A Closer Look at the Democratic Candidates

Karthik Kundurthy, Contributing Writer

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The 2020 presidential election is approaching swiftly, and in little more than a year,  many Morris Hills seniors will have the opportunity to vote. It is crucial, therefore, to understand the positions of prominent candidates across the spectrum.  Throughout the school year, we will feature an overview of the candidates and their stances on prominent issues in the U.S today in particular, gun control, immigration, and climate change. We’ll start with Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Andrew Yang and Elizabeth Warren

Gun Control: The most liberal candidate, Bernie Sanders, has a very complex relationship with gun control that has changed dramatically over his long political career. Coming from Vermont, a gun-friendly state, Sanders has previously been adverse to federal regulation of guns. Sanders also stated to Washington Post reporter that “…everything being equal, states should make those (gun-control) decisions.” And, after his successful run for Congress in 1990, he repeatedly voted against the Brady Bill which advocated for mandated background checks and waiting period, opposed funding for gun violence research, and legally protected gun manufacturers and retailers.  

Joe Biden, on the other hand, has been amongst an extremely vocal group of Democrats to advocate for a prohibition on the sale of assault weapons. He supports a buyback program, implemented in New Zealand and Australia, universal background checks, and reestablishing a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. He wrote vehemently in a New York Times op-ed “Inaction of gun control would be moral failure…Anyone who pretends there is nothing we can do…should be disqualifying for anyone seeking to lead our country.” .

Andrew Yang, like Sanders and Biden, does not advocate for the complete ban on gun ownership, but rather argues that because the number of guns in private ownership is approaching 400 million, “responsible gun owners should continue to enjoy that right to bear arms, subject licensing, and education requirements, to promote public safety.” 

In August, Elizabeth Warren unveiled her gun control plan,“Protecting our Communities from gun violence,” which advocates policies similar to those of other Democratic nominees: mandatory background checks, eliminating the filibuster, stricter gun control laws, and restrictions on the NRA (National Rifles Association). While her plan has come under fire for factual inaccuracies, many experts agree that elements of the plan are workable, and it is notable for its aggressive commitment to reduce gun deaths by 80% percent. 

Immigration:  Sanders has referred to the immigration system as “profoundly broken” and explained in an Iowa town hall meeting that “…if you open the borders, my god, there’s a lot of poverty in the world, and you’re going to have people from all over the world…Can’t do it.”  Sanders justifies his belief in a restricted, regulated immigration system with the already high per-capita costs of his proposed social policies like free college and healthcare. 

Biden’s views and actions on immigration are more complex. Unlike Sanders, he regards the large influx of immigrants to be a positive phenomenon and argues that these immigrants “extend the life of social security,” and that this large base of working people give the United States a major competitive advantage in the 21st century. However, he is controversial for having deported 3 million hispanic immigrants, which prompted moderator Jorge Ramos to harshly question “Why should Latinos trust you?” at the Democratic debate in September. In such situations, Biden has been evasive and has garnered criticism from other Democratic candidates like Cory Booker and Julian Castro. 

There are certainly no ambiguities for Andrew Yang, the son of two Taiwanese immigrants. At the September Democratic debate, Yang said, “My father grew up on a peanut farm in Asia with no floor and now his son is running for president.” Yang has advocated a scheme for illegal immigrants to gain citizenship in 18 years, boosting funding for U.S ports of entry and creating the DREAM act, a proposal aimed at protecting young documented immigrants who were brought to the country illegally. 

As a departure from her highly liberal stance on major issues, Warren supports President Obama’s (and Biden’s) more moderate stance on immigration. Warren’s proposal is a clear reversal of President Trump’s immigration policy and proposes rigorous protection of schools, medical facilities, and courthouses from the Trump administration’s proposed raids. She has also taken a vocal stance against the administration’s use of immigration detention centers in the Southwest. Warren proposes admitting six to eight times the number of asylum and refugee-seekers as admitted thus far in President Trump’s term. 

Environmental Protection: The environment has been a point of shared interest for the Democratic candidates and most of the potential candidates support an aggressive climate action plan to a degree. On the environment Bernie Sanders is best known for his Green New Deal, a 16.3 trillion dollar deal to end what he calls “the existential threat.”  This features goals like meeting 100% renewable energy by 2030, decarbonization by 2050 through massive solar, geothermal and wind energy projects, and providing 200 billion dollars to the Green Climate Fund and rejoining the Paris Climate Accords, along with massive public investment in greener agriculture, conservation and climate justice compensation. Sanders contends that the massive expenditure will create 20 million jobs and pay for itself over 15 years, as well as avoid the massive cost of climate change, predicted to be 34 trillion dollars by the end of the century. Warren’s position of climate change is similarly aggressive, and she also backs a Green New Deal. Her plan supports an immediate investment of two trillion dollars for intensive research, manufacturing, and exporting over the 2020’s coupled with an agricultural plan designed to invest in sustainable farming practices. She also wants to break up large agricultural mega-merger corporations, which she likens to trusts. Included in the plan are provisions for American-made clean energy products and foreign assistance to purchase emissions emissions-free American technology. Warren supports environmental justice for impacted communities, and has allocated upwards of a trillion dollars for such a fund. Though Biden was one of the early voices in introducing a climate action bill to Congress, he has had contradicting positions. Biden opposes the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, said to be the strongest climate action bill to be debated in the Senate, and early in his career opposed the tightening of fuel efficiency standards. His support of the fracking boom also poses major environmental risks. On the other hand, the Biden-Obama administration was very active against climate change, achieving landmark accomplishments like the Paris climate agreement. Amidst growing climate activism, Biden has adopted a fresh climate action plan, of which the Green New Deal is a key cornerstone, what Biden refers to as a “crucial framework.”  Andrew Yang’s policy on climate change is also aggressive and includes a 4.87 trillion dollar expenditure across twenty years for geoengineering and climate research, clean technologies, subsidizing green purchases outside the United States, and moving coastal residents to higher ground. By 2025, Yang hopes to establish net zero standards for new buildings, by 2027, new nuclear technologies like thorium based reactors, by 2030 zero emission standards for all new cars, by 2035, 100% renewable energy electricity generation, by 2040, net zero emissions for transportation, by 2045, reducing and reusing 85% of methane waste, and by 2050, a fully green American economy. 

Democratic candidates like Andrew Yang, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Joe Biden, while dispersed between moderate and highly left positions, have similarities in their call for aggressive climate action, and stricter gun laws, but these are where the similarities end. The candidates disagree on immigration and debate heavily on how to realize their goals.  It’s important that we, as Americans with the right to vote, familiarize ourselves with where they stand.