2020 Election: Where the Presidential Candidates Stand on 10 Major Issues

2020 Election: Where the Presidential Candidates Stand on 10 Major Issues

With Election Day just a few months away, voters are comparing the plans of incumbent President Trump and Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, for running the country over the next four years. With more Americans planning to vote before Election Day this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it’s the perfect time to start comparing and contrasting the two choices. In addition to examining Trump and Biden’s track record, voters are turning their attention to their most recent proposals to get an idea of where the candidates stand on major issues ahead of November. 

Both candidates are trying to win over parties that have been marked by division, especially in recent months. While Biden has struggled to win support from younger, more progressive voters who rallied around his political rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), President Trump spoke at four nights at the Republican National Convention where many of the party’s most prominent lawmakers were missing. In addition, a number of well-known Republicans like former Ohio Governor John Kasich and former Secretary of State Colin Powell signaled their support for Biden while speaking at the Democratic National Convention. Despite these challenges, however, both candidates have polled positively with voters within their own parties, signaling a deep partisan divide. 


From police reform to climate change, here’s what President Trump and former Vice President Biden have said about some of the biggest issues currently facing the country.

1. Abortion & Reproductive Rights


Biden, who has a more conservative voting record on abortion rights than some of his Democratic predecessors, did not get an endorsement from Planned Parenthood until after he became the presumptive Democratic nominee. The former Vice President previously voted in support of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds for most abortions, before reversing that position as recently as June 2019. Biden, who is Catholic, had a long track record of voting against exceptions to federal funding for abortions like rape, incest, and concerns about the health of the mother when he was a senator in Delaware. However, he reversed his opinion just last summer, saying he couldn’t “justify” limiting healthcare access with laws that unfairly target women in marginalized communities


While campaigning, Biden now says he wants to codify Roe v. Wade into federal law and push back on some Trump reforms by restoring federal funding to Planned Parenthood and other reproductive-care providers.


Meanwhile, Trump has also dramatically changed his stance on the issue. The president, who said he was pro-choice in 1999, has since become the first sitting president to speak at the March for Life and has come under fire for his comments on the issue, including saying that if abortion was made legal, women who got them should be subject to “some form of punishment.” He later reversed his statement, saying on the doctor performing the abortion should be punished.


Trump has also worked to reshape the U.S. Supreme Court with anti-abortion appointees and cut taxpayer funding for abortion under Title X for Planned Parenthood and other health clinics, instead redirecting the money towards anti-abortion groups. Under his administration, Trump has also made it easier for employers to claim religious or moral objections as a reason not to offer employees insurance coverage for contraception. Abroad, Trump implemented a January 2017 executive order prohibiting foreign groups that offer global health services from receiving any U.S. aid unless they do not “perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning.” This means groups would have to stop giving girls or women who came into clinics any information about abortions. 


While previous presidents limited funding available to groups offering family planning services—even if this isn’t funded by the U.S. government, Trump’s version prevents any health service that provides referrals or information about abortion from getting aid that could go towards its other health services. 

2. Student Debt


Both Trump and Biden have expressed support for some form of student loan forgiveness through income-driven repayment plans.


Under the president’s plan, undergraduate borrowers could get forgiveness on their federal student loans after 15 years instead of the current 20. However, borrowers’ monthly payments would now be 12.5 percent of their income instead of 10 and Trump plans to consolidate income-driven repayment plans into one. One of the most controversial proposals of his plan is eliminating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which benefits public service workers. The current PSLF program allows qualifying full-time public service employees to have the remaining balance on their Direct Loans forgiven after making 120 monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan. 


In August 2020, President Trump signed an executive order extending the student loan moratorium from the CARES Act, which temporarily put federal student loan payments on hold until January 2021.


Meanwhile, Biden’s plan would forgive all tuition-related federal student debt from undergraduate borrowers who make under $125,000 a year and attended a two- or four-year public college or university, or a private Historically Black College and University (HBCU) or Minority-Serving Institution (MSI).


While Biden wouldn’t change the current loan forgiveness time from 20 years, his plan would change how much everyone pays towards it. People making under $25,000 would not need to make monthly federal student loan payments or pay for the interest on these loans. Those making more would need to pay no more than 5 percent of their discretionary income.


Biden also revealed in his July 2020 ‘Women’s Agenda’ that he plans to tackle the amount of student debt held by women as a way to level the playing field. According to the American Association of University Women, women owe almost two-thirds of all student debt, which is compounded by the fact that they are compensated for their work at lower rates than men once they’re in the workforce.

3. Gender Equality


Biden’s ‘Women’s Agenda,’ which he released on July 27, acknowledges that issues of gender inequality go beyond access to reproductive healthcare and wage equality. In the proposal, the former vice president said he will tackle wage disparity and gender inequality at a national level by working to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, which he has co-sponsored nine times, and supporting the Paycheck Fairness Act. However, he also detailed plans to invest in women-owned businesses and provide increased benefits, such as paid leave and more affordable child care, for jobs that women tend to go into.


Meanwhile, in 2019, the Trump administration launched the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative, which allocated $50 million towards improving women in developing countries’ access to education, as well as work and mentorship opportunities, while identifying barriers to success. 

4. Coronavirus


Biden’s proposed plan for reopening the economy includes eight points like guaranteed testing and personal protective equipment for workers going back to work, as well as guaranteed paid sick leave for employees who contract the virus. Along with the introduction of programs to support schools and child care facilities as well as added protections for older Americans who are more vulnerable to the virus, Biden has also proposed a national contact tracing network.


The former vice president has also touted a more long-term strategy to jumpstart the economy after reopening by proposing trillions towards investing in jobs in sectors like clean energy, caregiving, and manufacturing


Trump, who has come under extensive global criticism for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, has not detailed an explicit plan for safely reopening for the rest of the year following the White House’s recommendations for a phased approach. In July, he said schools must resume in-person learning this fall, and he’d be putting “pressure” on governors who didn’t mandate this. Toward the beginning of the pandemic in April, President Trump said he did not plan to wear a mask and said in a June 19 interview with The Wall Street Journal that people wearing masks were signaling their “disapproval” with him. However, in July 2020, he was photographed wearing one while visiting the Walter Reed military hospital. “I’ve never been against masks but I do believe they have a time and a place,” he said at the time. In a televised town hall with ABC on September 15, Trump again seemed to downplay mask-wearing, saying, “There are people that don’t think masks are good.”


While the president has consistently said he believes the virus will “just disappear” and will “all work out fine,” he came under fire in September with the publishing of Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward’s book Rage, which included a Feb. 7 interview with the president where he revealed he knew the coronavirus was “deadly stuff” before the first U.S. case. An additional clip from an interview with Woodward from March 19 showed the president saying, “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”


Following Congress’s inability to come to an agreement on a second stimulus plan, the president unilaterally signed one executive order on an eviction moratorium and three memoranda (which are similar to an executive order, but can be changed with another memorandum while an executive order can only be amended or rescinded by another executive order) extending protections for student loan borrowers, pausing payroll taxes, and extending a boost in unemployment taxes at up to $400 a week. 


The four-month-long payroll tax holiday, which temporarily will defer federal tax withholdings for people making less than $100,000 a year and allow them to take home bigger checks until Dec. 31, has come under scrutiny due to the fact that people will have to pay back those taxes after the deferral period ends. In addition, if the pause on payroll taxes became permanent, experts have estimated Social Security will run out by 2023

5. Criminal Justice Reform


Both Biden and Trump have touted themselves as candidates that would reform the criminal justice system. In 2018, Trump signed the bipartisan First Step Act, which seeks to expand drug treatment and rehabilitation programs for prisoners, increase the amount of good conduct time that prisoners can claim, and cut some incarcerated people’s mandatory-minimum sentences.


Meanwhile, Biden has said he wants to eliminate the practice of jailing accused criminals until they pay a cash bail, as well as the death penalty, and other “inhumane prison practices.” For example, Biden has said he will end solitary confinement except in very limited limited situations. He has also said he wants to decriminalize marijuana and bridge the punishment disparities between possession of crack and powder cocaine. He has also proposed rewarding states for minimizing certain sentences with $20 billion competitive grants that’ll go towards social issues. 

6. Healthcare


Biden has differentiated himself from his left-leaning colleagues’ calls for a single-payer “Medicare for All” system, instead proposing to expand and bolster the Affordable Care Act. He has proposed lowering the age of Medicare eligibility from 65 to 60, increasing funding to the ACA ($750 billion over the next decade, which he says would be partially paid for by increasing taxes on wealthy individuals as well as long-term capital gains taxes), and offering a two-payer system with a private insurance option and a Medicare-like public option. 


Meanwhile, Trump has regularly attempted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and has used executive action to cut back on it. He’s also introduced new work requirements for Medicaid eligibility and cracked down on how Medicaid funds can be used. 


While he’s repeatedly promised a comprehensive healthcare system that he says would be more effective and less costly, he has yet to share a more in-depth proposal of what this would look like.

7. Police Reform


Biden and Trump’s stances on policing have enjoyed renewed attention following nationwide spring and summer 2020 protests and unrest due to police brutality towards the Black community.


Trump, who has characterized himself as the “law and order president,” signed what many considered a long-overdue executive order in June 2020 incentivizing police reforms after the killing of George Floyd. However, critics argued that the order didn’t do enough to hold police departments accused of civil rights violations accountable, especially as it included loopholes on the use of police chokeholds and didn’t place any restrictions on no-knock warrants. Some also criticized Trump for refusing to condemn qualified immunity, which has come under scrutiny for legally protecting officers from lawsuits from victims.


While President Trump has frequently claimed that Biden wants to abolish or defund law enforcement, Biden has proposed investing more money into police departments. Specifically, he’s called to invest $300 million in grants to help close the disparity in the low percentage of diverse officers while helping bridge relationships with local communities they’re serving. 

8. Climate Change & Environmental Protections


Biden has dialed up his initial campaign promise to spend $1.7 trillion towards achieving 100 percent clean electricity by 2050 by recently upping the investment to $2 trillion and moving up the timeline for net-zero emissions to 2035. The Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice proposes jump-starting the economy by creating jobs that diverge from reliance on fossil fuels. He’s also called for rebuilding more sustainable infrastructure, public transportation, and homes; strengthening emission regulations, and becoming a leader in climate change agreements like the Paris agreement, which Trump has said is too costly for the U.S. as it currently stands


Like Trump, Biden supports investment in advanced nuclear technology and says he will not ban fracking, despite pressure from his party to do so. 


While Trump does not have a proposal for dealing with climate change on his campaign website, he has rolled back almost 70 Obama-era regulations on coal, carbon dioxide emissions, and toxic chemicals. He also proposed cutting funding for the Environmental Protection Agency as well as other environmental programs. 


Trump has also rejected scientific evidence about climate change, at numerous points saying he doesn’t believe it’s “manmade” or claiming that global warming was “created” by the Chinese to make the U.S.’s manufacturing non-competitive, which the BBC reported he later said was a joke. In April 2020, he inaccurately claimed, “The level of environmental cleanliness is at its all-time best right now” due to the country using higher levels of natural gas compared to oil. According to ClimateChange.gov, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are at their highest now than any time in the past 800,000 years. 


While visiting California on Sept. 14 amidst the devastating wildfires, Trump also pushed back on the idea that climate change was to blame for the disaster, instead attributing the fires to poor forest management. “I don’t think science knows, actually,” he said when questioned about the subject. 

9. Foreign Policy


Trump built his foreign policy on an “America first” platform, critiquing the country’s past leadership for taking part in agreements and treaties he claimed were detrimental to the United States. In addition to working to reform the country’s trade relations with China—in January, he came to a Phase 1 trade deal with the country after a trade war, although he says it’s “unlikely” that Washington will enter into Phase 2 negotiations amidst the ongoing pandemic—he has reduced foreign aid and announced he is withdrawing the U.S. from several major international institutions, including UNESCO and the World Health Organization (WHO).


While both Trump and Biden have signaled a more conservative stance on the presence of U.S. troops in the Middle East than past presidents, the president has sent additional military forces to the region and ordered a strike in Iraq in January 2020, which led to the high-profile killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani


Meanwhile, Biden has frequently condemned the president for straining relationships with allies and has said he plans to revert many of Trump’s foreign policies. Including a promise to reinstate the ban on torture, Biden has said he will bring American troops home from “forever wars” and include environmental and labor leaders when negotiating new global trade agreements. He has also said America will be in a better position to bargain with China with the support of its allies and claims Trump ordering the strike “put the United States and Iran on a collision course.” 

10. Immigration


Immigration was one of the biggest issues during the 2016 election. Trump ran on the promise to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and his administration has put up 321 miles so far, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. According to The San Antonio Express News, as of Aug. 7, only about 5 miles of that are a new construction. If elected, Biden has said he would stop construction on the wall and instead divert funding to enhanced security thanks to a more high-tech design and improved infrastructure at entry points


Trump also tried to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation, in 2017. However, in June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that Trump’s actions were “arbitrary and capricious” and blocked him from ending it at the time. Since then, Trump has blocked new enrollment for the program and cut the renewal period from two years to one year. Biden has said that he would expand the program for “Dreamers” while providing a road to citizenship. He also said he would make Dreamers eligible to get federal student aid to go to college. 


As for the Middle East, Biden has said he would reverse Trump’s executive order banning people from a number of predominantly Muslim countries from traveling to the U.S.—a decision that was upheld in 2018 by the Supreme Court—on his first day in office.

With the two presidential candidates scheduled to go head-to-head during their first debate on Sept. 29 in Cleveland, Ohio, it’s likely there that voters will get the most up-to-date picture of where both Biden and Trump stand on a number of current issues. In the meantime, individuals can check out both Biden and Trump’s campaign websites for a more comprehensive explainer on their proposed policies as well as what they’ve already done to bring about the sweeping reforms they’re calling for.