2020 Democratic Candidates: Where Do They Stand on Key Policy Issues? – Rolling Stone
Home Politics Politics Lists

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

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 six senators, two mayors, a member of the House of Representatives, a governor, a handful of former lawmakers, a former vice president, a former tech executive, a self-help guru, five 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 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, are hoping Democratic voters are willing to embrace a more outside-the-box approach.

Below is a guide to where every current candidate stands 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.


ELIZABETH WARREN | JOE BIDEN | BERNIE SANDERS | PETE BUTTIGIEG | KAMALA HARRIS | ANDREW YANG | CORY BOOKERAMY KLOBUCHAR | JULIÁN CASTRO | TOM STEYER | TULSI GABBARD | MICHAEL BENNETMARIANNE WILLIAMSONSTEVE BULLOCK | JOHN DELANEY | TOM SESTAKWAYNE MESSAM

Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson speaks during the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame Celebration, in Cedar Rapids, IowaElection 2020 Iowa, Cedar Rapids, USA - 09 Jun 2019

Marianne Williamson

Reparations

Reparations is one of the core issues of Williamson’s candidacy, on the order of $200 to $500 billion dollars. (Anything less than $100 billion, Williamson has said, would be an “insult.”) She proposes using the money, which would be disbursed over a period of 20 years, to fund educational and economic projects selected by “an esteemed council of African-American leaders.”

Foreign Policy

Williamson is calling for the creation of a “Department of Peace” to “coordinate not only the international peace-building agencies that already exist, but also the many domestic efforts — conflict resolution, restorative justice practices, police and social work programs, non-pharmaceutical mental health services, and other local peace-building efforts — in a way that increases their efficacy and begins to genuinely transform the experience of millions of our citizens.”

Medicare-for-All

Williamson, a self-help guru and author of a dozen books, writes on her campaign website that she will “robustly support high-quality universal coverage for every American, including a medicare for all model.” The Williamson administration, would also provide citizens with “ongoing support from nutritionists, health coaches, therapists and mental health, exercise specialists, and other peripheral lifestyle treatment providers,” end subsidies for “unhealthy foods, like high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated fats,” and “develop ways to lower stress societally.”

Family Care

Williamson has called for the establishment of a Department of Childhood and Youth. “When it comes to health, hunger, addiction, education, and safety — we are shirking our responsibilities as a nation of parents,” her website reads. “Child advocacy is not being addressed with the attention and care it deserves. Too many of our children are endangered physically and/or emotionally; this is a humanitarian emergency.”

Williamson’s plan to care for children and families includes universal pre-K, maternal and paternal leave, mental health services for all children, mindfulness training in school, and more. During the first Democratic debates in June, she said that her number-one priority as president would be turning the United States into the best place in the world to raise children. Yes, even better than New Zealand.

Closing the Wealth Gap

Williamson has said she would repeal Trump’s 2017 tax cut for the wealthy and “put back in the middle class tax cuts.” She has also indicated an interest in eliminating the income cap on payroll taxes, eliminating the carried interest and ETF tax loopholes, and raising the estate tax. (She also told WBUR that she agrees with Elizabeth Warren on taxing billionaires.)

The Climate Crisis

Williamson declared on her website that “as President, I would argue, in no uncertain terms, that rapid, man-made climate change and global warming represents a clear and present danger to our people, to our democracy, and to the world at large.” To combat the climate crisis, Williamson has called for immediate re-entry into the Paris climate accord, and promised to “take unprecedented action between now and 2030 to actually bring the carbon we put in the atmosphere back into the earth where it came from — to reforest, transform our dirt back to soil on our farms, restore wetlands, peatlands, and increase phytoplankton and fisheries.” She supports the Green New Deal, but says it “doesn’t cover the whole range of measures we must undertake to reverse global warming.”

Campaign Cash

Williamson, who has pledged not to accept corporate PAC money or fossil fuel money, is calling for a constitutional amendment to establish public financing for federal campaigns.

Guns

Williamson wants to institute universal background checks and mandatory waiting periods, eliminate the sale of assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons, ban bump stocks and high capacity magazines, see child safety locks on all guns and “strict control of gun use among children,” and expand red flag laws (also known as gun violence restraining orders), which temporarily remove firearms from the home of someone deemed to be a risk to themselves or others.

Free College

Williamson supports it. “I want college to be free at public universities and colleges, and I want the cancellation of these college loans or — at the very least, radical renegotiation,” Williamson said in an interview with WMUR.

Immigration

Williamson says she would “provide a timely, ethical, transparent and straightforward path to citizenship for all law-abiding, productive immigrants living in the United States,” end family separation, and “increase border security intelligently through electronic surveillance and more patrol agents.”

Legal Weed

Williamson supports the legalization of marijuana and the release of non-violent offenders incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses. Opioids, she contends, are a much bigger threat than weed. “The most dangerous drug dealers in America are legal pharmaceutical companies that knowingly overmanufacture, falsely advertise & promote overprescription of addictive substances,” she wrote on Twitter in April.

Abolishing the Electoral College

Williamson has signaled an openness to getting rid of the Electoral College, telling the Washington Post that she did not take changes to the Constitution “lightly, but at this point there is too much of a risk to our democracy when the popular vote can be so easily overridden.”

Packing the Supreme Court

Williamson does not support adding justices to the Supreme Court.

Criminal Justice Reform

Williamson wants to “focus on studying and promoting restorative justice programs and approaches for criminal justice reform throughout this country”; “create a trauma-informed environment inside the juvenile justice system”; and “support increasing the number of programs in prisons that provide life-skills for those who are incarcerated.”

Reproductive Rights

Williamson writes in bold and all-caps on her website: “REGARDING ABORTION RIGHTS, I AM ONE HUNDRED PER CENT PRO-CHOICE.” As president, she says, she would “vigorously resist any effort to restrict, limit, or diminish the reproductive rights and freedoms granted by Roe v. Wade.”

Voting Rights

Williamson wants to lower the voting age to 16 and pass a constitutional amendment to establish public financing of our federal campaigns. She also wants to end partisan gerrymandering, eliminate “unfounded” voting restrictions, and establish Election Day as a national holiday “(or Saturday).”

Democratic presidential candidate Steve Bullock speaks during the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame Celebration, in Cedar Rapids, IowaElection 2020 Iowa, Cedar Rapids, USA - 09 Jun 2019

Steve Bullock


Campaign Cash

Bullock has based his campaign largely on tackling dark money in politics. “Our nation is founded on the basic idea that every American’s voice matters,” his website reads. “Yet too often it’s those who can cut the biggest checks who wield the greatest influence. Fighting against the toxic influence of money in politics has been the fight of Governor Bullock’s career. And he’s just getting started.”

Bullock has said that on his first day in office he will sign an executive order “requiring every company to disclose every dollar they spend or contribute to influence our elections if they want to do business with the largest contractor in the nation — the federal government.” He has also pledged to empower watchdog agencies go after groups that seek to “corrupt our elections,” ban Super PACs, pass the Disclose Act and work to overturn Citizens United.

Medicare-for-All

When he was asked last year in New Hampshire whether he supported Medicare-for-All, Bullock said that “health care ought to be affordable, accessibly and of quality. How we get there, there’s any number of different paths.”

Closing the Wealth Gap

“400 of the richest Americans own more wealth than the bottom 60% of people,” Bullock tweeted in June. “At the same time, the average worker hasn’t had a real wage increase in 40 years. Every American deserves a fair shot at success, not just the wealthy.”

The Climate Crisis

Bullock does not support the Green New Deal, telling the Washington Post that “we can do better with a more focused plan,” and that “we should significantly increase renewable energy, reverse the Trump Administration’s cuts to fuel efficiency standards and expand them to address the 37% of emissions that come from transportation, improve energy efficiency which could account for 30% of our overall goal, and follow the IPCC’s recommendation to invest in carbon capture.”

Guns

Bullock was hesitant to adopt many of the gun safety measures popular among Democrats, but has recently been more open to reform. He said in 2018 that he supports universal background checks and magazine size restrictions. “As governor, I hear directly from the people I serve,” he wrote for the Great Falls Tribune. “They want action. They recognize that like most policy issues, there is no single proposal or prescription that will solve the issue of gun safety. But they are tired of the enormity and complexity of the challenge being the excuse for inaction.”

Immigration

In 2017, Bullock was one of 11 governors to sign a letter urging Congress to take steps to protect the status of undocumented immigrants brought to America as children. He’s continued to advocate for Dreamers since announcing his campaign.

Free College

As governor of Montana, Bullock froze the cost of public college tuition. In April, he wrote a Medium post detailing how difficult it was to deal with his own student debt burden, and how crucial it is for students to be able to pursue an affordable education. “The next generation of Americans, my kids and their classmates, must be able to pursue an education and their American dream with the same faith in their future opportunity that I was able to have,” he wrote.

He has continued to advocate for affordable education while on the campaign trail. “Student debt has doubled in the last decade,” he said while in Iowa in May. “It’s $1.4 trillion — the average 2017 graduate has $28,000 of student loans, we’ve got to turn around and make college more affordable and accessible.”

Abolishing the Electoral College

Bullock has not been as enthusiastic as some of his competitors about abolishing the Electoral College. “Rather than upending something that’s been around since the start of our country, I’d rather turn around and say, why is it that we’re not winning in certain places?” he said while campaigning in Iowa. “I would much rather say, why aren’t we winning in places like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa?”

Packing the Supreme Court

Bullock has said that he is willing to considering various types of Supreme Court reform, including imposing term limits and adding justices. “I’m open to trying to say, how can we actually make sure that that court isn’t reflective of politics?” he told the New York Times in June.

Reproductive Rights

“I begin from the premise that a woman should be able to make her own health decisions, in consultation with her doctor, if she chooses her family and faith,” Bullock told the Washington Post in May, adding that the restrictive bills passed in Alabama and Missouri “not only an attack on Alabama but an attack on women having domain in over their body.”

Democratic presidential candidate and former Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., speaks at the Heartland Forum held on the campus of Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, IowaElection 2020 John Delaney, Storm Lake, USA - 30 Mar 2019

John Delaney


Medicare-for-All

Though Delaney writes on his website that he believes healthcare is a “fundamental right” and that he is “proposing a universal health care plan,” he is not in favor of some of the more progressive Medicare-for-All options backed by candidates like Bernie Sanders. Delaney’s plan involves providing every American under 65 with basic public health insurance. Americans would be able to opt out of public healthcare and receive a tax credit if they want to buy insurance from a private provider, or buy additional insurance from a private provider to supplement their government-provided insurance.  Medicare would remain in place for Americans over 65.

In June, Delaney was booed for saying Medicare-for-All is not “good policy nor is it good politics” while speaking at a California Democrats convention. The issue is one of several around which Delaney has staked his position as perhaps the most moderate Democrat in the field of candidates.

The Climate Crisis

In May, Delaney unveiled a $4 trillion climate change plan that would bring the United States to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The plan involves charging a $15 fee for each metric ton of carbon dioxide emitted, which would then raise by $10 year after year. Fossil fuel subsidies would end, and states would receive grants for preventing forest fires, using electric transportation and reducing emissions. Delaney also wants to create a “Climate Corps” that would tie into his plan to introduce a new national service program.

National Service

Delaney has proposed a national service program for young people graduating from high school. The plan would aim to enroll 200,000 high school graduates in the first year of the program, which would provide incentives to work on various building and infrastructure projects managed by both nonprofit and for-profit companies.

Closing the Wealth Gap

Delaney does not support the idea of a wealth tax, a la that of Elizabeth Warren, and has even argued that it might not be constitutional. Instead, he has proposed raising the tax rate on capital gains and matching it with the normal income tax rate. “What I’d like to do is reform the capital gain system,” he told CNBC in December. “I think capital gains and ordinary income rates should be the same unless you own the asset for a very long time.”

Guns

Delaney has said he wants to take a three-pointed approach to gun control that involves universal background checks, limiting the availability of military-style assault rifles, and passing a national red flag law, which would allow Americans to argue to a court that someone who poses a danger to them should not be permitted to carry a firearm.

Criminal Justice Reform

In April, Delaney introduced a 13-point plan to address criminal justice disparity. “Our criminal justice system has a demonstrated clear bias against people of color,” he wrote. “Black people, who are approximately 13% of the US population, make up 40% of the incarcerated population.” The plan includes ending for-profit prisons, ending mandatory minimum sentences, removing marijuana from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, heightening transparency within police departments, and funding for programs to reduce recidivism.

Immigration

Delaney believes in a path for citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. However, he doesn’t believe that border crossings should be decriminalized. “I just don’t think at this moment in time when we have a huge kind of surge at our border sending a message that we’re going to decriminalize crossings is the right thing to do,” he told The Hill.

Foreign Policy

Delaney has criticized President Trump for pulling the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal. He has also supported the president’s willingness to sit down with Kim Jong-un, and has praised the “progress” made regarding North Korea. When the New York Times asked Delaney in June whether there would be troops in Afghanistan at the end of his first term in office, he said it is “in our self-interest as a country to keep a small presence there.”

Free College

Delaney wants to allow student loan debt to be discharged through bankruptcy.

Legal Weed

At a town hall event hosted by CNN in March, Delaney said he believes marijuana should be reclassified on a federal level. “I think the federal government should get out of the way and let [the movement at the state level to legalize marijuana] continue,” he said. “Because right now the federal government is blocking it by keeping marijuana as a scheduled substance.”

“I’m in favor of that, which would basically get marijuana out of the shadows, and get it into a market where it could be regulated, where we can make sure it’s labeled and distributed appropriately, where we can tax it,” he added.

Abolishing the Electoral College

Delaney has not joined some of his more progressive competitors in calling for the abolition of the Electoral College. “If I was starting from scratch, yes, but trying to abolish the electoral college now is impractical,” he told the Washington Post.

Packing the Supreme Court

Delaney does not believe in altering the makeup of the Supreme Court. “I think if we make this election about completely changing the United States of America, that feels really risky to me,” he told New Hampshire Public Radio when asked about adding justices to the court or abolishing the electoral college.

Reproductive Rights

Delaney supports abortion rights and has defended government funding of Planned Parenthood. “I’m going to fight extreme right-wing attempts to defund Planned Parenthood in Congress every step of the way,” he said in 2017.

Voting Rights

While in Congress, Delaney introduced the Open Our Democracy Act, which would prohibit gerrymandering and require an independent commission to draw congressional boundaries. Delaney also supports automatic voter registration, making Election Day a national holiday and restoring the Voting Rights Act.

Reparations

Delaney has said he would support H.R. 40, a bill that would create a commission to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Sestak speaks at the Iowa Federation of Labor convention, in Altoona, IowaElection 2020 Joe Sestak, Altoona, USA - 21 Aug 2019

Joe Sestak

Medicare-for-All

Sestak plans on allowing Americans to either enroll in a government plan modeled after the Veterans Health Administration (in which doctors and hospitals would be run by the government), subscribe to a public option resembling Medicare-for-All (in which the government would work with private health care providers), or retain their private insurance. After a period of time, the efficacy of each option would be evaluated, with the ultimate goal of moving Americans onto whichever universal system makes the most sense. “I believe we should be studying the feasibility of both options, and walk down both paths to determine the best choice,” he wrote on his website, “because as I learned in the Navy: “piss-poor planning produces piss-poor execution” — and we must get this right first before the full implementation of a single-payer system.”

Foreign Policy

Sestak, also known as “Admiral Joe,” is a former high-ranking Navy officers who served for 31 years before retiring in 2005. At the heart of his approach toward foreign policy is the belief that America’s strength lies in its power to bring its allies together toward a common purpose. “America’s greatest power is its power to convene, to convene the world for a common cause that serves us all,” he told Vox in August.

Sestak also supports working to resurrecting the Iran nuclear deal.

The Climate Crisis

As with foreign policy, Sestak believes the world must unite to tackle the climate crisis. “We cannot beat climate change without all of the world coming together, led by us, to save the planet,” he wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Examiner in October. “We must not just rejoin, but actually lead the Paris process to collectively increase and enforce national commitments.”

Packing The Supreme Court

Sestak told the Washington Post that he does not support adding justices to the Supreme Court, but that he is open to term limits for justices.

Abolishing the Electoral College

Sestak does not support eliminating the Electoral College.

Immigration

Sestak supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

 

 

Mayor of Miramar, Florida and Democratic candidate for United States President Wayne Messam addresses members of the New Hampshire Young Democrats at A&E Coffee / Apotheca Flower and Tea Shoppe in Goffstown, New Hampshire, USA 21 May 2019. Messam, the son of Jamaican immigrants, is on a two day campaign swing through New Hampshire, the first state to hold a primary for the 2020 Presidential election.Mayor of Miramar, Florida and Democratic candidate for United States President Wayne Messam, campaigns in New Hampshire, Goffstown, USA - 21 May 2019

Wayne Messam


Free College

The tentpole of Messam’s campaign is his proposal to cancel all $1.5 trillion of outstanding student loan debt. “It is time for the federal government to cancel all federal and private student loans,” his website reads. “This one-time policy would boost the annual GDP between $86 billion and $108 billion and create 1 million to 1.5 million new jobs each year.”

Messam’s plan calls for all 44 million Americans with outstanding student loan debt to be informed of its relief within 60 days. The United States Treasury would pay off the debt. Messam argues that lifting this economic burden off tens of millions of Americans would outweigh the financial cost to the nation, which he says would ultimately be paid for by canceling the Trump’s tax cut for the wealthy that was passed in 2017.

Medicare-for-All

Messam has said he supports the idea of Medicare-for-All, and is open to a system that retains the private insurance industry. “As President, I will be open to ideas to fix a broken system that right now does more to protect the bottom line of insurance and pharmaceutical companies than protecting patients,” his website reads.

Closing the Wealth Gap

Messam has proposed canceling the Trump administration’s 2017 tax cut for the wealthy. He tweeted in June that all Americans “should earn a wage that allows them to meet their basic needs.”

The Climate Crisis

Messam told the Washington Post that he supports “the urgency and the end goal” of the Green New Deal, but has said that he will unveil his own climate policy. He was also one of 407 mayors to sign a pledge to uphold the principles of the Paris climate accord despite President Trump’s decision to remove the United States from the agreement.

Guns

Messam has been strong on gun safety, and has often cited the shooting at Parkland, which is less than 50 miles away from his home of Miramar, in calling for reform. His goals as president are pretty ambitious: “It will be my goal as your President to cut gun deaths in half by the end of my first term, with the goal to eliminate this threat entirely by the end of my presidency,” his website reads.

Foreign Policy

Though he hasn’t offered many specifics, Messam has said that “we need to change course, rebuild our fractured alliances and lead by example” on the global stage. He has also advocated for a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Immigration

Messam has said that America’s immigration system needs to be overhauled. “Washington had failed the American people when it comes to immigration,” he told CBS in April, adding that “when we have a process and a political will in place to ensure comprehensive immigration reform, we will be able to subside some of the issues that we are currently seeing right now.”

Legal Weed

Messam has said that states should be able to legalize marijuana without interference from the federal government.

Abolishing the Electoral College

Messam believes the Electoral College should be abolished. “It’s very rare that I will say this, but Donald Trump was correct. He once called the electoral college a ‘disaster for democracy.’ Boy, was he right,” Messam told the Washington Post. “If we believe [every vote counts], we shouldn’t have a system where a candidate can lose by three million votes and somehow be declared the winner.”

Packing the Supreme Court

Messam is open to the idea of adding justices to the Supreme Court. “Make no mistake, the court is already packed,” he told the Washington Post. “If Senator McConnell chooses to play by a different set of rules, as he so often does, then so will I.”

Reproductive Rights

“As President, I will vigorously defend the a woman’s right to choose and nominate a @USSupremeCourt justice that recognizes his question became settled law in 1973,” Messam tweeted in May.

Voting Rights

“Across this country, voting rights are under attack as politicians create barriers that make it harder for people to register to vote and cast their ballots, cut back early voting, and engage in unconstitutional acts of voter suppression,” Messam’s website reads, adding that “we must protect Americans’ right to vote regardless of economic and societal status — not limit participation in the democratic process and discriminate against our own people.”

Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.