The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How Democratic 2020 candidates describe their own policy priorities

(Philip Bump/The Washington Post)

There is a challenge at the heart of covering political campaigns. Candidates often have complex positions on key issues that require extensive explication and analysis. But it can be tricky to get a sense for how those priorities rank and how any one candidate’s positions differ from those of their opponents.

We’re speaking here about the Platonic ideal of a voter, someone who actually does the research that would allow for such a comparison in the first place. Most — or, at least, many — voters simply don’t have the time or energy to do so. So how do we present policy positions in a way that allows for some contrasts and encourages people to learn more?

Here was my thinking: What if we asked campaigns themselves to summarize their views on issues, to help ease the vetting process for voters.

I reached out to a dozen campaigns for their thoughts on broadly identified policy areas — in 10 words or less. It was an arbitrary figure, certainly, but it seemed like one that would both force concision and make campaigns focus on the areas they considered priorities. To offset that brevity, I encouraged campaigns to provide links to information that would flesh out their thoughts.

The campaigns raised two valid concerns in response. The first: It is awfully early in the campaign for candidates to have robustly detailed policy positions. The second: The word limit might result in a focus on sloganeering. I think that this was mostly avoided below, but you be the judge.

Here are the responses we’ve received. (Some campaigns indicated that they intended to reply but hadn’t done so by deadline.) The participating candidates, in alphabetical order:

  • Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)
  • Former representative John Delaney (D-Md.)
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.)
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

As others enter the campaign, they will be invited to participate, as well.

Health care

Booker: To put patients ahead of profits, provide Medicare for All.

Delaney: Universal healthcare, private options, lower costs, tech addiction, mental health.

Gillibrand: Medicare For All since 2006. Lower drug prices. Protect kids.

Harris: We need Medicare for All. Every American deserves health care.

Klobuchar: We need universal, affordable, quality healthcare coverage for all Americans.

Sanders: Guarantee health care to every American through Medicare for All.

Criminal justice

Booker: Justice demands police accountability, marijuana legalization, end to mass incarceration.

Delaney: End systemic racial injustice. End for-profit prisons. Restitution.

Gillibrand: Combat institutional racism; decriminalize marijuana, end cash bail.

Harris: End mass incarceration and systemic discrimination. Be smart on crime.

Klobuchar: We must reform long prison sentences for non-violent offenders.

Sanders: Eliminate cash bail and private prisons, decriminalize marijuana.

Income inequality

Booker: Economic justice means a fair shot at success for everyone.

Delaney: Expand EITC, increase minimum wage, Buffett Rule, address AI disruption.

Gillibrand: End corporate greed. Raise minimum wage. Postal Banking. Equal pay.

Harris: Raise wages. Give working Americans up to $500 a month.

Klobuchar: Republican tax bill is regressive — the wealthiest should pay more.

Sanders: Raise wages, make wealthy and corporations pay their fair share.

Climate change

Booker: Green New Deal means sustainable jobs, a sustainable future.

Delaney: Carbon tax, return revenues to people, increase green energy research.

Gillibrand: Green New Deal: Tax carbon. Green infrastructure jobs. Clean water.

Harris: We need a Green New Deal to confront the crisis.

Klobuchar: Rejoin Paris Climate agreement, reinstate Obama rules, pass legislation.

Sanders: Transition to renewable energy, create jobs through Green New Deal.

Gun control

Booker: Fight gun lobby. Pass background checks and common-sense laws.

Delaney: Universal background checks, assault weapons ban, high-capacity magazine limits.

Gillibrand: Stop gun trafficking. Universal background checks. Ban assault rifles.

Harris: No more senseless deaths. Universal background checks. Assault weapons ban.

Klobuchar: My priority: Pass gun-safety measures like universal background checks.

Sanders: Take on the NRA and enact common-sense gun legislation.

Social safety net

Booker: Protect our most vulnerable and help lift them up.

Delaney: Expand and stabilize Social Security, universal healthcare, end hunger.

Gillibrand: Protect Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, SNAP, WIC. Expand FMLA.

Harris: Medicare and Social Security need strengthening, not cuts by Republicans.

Klobuchar: Americans should have healthcare, retirement security, and increased minimum wage.

Sanders: Expand Social Security so everyone can retire with dignity.

Foreign aid

Booker: America is safest, strongest when it leads, invests in allies.

Delaney: Increase foreign aid to improve diplomacy and national security.

Gillibrand: Education and economic opportunities limit risk of war and terrorism.

Harris: Global standing is diminished. Reject unilateralism and restore American leadership.

Klobuchar: I support a smart and strong foreign aid budget.

Sanders: A foreign policy focused on democracy, human rights and diplomacy.

Military deployments

Booker: Military force is last resort to ensure our national security.

Delaney: New AUMF establishing clear scope and objectives. Restore alliances.

Gillibrand: New AUMF. Strong, smart alliances, strategies, technologies; not endless war.

Harris: My most solemn responsibility will be whether to deploy troops.

Klobuchar: I’ll work with allies for responsible deployment of U.S. troops.

Sanders: Oppose the all-too-frequent rush to war.

Federal spending

Booker: Reverse trump tax law — invest in education, infrastructure, healthcare, R&D.

Delaney: Reduce deficits, raise revenues, make smart investments for the future.

Gillibrand: Priorities are health care, education, Social Security, infrastructure, job training.

Harris: $1 trillion giveaway to 1% and corporations is a waste.

Klobuchar: A responsible budget reflects our values.

Sanders: Stop giving tax breaks to wealthy while cutting vital programs.

Child care and education

Booker: Raise teacher pay, universal pre-K, demand school excellence.

Delaney: Universal PreK-14, paid leave, 0-3 funding, reduce student debt, innovation.

Gillibrand: Paid family leave leader. Universal pre-k, debt-free college, public schools.

Harris: We need universal childcare and investments in schools and teachers.

Klobuchar: I’ll expand affordable childcare and educational opportunities for today’s workforce.

Sanders: Make public colleges tuition free, lower student debt, universal childcare.

International trade

Booker: Support fair trade that lifts workers, protects environment, creates opportunity.

Delaney: Reenter TPP, end trade wars, hold China accountable, AI Strategy.

Gillibrand: Protect American workers and international environment. End Chinese IP stealing.

Harris: Trade war by tweet is hurting Americans. Need fair trade.

Klobuchar: We need fair trade with strong labor and environmental standards.

Sanders: Rewrite our failed trade policies to benefit workers, not corporations.

U.S.-Mexico border

Booker: Reject Trump’s wall. Reunite separated families. Treat asylum-seekers humanely.

Delaney: Border security as part of comprehensive bipartisan immigration reform.

Gillibrand: Wall is ineffective. Smart border security. Protect asylum seekers, children.

Harris: Don’t need a wall. We need smart border security.

Klobuchar: We need comprehensive immigration reform.

Sanders: Comprehensive immigration reform, protect Dreamers, end family separation policies.

Presidential power

Booker: No one is above the law, especially the President.

Delaney: Restore honesty and competence, uphold the Constitution, unify the country.

Gillibrand: President not above law, nor dictator. Should lead, not divide.

Harris: No president is above the law. Put service over self.

Klobuchar: I believe in the rule of law.

Sanders: Congress must reassert its constitutional authority over war making.