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This August, Joe Biden became the official Democratic presidential candidate, going up against President Trump during, what has quickly become, a watershed moment in American history. Back in his campaign announcement video—back before the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic crisis, or this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests—Biden said, “The core values of this nation, our standing in the world, our very democracy, everything that has made America America is at stake.”
Before becoming Barack Obama's vice president for two terms, Biden served as a U.S. senator from Delaware from 1973 to 2008 and previously ran for president in 1988 and 2008. At the end of Obama's presidency, he surprised Biden by awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the nation.
But where exactly does 77-year-old Biden stand politically? Below, ELLE.com breaks down where Biden falls on 10 issues, from healthcare to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Biden has not historically been in support of Medicare for All, he has been a big proponent of the Affordable Care Act, which passed under the Obama administration. He was even caught calling the passage of the ACA a "big fucking deal" and has defended it when it was challenged under the Trump administration. In 2017, he wrote for the Washington Post, "The ACA isn’t perfect, but the choices we made when designing the law flowed from a commitment to provide the best possible care to the most people."
Now, according to Biden’s campaign website, he plans to “build on the Affordable Care Act by giving Americans more choice, reducing health care costs, and making our health care system less complex to navigate.” This includes giving Americans the choice to purchase a public health insurance option like Medicare. According to NBC News, his plan would also allow Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices and allow undocumented immigrants to buy into the public option, though the insurance would not be subsidized.
Biden’s economic agenda, “Build Back Better,” is aimed at helping the country recover from the current economic crisis caused by the pandemic. According to the New York Times, the “Build Back Better” agenda includes plans centered on manufacturing, climate and infrastructure, and caregiving. The agenda’s fourth pillar specifically addresses systemic racism within the economy, including expanding a small business opportunity fund to assist minority business owners and addressing inequities in agriculture. According to his campaign site, “Biden will leverage more than $150 billion in new capital and opportunities for small businesses that have been structurally excluded for generations.”
It also notes that he will work to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which would make it easier for workers to unionize, and the Paycheck Fairness Act. Biden has emphasized providing “states, tribal, and local governments with the fiscal relief they need to keep workers employed and keep vital public services running, including direct care and child care services.” Biden has also long supported the $15 minimum wage.
Read more about “Build Back Better” here, and read his plans around advancing racial equity in the economy, bolstering U.S. manufacturing, investing in sustainable infrastructure and clean energy, and creating a caregiving and education workforce.
Biden has supported the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and has spoken out about the Trump administration’s harsh immigration policies, saying, “That’s not who we are,” in reference to Trump’s policy that separated families at the border.
On his campaign website, Biden details his immigration plans, which include reversing the Trump administration’s policies that separated parents from children at the border; ending Trump’s asylum policies; directing resources to support migrants waiting to hear about asylum claims; and ending Trump’s travel and refugee bans. Biden also nods to the Obama-Biden administration’s history with immigration, wherein Obama deported more immigrants than any other president in history. His site reads, “Joe Biden understands the pain felt by every family across the U.S. that has had a loved one removed from the country, including under the Obama-Biden Administration, and he believes we must do better to uphold our laws humanely and preserve the dignity of immigrant families, refugees, and asylum-seekers.”
Back in 2014, Biden also spoke out about undocumented immigrants, saying he believes “they’re already American citizens.” He said, "These people are just waiting, waiting for a chance to contribute fully. And by that standard, 11 million undocumented aliens are already Americans, in my view.”
Biden's relationship with women is complicated, to say the least. The former vice president has, in some ways, made a name for himself as an ally for women: He's helped to lead the It's On Us campaign, which works to change the culture around sexual assault on college campuses, and he introduced a bill that became the Violence Against Women Act in 1994. The bill was the first federal legislation to acknowledge domestic violence and sexual assault as crimes, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
According to the New York Times, his views on abortion have changed over the years. When he first joined the Senate, he thought that the Supreme Court went "too far" in Roe v. Wade and once said a woman shouldn't have the "sole right to say what should happen to her body." But then, as the Times reports, by the end of his vice presidency, he had changed his tune, saying the government doesn't have "a right to tell other people that women...can't control their body."
Biden has been criticized over how he handled the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. At the time, Biden was the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which means he was in charge of the proceedings, including the hearing of Anita Hill, who went before the committee after accusing Thomas of sexual harassment. Hill was famously grilled by an all-white, all-male committee during the hearings, and Biden has since expressed regret for what happened.
More recently, Biden was called out for his history of inappropriately touching women; in an essay on The Cut, former assemblywoman Lucy Flores wrote about a time that Biden unexpectedly kissed her on the back of the head right before a rally. She wrote, "He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head. My brain couldn’t process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused." Since then, a number of other women have come out and spoken about similar events where Biden made them feel uncomfortable. While Biden did apologize for his behavior, he then made jokes about the matter in public.
During his presidential campaign, Biden released his agenda on women’s issues, a lengthy and comprehensive plan that includes passing the Equal Rights Amendment and the National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, directing federal funding to women-owned businesses, restoring federal funding for Planned Parenthood, providing free pre-kindergarten, and increasing visas for domestic violence survivors. Read the plan here.
During a March 2018 discussion at the University of Pennsylvania, Biden said, "What's happened here is the nation as a whole has decided it can no longer, in my view, continue to turn a blind eye to the prostitution of the Second Amendment here and can no longer turn a blind eye to enormous damage being done not just in our schools but on our streets." He also expressed his support for the March for Our Lives movement, which was started by students and aims to fight for gun violence prevention.
In 1994, Biden helped pass a now-expired assault weapons ban while he was in the Senate, and he’s long been supportive of federal background checks. However, his critics might also point to his vote on a 1986 bill that, NBC reports, the NRA called "the law that saved gun rights." (Among other things, the bill allowed gun dealers to sell weapons through the mail.)
In his current plan on gun safety, Biden has made it clear he’s in favor of banning the manufacture and sale of assault weapons, banning high-capacity magazines, instituting a buy back program, and requiring background checks for all gun sales. Read more of his plan here.
Much of Biden's rhetoric is about supporting the middle class, and he's said previously he's for a progressive tax code that benefits workers. According to the Washington Post, Biden plans to “restore the top individual tax rate from 37 to 39.6 percent, raise the corporate tax rate from 21 to 28 percent, set minimum corporate taxes for domestic and foreign income, boost the tax on capital gains by labeling it as ordinary income and reintroduce limits on itemized deductions.” The outlet reports he has also offered various tax credits, including for first-time homebuyers, informal caregivers, “as well as a significant increase in the child-care and dependent-care tax credit.”
Biden has worked with what he has called "more foreign policy than I think anybody who's actively around in politics." He was a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as its chair, and he has criticized Trump's approach to foreign policy, including his dealings with Russia, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia. Biden told CBS in October 2018, "Either he doesn't know what he is doing or he has an absolutely convoluted notion of what allows America to lead the world."
But one issue that will most likely arise for Biden is his past support of the war in Iraq. At the time, Biden was the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and voted for the war, even praising George W. Bush during a Senate floor speech, according to The Hill.
In his foreign policy plan on his campaign website, Biden says in his first year in office, he would host a global Summit for Democracy, which would "prioritize results by galvanizing significant new country commitments" in fighting corruption, defending against authoritarianism, and advancing human rights. Read his plan here.
Much ink has been spilled about Biden’s progressive agenda for addressing the climate crisis, especially as his latest proposal shows a significant shift from the plan he put forth during the primaries.
His current response when asked about climate issues? “When I hear the words ‘climate change,’ I hear another word: ‘jobs,’” Biden says. His new plan proposes spending $2 trillion on the crisis, and Rolling Stone reports it’s "by far the most ambitious climate agenda ever put forward by a presidential nominee."
His plan, according to the outlet, includes providing cities with at least 100,000 people with zero-emissions public transportation options, creating a carbon-free electric power grid by 2035, creating one million new jobs through the auto industry by incentivizing the switch to electric-power vehicles, and creating a Civilian Climate Corp that would employ people on public-works projects. He’s also notably said that 40 percent of the benefits of this spending would go to disadvantaged communities.
However, as forward-thinking as Biden’s plan is, he will not commit to a ban on fracking, an important issues for many voters, especially in the battleground state of Pennsylvania.
Read more of his plan here.
Criminal Justice Reform and Policing
Biden has a long record when it comes to criminal justice, and it's one that will most likely be used against him as he continues his run for president. In the past, he was supportive of the war on drugs, even once criticizing President George H.W. Bush for not going far enough with his plan to combat drugs. Biden wanted harsh punishments for drug dealers and drug users, more incarceration, and tougher prison sentences for those with drug possession. According to Vox, he helped write laws that built "a punitive criminal justice system" and supported increased funding for prisons. He has also previously pushed for putting more police officers on the street. Read more about his record on the issue here.
However, Biden’s recent plans look much different than his past record. He’s advocated for eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, decriminalizing cannabis use, ending cash bail, and investing in juvenile justice reform. According to ABC News, he has also expressed his support for a federal ban on police use of chokeholds, collecting data on police use of force, and requiring bias training for officers. Yet, even as activists call for defunding the police as a means to end police brutality, Biden has made it clear where he stands. In a June interview with CBS News, he said, “No, I don't support defunding the police. I support conditioning federal aid to police based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness.”
Then in an op-ed for USA Today, Biden detailed his support of community policing. “While I do not believe federal dollars should go to police departments violating people’s rights or turning to violence as the first resort, I do not support defunding police,” he wrote. “The better answer is to give police departments the resources they need to implement meaningful reforms, and to condition other federal dollars on completing those reforms.”
“I’ve long been a firm believer in the power of community policing—getting cops out of their cruisers and building relationships with the people and the communities they are there to serve and protect. That’s why I’m proposing an additional $300 million to reinvigorate community policing in our country. Every single police department should have the money it needs to institute real reforms like adopting a national use of force standard, buying body cameras and recruiting more diverse police officers.”
Biden has laid out his plans for combating the COVID-19 pandemic, including implementing nationwide testing-and-tracing, securing sufficient personal protective equipment, developing science-based treatments and vaccines, laying out steps to reopen safely and effectively, and protecting those at high-risk. Read more on his plans here, here, and here.
During his Democratic National Convention speech, Biden said, “As president the first step I will take will be to get control of the virus. Because I understand what this president hasn’t from the beginning: We will never get our economy back on track, we will never get our kids safely back in school, we will never have our lives back until we deal with this virus.”
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