme Court. “We are on the verge of a crisis of confidence in the Supreme Court,” she said. “We have to take this challenge head on, and everything is on the table to do that.”

Voting Rights

Harris has called for the need to “update and reinvigorate” the Voting Rights Act, and tweeted the need for legislation to expand early voting, modernize voting systems and curb the effect of discriminatory voting laws. Asked in April whether she supports allowing incarcerated Americans to vote, the former prosecutor called the issue “complex” and said she’d think about it.

Reparations

Like many candidates, Harris has said that the idea of reparations needs to be considered. In March, she spoke to NPR about the generational effects of slavery — including how African Americans have higher rates of heart disease and high blood pressure — suggesting reparations could come in the form of mental health treatment. “We need to study the effects of generations of discrimination and institutional racism and determine what can be done, in terms of intervention, to correct course,” she said.

Family Care

Harris said during a CNN town hall event in January that she “absolutely” supports a nationwide paid parental-leave policy. “Even more than that,” she added, “I support … a national policy around affordable childcare. I support what we need to do around universal pre-K. I support what we need to do around having a public education system that benefits our children and not vilifying public school teachers.”

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 in 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

Sanders’ campaign has not released a detailed climate policy, but he was a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal resolution released by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey — an ambitious, comprehensive approach to the climate crisis that encompasses not just getting to net-zero carbon emissions but investing in job creation, infrastructure and protecting the frontline communities hardest hit by climate change. Sanders also appeared at a Green New Deal rally at Howard University in May. “Climate change is not a hoax but is an existential threat to our country and the entire planet,” he has said, “and we intend to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel and into energy efficiency and sustainable energy and, in the process, create millions of good paying jobs.”

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 a July interview 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.”

Guns

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 in 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. 

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 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.

Reparations

Sanders, who is not given to fiscal conservatism, has balked at reparations for slavery, telling The View: “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 a July 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 in 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