Election 2020
Portrait of Bernie Sanders
Portrait of Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

Democratic candidate

The longtime U.S. senator from Vermont is a political independent who caucuses with the Democrats. He began his second presidential bid with the same message that has defined his political career: As economic inequality plagues the nation, the federal government must harness its power to redistribute wealth. Sanders has been a major force in moving the Democratic Party to the left -- shaping the debate about Medicare-for-all, a $15-an-hour minimum wage and free tuition at public colleges. But unlike in 2016, other Democratic contenders mirror his progressivism and threaten his hold on the left wing of the party.

Sanders has consistently polled among the top three candidates in the 2020 Democratic race by relying on the same grassroots energy and small donors that powered his bid for the 2016 nomination. An independent, Sanders has represented Vermont in the Senate since 2007 after serving in the House and as mayor of Burlington, Vt. In October, Sanders, 78, was hospitalized after having a heart attack.

In depth

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Climate change

Sanders released an ambitious Green New Deal climate plan, which declares climate change a national emergency and requires that the United States cease fossil fuel use by 2050. He has previously sponsored legislation to impose a carbon tax, although he now says that such action would have to be “part of a larger strategy” to move the economy away from fossil fuels. An early supporter of the Green New Deal in Congress, Sanders has allocated significantly more resources toward fighting climate change than fellow 2020 candidates — placing a $16.3 trillion price on his plan. He has said that his plan would “pay for itself” over 15 years and that it would generate 20 million jobs during that period.

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Education

The senator has elevated higher-education affordability as a national political issue since he campaigned in 2016 on providing free college tuition to all U.S. residents. In June, Sanders added to his education policy package when he announced a plan to forgive $1.6 trillion in existing student loans — an extension of a policy that Warren introduced. Some worry that Sanders’s proposals would offer too much assistance to wealthy families, but his campaign contends that its plan would best address the “full scope of the problem.” Sanders’s education package also includes the Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education, which would significantly increase funding for schools in high-poverty areas.

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Foreign policy

Sanders faced criticism during his last presidential bid for his lack of experience with foreign policy, but he has since developed expertise and messaging around issues abroad. The senator has focused on Yemen, where the United States is involved in a bloody war that has devastated the region. In 2018, Sanders led bipartisan efforts to end U.S. support for the Saudi regime — culminating in a resolution that passed the House and the Senate but was vetoed by President Trump. Sanders has celebrated diplomacy and foreign aid and spoke about the United States’ responsibility to support humanity worldwide. “A sensible and effective foreign policy recognizes that our safety and welfare is bound up with the safety and welfare of others around the world,” he said in a foreign policy speech in September 2017 at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo.

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Government

A believer in structural reform, Sanders has called to abolish the electoral college and has said he wants to overhaul the Senate filibuster. “I believe in filibuster reform and making it much harder for any one senator to bring the Senate to a halt,” he told The Washington Post. Sanders has sponsored legislation on voter reforms such as automatic registration and making Election Day a national holiday. Instead of adding justices to the Supreme Court, as some 2020 presidential candidates have proposed, Sanders has suggested “rotating judges to the appeals court” to allow for “new blood” in the highest chamber.

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Health care

Sanders is known for his commitment to Medicare-for-all, a single-payer health-care plan that has gained traction with other liberal Democrats. His plan would cover all U.S. residents, including undocumented immigrants, and would eliminate private insurance altogether within four years. Critics of the proposal say that it would cost too much and that it would lead to an increase in taxes that could cripple the middle class. Sanders tried to combat these concerns in October, releasing a proposal that would introduce a new wealth tax on those earning $32 million or more. His plan mirrors Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s signature wealth tax proposal but would raise more money by imposing higher taxes on a broader set of earners.

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Immigration

Sanders was the first candidate in the 2020 presidential race to advocate for a temporary halt in deporting people who live in the country illegally and has called for law enforcement officials to treat border crossings as civil proceedings instead of criminal ones. Sanders previously voted against the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement and is running on a promise to “fundamentally restructure” ICE. But the senator has at times prioritized economic security for American workers over increasing access for immigrants. He opposed a bill in 2007 that would have created legal status for millions of immigrants over concerns about labor protections. This summer, he told the Wall Street Journal that he thought Americans should be given first priority for jobs when asked about guest-worker programs.

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