2020 Democratic Candidates: Where Do They Stand on Key Policy Issues? – Rolling Stone
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The RS Politics 2020 Democratic Primary Policy Guide

Where all 20 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 six senators, two members of the House of Representatives, three mayors, a 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 all 20 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’ROURKETULSI GABBARDANDREW YANG | BILL DE BLASIO | MARIANNE WILLIAMSONSTEVE BULLOCK | JOHN DELANEY | MICHAEL BENNETTIM RYANWAYNE MESSAM

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

Michael Bennet


The Climate Crisis

Bennet has released a climate change plan he has dubbed “America’s Climate Change Plan.” It calls for net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest and would use, as Bennet puts it “every diplomatic and economic tool available to assert America’s leadership in this critical fight.” The plan would also seek to “conserve 30 percent of America’s lands and oceans by 2030,” incentivize power providers to offer zero-emission energy, create a “Climate Bank” that lead to $10 trillion in private sector investment in innovation and infrastructure and more.

Campaign Cash

Bennet has released a multi-faceted plan to “fix our broken politics.” It involves overturning Citizens United, heightening transparency of Super PACs and other fundraising mechanisms (including social media ads), cracking down on campaign finance violations, banning members of Congress from ever becoming lobbyists, requiring all presidential candidates to release their tax returns, and more. “So much of what we got to get done — from climate to health care to changing the tax code — is going to require us to change the way our politics works,” Bennet said on a conference call in June. “Our plan responds to that by taking on the corruption in Washington and at the same time strengthening our democracy. It attempts to take the money out of politics and put the American people back in.”

Medicare-for-All

Bennet does not support Medicare-for-All, instead favoring an expansion of the Affordable Care Act called “Medicare X.” Like other candidates who do not support a single-payer health care system, Bennet has warned that the the plan favored by progressives is not what it seems. “When you tell people the first thing about Medicare-for-All — either that it takes insurance away from 180 million Americans that have it through their employer or the taxes we would have to pay to afford that $30 trillion program — that 70 percent support falls to the mid-30s,” Bennet said on CNN in May. “I think we need to level with the American people.”

Bennet even used his opposition to Medicare-for-All to solicit donations.

In July, Bennet unveiled a plan to expand access to health care services in rural areas of America though Medicare X. The plan would invest in telemedicine (allowing doctors to see patients over video conference), expanding rural broadband, a measures aimed at combating the opioid epidemic, and more. “Rural Americans currently face unique challenges to accessing high-quality, affordable health care,” the introduction to his plan reads. “In 2019, 37% of counties—almost all of them in rural and small-town America, and home to nearly one in five Americans—had only one insurer on the Affordable Care Act exchanges. Chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, are more prevalent in rural communities. And the lack of providers and insurers has resulted in higher costs and lower quality of care.”

Closing the Wealth Gap

Bennet has not proposed raising taxes on the wealthy, but his American Family Act would greatly expand the child tax credit, which currently provides up to $2,000 per child up to the age of 17. This plan would benefit lower-class and middle-class families with children, and, according to Vox, could cut poverty in the United States by over a third.

Free College

Bennet has not released a higher education plan, but his campaign told the New York Times that he wants to make sure “college students can pursue their studies without incurring the crushing burden of debt; more people seeking an alternative to college can pursue high-quality apprenticeships and job training; and Americans throughout their lives can advance their careers by improving their existing job skills or learning new ones.”

A former superintendent of the Denver public school system, Bennet has also promised to ensure all children are able to receive high-quality education, beginning in early childhood.

Abolishing the Electoral College

Bennet believes the Electoral College should be abolished. “The electoral college is outdated,” one of his Facebook ads reads. “Americans should directly elect our presidents.”

Packing the Supreme Court

Bennet does not believe in adding justice to the Supreme Court, and has argued that amending the court in response to what has transpired during Trump’s presidency would be stooping to the level of Republicans. “Having seen up close just how cynical and how vicious the tea party guys and the Freedom Caucus guys and Mitch McConnell have been, the last thing I want to do is be those guys,” Bennet told the Washington Post in March. “What I want to do is beat these guys so that we can begin to govern again.”

Reproductive Rights

Bennet has promised to “do everything [he] possibly can” to protect Roe v. Wade.

Immigration

Bennet has bashed Trump’s approach to immigration, and in March reiterated his belief that a pathway to citizenship should be provided for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States when they were children. “Since President Trump announced his decision to end the DACA program last September, more than 21,000 Dreamers have lost their status,” he wrote on his website. “Beginning today, that number will rise at a dramatic rate, putting thousands more DACA recipients at risk. For months, I worked with a bipartisan group of senators to find a solution that protects Dreamers and keeps families together. We’ll continue fighting in Congress for a legislative fix, but let’s be clear: the onus falls on President Trump to fix the crisis he created.”

Legal Weed

In February, Bennet sponsored the Marijuana Justice Act, which would end the federal prohibition of cannabis. “This long-overdue change will help bring our marijuana laws into the 21st century,” he said at the time. “It’s past time we bring fairness and relief to communities that our criminal justice system has too often left behind.”

Voting Rights

Included in Bennet’s plan to “fix our broken democracy” are several measures aimed at protecting the integrity of elections. He has called for automatic voter registration, making Election Day a national holiday, restoring voting rights to the formerly incarcerated, requiring states to allow students to vote where they attend school, and more.

Democratic candidate for United States President, Congressman Tim Ryan addresses the Politics and Eggs gathering at the St Anselm College New Hampshire Institute of Politics in Manchester, New Hampshire, USA, 11 June 2019.Democratic candidate for United States President, Congressman Tim Ryan campaigns in New Hampshire, Manchester, USA - 11 Jun 2019

Tim Ryan


Medicare-for-All

Ryan is a co-sponsor of the Medicare-for-All legislation introduced to the House of Representatives in February. “We need to move toward a single-payer system,” he told the New York Times in June. “I think the natural next step is to have some public option for people to be able to buy affordable, accessible, quality health care. We tried really hard during the Obamacare debates to get the public option in. I think that is the natural next step for us to take.”

The Climate Crisis

Ryan said in an April interview that his first priority as president would be creating a new U.S industrial policy, and that addressing the climate crisis must be a part of that policy. “A lot of it should be focused around decarbonizing the United States and making sure we are leading the world in reversing climate change,” he said. Ryan’s approach centers on renewable energy. “There’s so many industries out there growing,” he said on The View in April. “Wind and solar is growing at 25 percent to 30 percent a year. By 2030, there’s gonna be 30 million electric vehicles. I want those vehicles made in the United States.”

Ryan also supports re-entering the Paris climate accord.

Closing the Wealth Gap

Ryan has attacked Trump’s 2017 tax cut for the wealthy as a “scam” and “trickle-down” economics. As a candidate he’s called for rewriting the tax code to spur the growth of electric car and solar panel manufacturing. “Research, infrastructure, incentives in the tax code [will] help us organize and dominate the growing industries like electric vehicles and Solar,” he tweeted in May. “China/German have industrial policy. We need one here. Gov needs to create the environment for business to thrive.”

Ryan’s campaign has focused on dealing with the hollowing out of the manufacturing industry, which he has experienced firsthand in Congress — Lordstown, Ohio, where a major GM plant recently shut down, is in his district. He sees electric cars and renewable energy as the future where the traditional manufacturing industry is failing. Ryan has also called for a general raise in wages through a $15 national minimum wage.

Guns

Ryan used to have an A rating from the NRA, but he distanced himself from the gun lobbying group after the 2012 Sandy Hook mass shooting and is now a vocal proponent of universal background checks, reinstating federal funding for gun-violence research, and raising the age limit on certain gun purchases. “Let me say that we have not done enough to prevent gun violence in this country. I support background checks. I support increased research. I support comprehensive gun safety reforms. Our kids need to feel safe in school and in our communities,” he tweeted in March.

Foreign Policy

Foreign policy isn’t a focus of Ryan’s message, but he has called for tougher tax and trade policies so that the U.S. can better compete with China. “If you’re going to be competitive, you have to compete against China, which I see as the big competitor,” he told Rolling Stone in April. “Russia’s messing with us, but China’s coming in for the kill.”

During the first Democratic debate in June, Ryan stressed to need to remain “engaged” in Afghanistan. “The lesson that I’ve learned over the years is that you have to stay engaged in these situations,” he said. “Nobody likes it. It’s long. It’s tedious. But right now … I would say we must be engaged in this. We must have our State Department engaged. We must have our military engaged to the extent they need to be.” He was swiftly rebuked by Tulsi Gabbard. “Is that what you will tell the parents of those two soldiers who were just killed in Afghanistan?” she replied.

Free College

Ryan supported a suite of bills in 2018 that would ensure debt-free and tuition-free public college. Regarding education, he has devoted time as a presidential candidate to focusing on a push for the integration of Social and Emotional Learning into the education system.

Immigration

Ryan has yet to roll out an immigration plan as part of his 2020 campaign. As a congressman, he said the U.S. immigration system is “broken,” slammed Trump’s national emergency order regarding the U.S.-Mexico border, and introduced a bill to create a nonpartisan, nine-person commission to come up with better immigration policies and border security measures. While speaking to Meet the Press in July, Ryan said America needs to have “strong border security but still be compassionate.” He refused to answer a question about whether he wold decriminalize border crossings, only offering that he was “open to have a conversation” about it.

Legal Weed

Ryan supports it. In a 2018 CNN op-ed, he said that marijuana should be legal in all 50 states.   

Abolishing the Electoral College

Ryan has not supported changing or eliminating the Electoral College, although he has said he is “open” to it. A key part of his pitch to prospective voters is that he can win his home state of Ohio, a critical battleground state on the way to reaching 270 votes in the Electoral College.

Packing the Supreme Court

Ryan told the Washington Post that he does not support adding justices to the Supreme Court.

Criminal Justice Reform

A co-chair of the House Addiction, Treatment and Recovery Caucus, he co-sponsored the Marijuana Justice Act that would remove weed from the list of Schedule I drugs; get rid of criminal penalties for people who import, export, transport and sell marijuana; and set aside $500 million to invest in building up the marijuana growing and selling industries. He believes every police officer should wear a body camera, and voted in favor of the First Step Act.

Voting Rights

As a congressman, Ryan has opposed efforts to restrict people’s right to vote. He calls voting rights “a cornerstone of our democracy.”

Reproductive Rights

Ryan switched his position from anti-abortion to pro-choice in 2015: “[W]hile there are people of good conscience on both sides of this argument, one thing has become abundantly clear to me: the heavy hand of government must not make this decision for women and families.”

Reparations

Ryan is a co-sponsor of H.R. 40, a bill that would create a commission to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans. Such a commission would “help us understand exactly what the numbers are that we’re talking about,” he said in an interview on the Breakfast Club.

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.”

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