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As AOC and The Squad back Bernie Sanders for president, this is what he stands for

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Anna Brech
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US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and two other members of “The Squad” have backed his presidential bid: but what would a Bernie Sanders-run White House look like? 

He’s the firebrand socialist who won hearts and minds – if not the actual ticket – in the 2016 presidential campaign. She’s the upstart from the Bronx whose curveball victory in the November midterms has brought fresh verve to the Democratic movement. 

As Bernie Sanders lays his sights on the White House once again, rising star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has thrown her weight behind the Vermont senator’s bid. The youngest woman to be elected to Congress is right on-board with America’s oldest would-be president; and many commentators say her endorsement can’t come soon enough.

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Sanders has scaled back his 2020 campaign since suffering a heart attack earlier this month, and he’s now polling behind both Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren in the race for Democratic nomination.

“Think about the courage of this person who says, ‘You know, I know what you just went through but I have so much trust and confidence in you that you are the one who will fight the fight that I believe in. I’m with you,’” Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz Shakir told POLITICO after news of the endorsement. “To hear that was like, ‘Wow’.”

Another member of AOC’s Capitol Hill “squad”, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, has also announced she’s backing Sanders for president, while a third – Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib – is expected to join the pair at a Bernie’s Back rally in New York this weekend.

So, what’s drawing three of the Democrats’ brightest and most progressive names to the veteran socialist’s campaign? We take a closer look at Sanders’ key 2020 policies:

Healthcare

Sander’s Medicare For All Act of 2019 aims to put “patients ahead of profits” with an ambitious programme of healthcare reform. The legislation all but eliminates America’s system of private healthcare insurance, which the senator describes as “nothing more than a confusing morass designed to make people jump through hoops”.

His bill proposes a government-run programme that would provide comprehensive healthcare to all US residents at a lower overall cost than the current for-profit system. This would guarantee healthcare as a right to “all people”, says Sanders, adding: “If you are a human being, regardless of immigration status, you have a right to healthcare.”

Sanders’ plan involves taking incremental steps to expanding health coverage, with a series of steps to “drastically lower” drug prices and make them more affordable. Rival candidate Sen. Warren has co-sponsored Sanders’ bill, but Biden has questioned how realistic it is in terms of funding.

Climate change

Sanders was the first Democratic presidential candidate to support the Green New Deal, an ambitious 10-year mobilisation plan that details the US’ fightback against climate change in virtually all areas of government policy.

He’s pledging 100% renewable energy for electricity and transportation by 2030, and complete decarbonisation of the economy by the year 2050. He’s promised 20 million new jobs as part of this effort, which includes huge investments in research and development. 

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Sanders’ White House would position itself as a world leader on tackling climate change, declaring it a national emergency with the goal to “exceed America’s fair share of global emissions reductions”. On a local level, it plans to invest in public lands, support small farms by pouring money into sustainable agriculture and shield frontline communities such as Native Americans from climate impact via a $40 billion justice fund. 

Sanders says his proposal would pay for itself over the course of 15 years, via measures such as taxing the fossil fuel industry and scaling back military spending on global oil dependence. Again, it’s the costing element of Sanders’ plan that has come under fire from opponents, who claim ordinary Americans will end up footing the bill

Education

Sanders wants to make education “an economic right for all, not a privilege for the few” and under that banner he proposes to cancel all student debt. This $2.2 trillion move would be funded by imposing a tax on Wall Street speculators, which he says would allow free college education for all.

Sanders also plans to invest in historically black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions. States and tribes would be required to cover any extra costs outside tuition fees for low-income students, and the federal government would match their investment on a dollar for dollar rate. Sceptics believe Sanders is underestimating how much this would all cost, while others say it’s not the best use of government money. 

Worker rights

Sanders’s Workplace Democracy Plan would end the ability of corporations to misclassify workers as “independent contractors” or label them as a “supervisor”; a process that has led to widespread exploitation in the past. He also plans to dramatically expand the rights of unions, and the freedom of workers, including federal employees, to strike. This would include a ban on the permanent replacement of striking workers.

Sanders pledges to protect the right of pensions, and deny government contracts to companies who engage in poor practices such as poverty wages or outsourcing jobs overseas. The plan is is hailed by Labor scholar Barry Eidlin as the “most serious, comprehensive, and equitable plan for promoting workers’ rights ever proposed by a major US presidential candidate” though critics say it is vague and contradictory in parts. 

Abortion 

Sanders is vocal about the fact that he thinks “abortion is healthcare”. Responding to the alarming rollback of abortion rights seen across various US states in the past year, he tweeted: “The decision about abortion must remain a decision for the woman and her doctor to make, not the government.” He’s also vowed to “protect and expand a woman’s right to abortion and reproductive health care services”.

Sanders is particularly concerned about the constitutional right of low-income women to access abortion. As president, he would abolish the Hyde amendment, which currently bars the use of federal funds for abortion except in cases where the woman’s life is in danger or the pregnancy has resulted from rape or incest.

LGBTQ rights

Sanders has a strong record in defending LGBTQ rights that stretches back more than three decades. In 1983, as the Mayor of Burlington, Vt., he signed a proclamation that led to the city’s first-ever Gay Pride Parade. 

He voted against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act in the 1990s, and was ahead of the curve in supporting civil unions. He didn’t explicitly come out in favour of gay marriage until 2009, although that’s still ahead of most Democratic senators. 

Sanders opposes Trump’s ban on transgender people in the military, saying: “Transgender people have served and continue to serve our country honorably in the military. Unfortunately, this administration is not treating them honorably.”

Immigration

“We are a nation of immigrants,” says Sanders, who’s in favour of comprehensive immigration reform to provide a path toward citizenship for the estimated 10.5 million undocumented immigrants living in the States. 

Himself the son of a Polish immigrant, Sanders aims to  provide immediate legal status for young people eligible for the DACA program, and develop a humane policy for those seeking asylum.

He will dismantle “inhumane” detention centres and deportation programmes, and “end the barbaric practice of family separation and detention of children in cages”. Critics point to the fact that Sanders’ record on immigration is more complicated than his rhetoric makes out (he’s argued previously that too much immigration can hurt American workers).

Criminal reform

Sanders wants to overhaul America’s criminal justice system by banning for-profit prisons, ending cash bail and ensuring better law enforcement accountability. He aims to triple congressional spending on defense, in order to combat high levels of plea bargains in criminal cases, and support an overloaded system of court-appointed counsel.

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As president, the senator would limit the discretionary powers of prosecutors in deciding which cases will be charged. He would also aim to stem excessive sentencing, criminalisation of addiction and the prosecution of children under 18 in adult courts. In addition, he’s keen to create a more humane prison system, with elevated support to both prisoners post-release and survivors of crime. 

Sanders was attacked by liberals in 2016 for not focusing more on racial justice, and this time round he says he’s committed to combating the “terrible level of police violence against unarmed people in the minority community”, via a series of strategic policies

Taxing the wealthy

Sanders is determined to redress wealth inequality in the States via a progressive tax system that would hit billionaires hard. The presidential hopeful wants to cut the wealth of billionaires in half over 15 years for fairer distribution, under the terms of a national wealth registry that would require third party reports.

Sanders’ White House would increase IRS funding for greater enforcement, which would specifically target the super-rich with audits concentrated in the 1% bracket, alongside an 100% audit rate for all billionaires.

Some believe this will be too difficult to enforce, but Sanders says it is merely flipping the balance: “The reality is that we already have a wealth tax in America – the property tax – and it disproportionately impacts working class families,” he says. “One of the biggest sources of wealth for middle-income families is owner-occupied homes, which are taxed in most states at rates that can be as high as, or even higher than, 1%.

“Meanwhile, the vast majority of the wealth owned by the top 0.1% of Americans is not housing or real property and is not subject to any sort of property tax.”

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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