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 represented Vermont in the Senate since 2007 after serving in the House and as mayor of Burlington, Vt. In October, Sanders, 78, was hospitalized in October after having a heart attack. He returned to the trail with high-profile endorsements, however, and his polling numbers went up over the next few months. Grass roots energy and small donors powered his unsuccessful 2016 bid, and he’s relying on those again in this race, consistently turning out big crowds at campaign events.

He came in second in the delegate count in Iowa, just behind former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg in state delegate equivalents but ahead in the overall vote. Sanders won New Hampshire and Nevada and leads in the delegate count, though he came in a distant second to former vice president Joe Biden in South Carolina.

In depth

For Bernie Sanders, the path to power began in a public-housing laundry room How he got talked into his first race.

Marc Fisher | June 13, 2019 | 15 minutes

Bernie Sanders focuses on Medicare-for-all, making it the defining issue of his campaign The man who “wrote the damn bill” is talking about it even more.

Sean Sullivan | Aug. 12, 2019 | 7 minutes

Inside Bernie Sanders’s 1988 10-day ‘honeymoon’ in the Soviet Union It’s an extraordinary chapter in Sanders lore.

Michael Kranish | May 3, 2019 | 11 minutes

How Bernie Sanders would upend America’s global role A foreign policy worldview is anchored by a passionate opposition to U.S. military interventions.

Sean Sullivan | Jan. 11, 2020 | 11 mintes

Watch The political journey of Bernie Sanders Start in Vermont.

Joyce Koh | Aug. 26, 2019 | 8:17 minutes

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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Economic inequality

Sanders wants to reduce the level of inequality in the U.S., which he calls outrageous. To do that, he has proposed both a federal job guarantee and a new tax on the wealth of the top 0.1 percent of U.S.households. That tax, his campaign says, would fund affordable housing, universal child care and Medicare-for-all. Sanders advocates for an increase in the minimum wage, as well as for all student debt to be canceled. He wants to break up large corporations, including Facebook, Google and Amazon to take back “unchecked corporate power.”

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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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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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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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Who agrees with you?

Answer some of the policy questions that the candidates did and see which candidates your answers align with.

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