Bernie and Biden: Where Do 2020 Democratic Candidates Stand?

Angelena Iglesia

Medicare for All Biden does not support Medicare for All, instead favoring an expansion of the Affordable Care Act. Last summer, he unveiled a health care plan built around subsidizing the “big fucking deal” he helped pass as Obama’s vice president. Biden’s 2020 plan would also offer a Medicare-like public […]

Medicare for All

Biden does not support Medicare for All, instead favoring an expansion of the Affordable Care Act. Last summer, he unveiled a health care plan built around subsidizing the “big fucking deal” he helped pass as Obama’s vice president. Biden’s 2020 plan would also offer a Medicare-like public option that Americans would be able to buy into. “I believe we have to protect and build on Obamacare,” Biden said in a video announcing the plan. “That’s why I proposed adding a public option to Obamacare as the best way to lower cost and cover everyone. I understand the appeal of Medicare for All, but folks supporting it should be clear that it means getting rid of Obamacare, and I’m not for that.”

Biden’s claim that Medicare for All would mean the end of the Obamacare is an odd way to promote his plan. While true that Medicare for All would replace and thus end the ACA, no one would lose coverage under a single-payer system.

Closing the Wealth Gap

Biden has pledged to close $1.6 trillion in “tax loopholes.” One staple of his stump speech is pledging to eliminate the stepped-up basis loophole, which allows heirs to pay less in taxes on their inheritance. Biden also wants to crack down on the use of non-compete clauses that make it difficult for workers to change jobs, and has slammed the Trump tax cuts by saying that the vast majority of the benefits go to “folks at the top and corporations.” But he has faced criticism for pointedly refusing to take aim at America’s new oligarchs, a la Warren or Sanders. “I love Bernie, but I’m not Bernie Sanders,” he said in 2019. “I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble.” At a recent Manhattan fundraiser, he vowed not to “demonize” the wealthy if elected president and told the well-heeled donors in attendance, “I need you very badly.”

The Climate Crisis

Biden, who introduced one of the Senate’s first climate bills in 1986, has endorsed the framework of a Green New Deal and unveiled a $1.7 trillion plan to get to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The plan calls for signing climate-focused executive orders on Biden’s first day as president, recommitting to the Paris climate accord, reinforcing the Clean Air Act to combat growing transportation sector emissions, and demanding Congress pass legislation creating an enforcement mechanism to meet emissions targets, among other goals. Biden also wants to use the reach and buying power of the federal government to combat climate change, mandating that federal infrastructure spending help reduce pollution and all federal permitting decisions weigh the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

Public Education

Biden’s first major policy rollout focused on K-12 education. The centerpiece of that plan is tripling Title I federal spending on schools that serve low-income students from $16 billion to $48 billion. He also wants to increase teacher pay, expand pre-K access for three- and four-year-olds, and invest more in mental health services in public schools. If he’s president, he’ll call on the Department of Education to fund efforts to “diversify” public schools. But school desegregation is a dicey subject for Biden: Before he got in the race, the Washington Post highlighted Biden’s opposition three decades ago to busing as a way to diversify public schools. “I do not buy the concept, popular in the ’60s, which said, ‘We have suppressed the black man for 300 years and the white man is now far ahead in the race for everything our society offers. In order to even the score, we must now give the black man a head start, or even hold the white man back, to even the race,’” he told a Delaware newspaper in 1975. “I don’t buy that.”

Campaign Cash

Biden has disavowed Super PACs and fossil fuel money but not corporate PAC money or dark money nonprofit groups. His campaign has reportedly begun recruiting big-money fundraisers, a.k.a. “bundlers,” who receive nicknames depending on how much money they raise —  $50,000 for a “Protector,” $100,000 for a “Unifier.”

Foreign Policy

After eight years as vice president, Biden has logged more miles as a statesman than any other 2020 candidate. His views are decidedly mainstream and centrist, for good and ill. He has slammed Trump’s “need to coddle autocrats and dictators” and called for more support of NATO and a strong response to Russia’s sustained assault on Western democracy, including in the U.S. Yet he also voted for the Iraq war, and supported President Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan.

Last July, he reset his approach to foreign policy for his latest run at the White House. While speaking at the City University of New York, Biden preached the need to restore America’s relationship with the international community to what it was before the current president took office. He promised to rejoin the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal, cancel Trump’s travel ban on predominantly Muslim nations, resume sending aid to Northern Triangle nations, and more. “Donald Trump’s brand of America First has too often left America alone,” he said. “We only have one opportunity to reset our democracy. After Trump, we have to be prepared to make the most of it.”

Rural America

Last summer, Biden unveiled a plan aimed at revitalizing rural America. The plan features a bevy of economic initiatives, investment in clean energy solutions, tripling funding to expand rural broadband access, measure to improve access to health care in rural areas, and more. “A healthy, vibrant rural America is essential to the success of our country,” he wrote in introducing the plan. “Yet in small town after small town, parents watch their kids and grandkids leave rural communities because there just is not enough opportunity for them at home. For too many rural Americans, a pathway to the middle class is out of reach if they stay in their rural communities.”

Free College

As vice president, in 2015, Biden called for four years of free public college, going further than Obama’s proposal for free two-year community college. Biden’s campaign website pays lip service to the need for all Americans to “obtain the skills and education to realize their full potential” from pre-K to college, but he has not explicitly endorsed four years of free public college since joining the 2020 primary (only free community college), and has been facing criticism for votes he made as a senator that made it harder for borrowers to discharge student debt through bankruptcy. 


A longtime gun control advocate, Biden responded to a school shooting last year by listing various policies that could prevent future tragedies. “The idea we don’t have universal background checks,” he told reporters, “the idea that we don’t outlaw a number of the weapons I was able to get outlawed in the crime bill, from large magazines and assault weapons and all that, this is crazy.” In the past, he pushed for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines as well as implementing universal background checks.


As president, Biden’s website says, he would “pursue a humane immigration policy that upholds our values, strengthens our economy, and secures our border.” He recently pledged not to deport veterans who aren’t U.S. citizens. As a senator, he voted in favor of the Secure Fence Act to pay for 700 miles of wall construction on the U.S.-Mexico border. He played a key role in the Obama administration championing the cause of Dreamers, or undocumented residents who were brought to the country when they were young.

Legal Weed

Legalization advocates slammed Biden when he entered the race, telling Rolling Stone that he had “an abysmal record when it came to marijuana law reform.” As a senator, he helped lead the charge in the ’80s to ramp up the federal government’s War on Drugs, introducing the Comprehensive Narcotics Control Act of 1986 and calling for the creation of a “drug czar.” He has not made many public statements on the subject in recent years, but in 2014 told Time magazine that he still didn’t support legalization. Last summer, Biden released a plan for criminal justice reform that calls for the decriminalization of marijuana, for states to be allowed to legalize it as they see fit, and for it to be downgraded to a Schedule II substance at the federal level.

Abolishing the Electoral College

Biden told the New York Times editorial board that he does not support eliminating the Electoral College.

Packing the Supreme Court

In 1983, during a hearing on President Reagan’s plans to replace members of a national civil rights commission, Biden said FDR’s court-packing was “totally within his right” but, in his view, was “a bonehead idea” that “put in question, for an entire decade, the independence of the most significant body” in the United States.

He told the New York Times editorial board earlier this year that he does not support term limits for Supreme Court justices.

Criminal Justice Reform

Since launching his campaign, Biden’s had to answer for his criminal justice stance in the ’80s and ’90s, including support for the 1994 Crime Bill and co-sponsoring the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which created mandatory minimum sentences that treated crack cocaine more harshly than cocaine and contributed to the disproportionate incarceration of people of color. “It was a big mistake…” he told a crowd in early 2019. “We thought, we were told by the experts, that crack — you never go back; it was somehow fundamentally different. It’s not different. But it’s trapped an entire generation.”

Last summer, Biden unveiled a comprehensive plan for criminal justice reform. It calls for abolishing the death penalty, private prisons, cash bail, and mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crimes; investing in reforming law enforcement and encouraging the Justice Department to hold police departments accountable for misconduct; a $20 grant program to encourage states to reduce crime and incarceration; and more. “Today, too many people are incarcerated in the United States — and too many of them are black and brown,” Biden wrote. “To build safe and healthy communities, we need to rethink who we’re sending to jail, how we treat those in jail, and how we help them get the health care, education, jobs, and housing they need to successfully rejoin society after they serve their time.”

Reproductive Rights

Biden, a Roman Catholic, has said that he personally opposes abortion but because this conviction is based on his faith, he has no right to impose those views on other people. Accordingly, he said in 2012 that the government doesn’t have a right to tell women what to do with their bodies. And a Biden spokesman told the New York Times last year that Biden supports the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. But as a senator in the early ’80s, Biden voted in favor of an amendment to allow states to overturn Roe, a vote he described then as “the single most difficult vote I’ve cast as a U.S. senator.”

Last June, Biden’s campaign confirmed that he still supported the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funds from being used for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, and if the life of the mother is at risk. This put him in stark contrast to other Democratic candidates on this issue. Days later, he reversed course and said he no longer supports the measure.

Voting Rights

Biden website includes a call to protect “every American’s vote” — to make it easier for people of all races and classes to vote and protect our elections from foreign interference. On the campaign trail, he’s said that Republicans want to scale back voting rights and make it harder for people of color to exercise their right to vote. “You’ve got Jim Crow sneaking back in,” he said. “You know what happens when you have an equal right to vote? They lose.”


Biden does not support reparations. He dismissed the idea in a 1975 interview that resurfaced in news reports before he entered the presidential race. “I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather,” Biden told a local newspaper. “I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation. And I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago.”

When asked in an interview with the New York Times editorial board earlier this year why he doesn’t support reparations, he said he does before elaborating that they would come through “end[ing]systemic segregation, and it’s real, and it’s genuine,” and that “there’s a whole range of things we can do legislatively now to deal with this systemic racism that still exists.”

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