President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden have taken very different positions on a range of policy issues. Hear from Trump and Biden in their own words how they would tackle the problems facing the United States.
Biden’s plan to address the pandemic includes offering free testing to all Americans. It calls for hiring 100,000 people for national contact-tracing, as well as increasing drive-thru testing sites. He is also urging Trump to use the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of protective equipment for health care workers, testing supplies and other items. Biden’s plan includes steps designed to help businesses and schools reopen, including financial support for retaining and rehiring workers, building a best-practices clearinghouse for schools and guaranteeing paid leave for anyone with coronavirus or who is caring for someone with the virus. The former vice president also said he would call Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, shortly after being declared the winner of the general election to ask him to remain a member of the White House coronavirus task force. Biden has said he would mandate that everyone wear a mask in public.
In January, as the coronavirus outbreak began, the White House formed a task force that included Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the US Government Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declared the coronavirus a public health emergency in the United States. In February, the US began implementing stringent travel restrictions in an effort to contain the outbreak, which included temporarily denying entry to foreign nationals who had visited China in the 14 days prior to their arrival in the US. Public health officials in Trump’s administration have urged Americans to practice social distancing and wear masks to slow the spread of the virus, but Trump himself has been reluctant to wear a mask in public. The President said that he didn’t believe making masks mandatory across the country was necessary, but said in July that he is “all for masks” and that he “thinks masks are good.” Trump has repeatedly downplayed the need for increased testing, and told supporters at a June rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that Covid-19 testing was “a double-edged sword.” “When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people,” he said during the rally. “You’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’ “
Biden’s health care plan would greatly expand Obamacare’s subsidies to make the private insurance policies available on the exchanges more affordable. The plan would also create a new “public option” similar to Medicare that people could buy into. “We’re going to add to it a public option. And the public option says whether you are having employer-based insurance or private insurance, or you’re in the exchange, you can join up for a Medicaid-Medicare-like provision in the law and not dump 300 million people on Medicare all of a sudden,” he said in July 2019. Biden added that those covered by employer-based health insurance plans could also choose the public plan if they prefer it. “You can sign up and get this other plan,” he said. “But if you like (your private insurance), you’re able to keep it.”
Trump on September 24 laid out what he called his “vision” for health care in America, but the two executive orders Trump said he was going to sign fall far short of a comprehensive proposal. Trump said he was signing an executive order to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions, even as Trump and Republican lawmakers attempt to try to tear down the Affordable Care Act that already protects them. The second executive order directs Congress to pass legislation to address surprise medical billing by the end of the year, and if lawmakers don’t achieve this, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar will seek to do so via executive or regulatory action. Trump campaigned against the Affordable Care Act on the runup to his presidency. While the Republican-controlled Congress failed to repeal the law, Trump has taken a number of executive actions to undermine it, including making it easier for Americans to access alternative policies that have fewer protections and benefits. The administration is also seeking to invalidate the landmark health care law through the courts. Trump has promised to reduce drug prices and unveiled a blueprint to do so in 2018. Bucking long-standing Republican beliefs, the President is pushing to allow drug importation, particularly from Canada, and to tie the price of drugs in the US to their cost in other developed nations. However, several of his efforts have been stymied, including requiring drug makers to include their list prices in TV ads, which was nixed by a federal judge in summer 2019. In an effort to lower health care costs overall, the administration also issued a rule requiring hospitals to post the rates they negotiate privately with health insurers, starting in 2021. A coalition of major hospital groups took legal action to block the requirement.
Boosting the middle class is one of the main pillars of Biden’s campaign. He has said the country needs to build an economy that “rewards work, not just wealth.” Biden wants to repeal the tax cuts enacted by the Trump administration and is pushing for a $15 minimum hourly wage, eliminating noncompete agreements for workers and expanding access to affordable education, including free community college. Biden’s plan to address the coronavirus pandemic also includes steps designed to help businesses and schools reopen, including financial support for retaining and rehiring workers, building a best-practices clearinghouse for schools and guaranteeing paid leave for anyone with coronavirus or who is caring for someone with the virus. In an interview with CNN in July 2019, Biden said he would raise the top individual income tax rate to 39.5% and raise the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%. Biden has detailed a moderate proposal to use government purchasing to spur manufacturing in sectors including clean energy, infrastructure and health care. He has also proposed new tax credits for those who care for children, seniors and disabled people. Biden said he would build tens of thousands of new child-care facilities as part of a plan to bolster what his campaign called the “caregiving economy.” Biden’s climate plan also aims to spur the creation of millions of new jobs and focuses on infrastructure. His climate plan is part of a series of economic plans aimed at jump-starting an economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic.
Congress passed and Trump signed the largest emergency aid package in US history on March 27 in response to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The roughly $2 trillion CARES Act stimulus package included, among a myriad of other items, direct financial assistance to Americans. A large part of the stimulus package is the $660 billion Paycheck Protection Program, which provides forgivable loans to small businesses if at least 75% of the money goes toward payroll expenses. During an interview with Politico on April 25, Biden argued that another stimulus package was needed and should be “a hell of a lot bigger” than the CARES Act. On March 18, Trump signed into law a coronavirus relief package. The package included provisions for free testing for Covid-19 and paid emergency leave for certain people impacted by the coronavirus, with payments capped at $511 a day. It also increased Medicaid funding, certain tax credits, and expanded food assistance. There are many critics of these programs and packages and a good deal of evidence that some of the funds did not go to those Americans and small businesses most in need. Trump’s major economic policy achievement in office was the 2017 tax cut, which drastically reduced rates for individuals and businesses – but led to a rise in the federal budget deficit to nearly $1 trillion in fiscal year 2019, undermining a campaign promise to not just shrink deficits but eliminate the national debt altogether by the end of a second term.
Biden has said he does not support calls to “defund the police,” which picked up steam after the police killings of George Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, as well as others. But he does support some of the principles the phrase’s advocates champion. Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates has said that Biden supports “the urgent need for reform – including funding for public schools, summer programs, and mental health and substance abuse treatment separate from funding for policing – so that officers can focus on the job of policing.” Biden’s campaign has said he backs proposals to increase spending on social programs separate from local police budgets, but he also wants more funding for police reforms such as body cameras and training on community policing approaches. Biden has called for an additional $300 million in funding for the Community Oriented Policing Services program, which would allow more officers to be hired and would pay for training on community policing approaches.
Trump has declared himself “your President of law and order” amid nationwide protests over systemic racism and police brutality in America. He has lambasted efforts to defund police departments and has said police were owed respect for their work. In June, he signed an order to enact modest reforms in a move to confront the outcry over police brutality, including a tracking program that will encourage localities to submit information on officers who have been fired or found in court to have used excessive force. The Justice Department will also direct federal grants toward police departments that are credentialed for having use of force and de-escalation policies and banning the use of chokeholds, except when lethal force is authorized. Working with federal health officials, the department will increase training on programs that pair social workers with police to answer mental health and homelessness calls. The Justice Department’s political leadership under the Trump administration has endorsed a policing policy that prioritized stamping out a national uptick in violent crime and boosting the morale of street cops, who the Trump administration claimed had been antagonized under the Obama era.
Biden has said he will push to ban so-called assault weapons if elected. In a New York Times op-ed, Biden – who helped lead the effort to ban assault weapons in the 1990s – wrote that the United States has a “huge problem with guns,” and that assault weapons, which he defined as “military-style firearms designed to fire rapidly,” are a threat to US national security. He also told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he would push for a federal gun buyback program in an attempt to take more weapons off the streets. He supports universal background checks, and said assault weapons “should be illegal. Period.” In the first Democratic presidential debate, Biden called for “smart guns” – requiring manufacturers to include biometric measures that would block firearms from being used by those whose fingerprints aren’t registered for that specific gun. He has also focused further on gun manufacturers. “Our enemy is the gun manufacturers, not the NRA. The gun manufacturers,” he said at the debate.
In the wake of mass shootings throughout his presidency, Trump has vowed action on gun violence, including expanding background checks. But he has been vague on the details, and has repeatedly pointed to mental health and hate as the underlying issues. After the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, Trump order the Department of Justice to ban bump stocks, attachments that effectively make semi-automatic rifles fire continuously. The ban became effective in March 2019. The President has backed “red flag” gun laws on the state level, which enable those who have seen warning signs to seek court orders to intervene and prevent someone who is in crisis from temporarily having access to firearms.
Biden supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. He has also called on Congress to immediately grant citizenship to some undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children. At the first Democratic presidential debate in June, Biden said that undocumented immigrants with no criminal records “should not be the focus of deportation.” In an interview with CNN in July 2019, Biden said he opposes decriminalizing crossing the border without documentation, something other candidates in the field have supported. “I think people should have to get in line, but if people are coming because they’re actually seeking asylum, they should have a chance to make their case,” Biden said.
During his 2016 campaign, Trump proposed the construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border, and has made it a tenet of his immigration policy as President. After taking office, he issued an executive order suspending the entry of people from a number of Muslim-majority countries for 90 days; the order went through several iterations in court before it was upheld. The administration’s “zero tolerance” policy in 2018 – criminal prosecutions of adults who illegally crossed the border – resulted in thousands of family separations at the border as parents were detained. Under a court order, the government must identify and reunify certain separated children. The President has proposed a merit-based immigration system, establishing a points-based system for green card holders and restricting sponsorship to spouses and minor children. Trump also officially ended Obama-era protections for undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children, a decision that has now been taken to the Supreme Court.
Biden has proposed an education plan that would increase funding for schools in low-income areas, help teachers pay off student loans and double the number of health professionals working in schools. A core element involves tripling federal Title I funding for schools that serve low-income areas, closing what his campaign called a $23 billion funding gap between majority white and nonwhite school districts. In October 2019, Biden unveiled a plan that would cut student loan debt obligations, waiving $10,000 per year – for up to five years – for those in public service work, like teachers or members of the military. He would also guarantee that those earning less than $25,000 owe nothing on their undergraduate federal student loans, while everyone else’s payments would be capped at 5% of their discretionary income above $25,000 – halving the current 10% cap. His plans heavily emphasize executive action. Biden said at an American Federation of Teachers forum in Houston in May 2019 that “the bulk of” his education proposals can become law even if Republicans maintain control of the Senate after the 2020 elections.
Trump, as President, has vowed to fix student loan debt. As directed by an executive order, the Department of Education published new data in November 2019 about graduates’ income and debt levels aimed at helping students make more informed borrowing decisions before choosing colleges. The White House has also made loan forgiveness automatic for veterans with disabilities and urged Congress to include place a cap on student loan borrowing. By contrast, it has repeatedly proposed ending a student loan forgiveness program for public workers, but Congress has rejected those efforts. The administration has pushed for a school choice tax credit known as “Education Freedom Scholarships,” which students could use to attend public or private schools, including charters, outside of their districts. It has rescinded a number of Obama-era policies, including those that promoted racial diversity in schools and protections for transgender students in public schools that let them use bathrooms and other facilities corresponding to their gender identities. It has also rolled back two rules that were intended to hold for-profit colleges accountable.
A central argument of Biden’s campaign for president is that the former Vice President has extensive foreign policy experience from his eight years serving in the White House and from traveling the globe as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In June, Biden pledged to undo President Donald Trump’s foreign policy moves in a speech in which the former vice president laid out how he would seek to restore pre-Trump international norms and “place America back at the head of the table.” The centerpiece of Biden’s effort to return to international cooperation is a summit that Biden said he would call among the world’s democracies, non-governmental organizations and corporations – particularly tech and social media companies – to seek a common agenda to protect their shared values. Such a summit would push companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter – where Russian trolls reached American voters during the 2016 election – to combat challenges such as surveillance, censorship and the spread of hate speech. While in the Senate, Biden voted to authorize the war in Iraq in 2002. Like other Democrats who voted yes, Biden has spent the years since apologizing for it as the conflict became increasingly unpopular with the American public and Democratic voters.
Trump has made a series of unpredictable moves on trade, including the imposition of tariffs against allies like the European Union. Trump has also engaged in a two-year trade war with China, imposing an escalating series of retaliatory tariffs that have hit American farmers, importers and manufacturers. He announced plans to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations and Agreement, an Obama-era trade deal among a number of countries, soon after taking office in 2017. Preferring bilateral deals, he signed a new trade pact with Japan in 2019 – but it was no better for American ranchers and farmers than the Trans-Pacific Partnership would have been. His administration also renegotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement, the trade pact with Canada and Mexico. The countries have since agreed to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, but it is pending ratification by the US Congress.
Biden in July 2020 proposed spending $2 trillion over four years on clean energy projects and ending carbon emissions from power plants by 2035. In a speech detailing the plan, Biden called the threat posed by climate change a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to jolt new life into our economy.” The plan marks a clear shift by Biden toward progressives’ goals of urgently reducing fossil fuel consumption to combat climate change. Biden’s new proposal is more ambitious than the 10-year, $1.7 trillion plan he’d offered during the Democratic primary, which included the goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. His proposed 100% clean electricity standard by 2035 is modeled after a proposal initially offered by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and later embraced by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. The same aim was included in a series of recommendations recently negotiated by a task force made up of members appointed by Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and co-chaired by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a chief proponent of the Green New Deal.
Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord – a landmark 2015 deal on global warming targets – was a major blow to the global response to the climate crisis. The decision sent a message to the rest of the world that the US – which can legally leave the agreement as early as 2020 – would not be leading the global fight against climate change. Trump’s EPA chief has said that while he believes in climate change, it is not a top priority. The administration shrunk two of Utah’s national monuments. It has also pushed to open Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration, as well as waters along the East and Pacific coasts. Under the Trump administration, the EPA announced it would no longer require oil and gas companies to install monitors to detect methane leaks from new wells, tanks and pipelines.
CNN’s Eric Bradner contributed to this report.