Biden on the Issues: Where He Stands and How He’s Changed

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who opened his third run for the presidency on Thursday, holds political views that can look and sound similar to the priorities of many liberals, but differ on some key details. Mr. Biden, who has a longer record in politics than any other Democrat in the sprawling 2020 field, will come under close scrutiny for those differences; one liberal group, Justice Democrats, has already come out to oppose him because of “centrist” views.

His record has not always been helpful to him. Long before he entered the race, critics were already highlighting several of his past stances, including his inconsistent record on abortion, his support for the 1994 crime bill and his opposition to school busing as part of desegregation efforts in the 1970s. But it also points to the route he is hoping to take to the nomination: that of Democratic pragmatist, more inclined to bipartisanship and, in some cases, more moderate than other candidates.

Here’s an overview of Mr. Biden’s views on some major issues.

Mr. Biden has outlined a populist economic agenda focused on income inequality and workers’ rights. He endorsed a $15 minimum wage and free four-year public college in 2015; in a speech at the Brookings Institution in May 2018, he mentioned free college as one of five policies he said would help the middle class. (The other four were progressive tax reform, more worker protections, major infrastructure investments, and incentives for venture capitalists and other investors to spend outside of major cities.) He has called for a ban on noncompete agreements that prevent workers from taking jobs at competitors, and has advocated policies that would let workers discuss how much they are paid without retaliation.

[“We are in the battle for the soul of this nation,” Mr. Biden said in his first campaign video.]

“Why are we giving hedge fund millionaires tax breaks, but we can’t find the money to give families a real tax break for child care?” he said in the Brookings speech. “Why are sandwich makers being forced to sign noncompete clauses? Why are low-wage workers reclassified as managers? What possible reason is there for why an employee can’t tell other people what he or she makes? Is there any other reason than to depress wages?”

As one might expect from the man who famously told President Barack Obama just how big a deal the passage of the Affordable Care Act was, Mr. Biden supports that law and has been outspoken against Republicans’ efforts to repeal it, as well as against proposals to cut funding for programs like Social Security and Medicaid.

In an op-ed published in The Washington Post in 2017, he argued that health care should be “a right for all and not a privilege for the few.” That echoes language used by progressive candidates like Bernie Sanders and new Democratic stars like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but Mr. Biden has not endorsed “Medicare for all,” which has become an important dividing line among the 2020 candidates. The exact contours of his health care platform, and whether he would seek simply to preserve the Affordable Care Act or to go further, are not clear yet.

Mr. Biden’s advocacy for government action on climate change goes back more than 30 years: He introduced the Senate’s first climate change bill in 1986. He has been outspoken about the urgency of action, including at a rally last year in Florida where he described climate change as “the greatest threat to our security,” citing briefings by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

[We annotated Mr. Biden’s campaign announcement.]

Like every other Democratic candidate, he wants to keep the United States in the Paris Agreement, which President Trump intends to withdraw from. As a senator, he supported tax credits for renewable energy and had an 83 percent lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters; as vice president, he supported a series of emission reduction regulations that Mr. Obama established but Mr. Trump is reversing. Beyond that, his full climate platform, including whether he would pursue a carbon tax or additional regulations beyond Mr. Obama’s, isn’t clear yet.

Mr. Biden supports abortion rights and the Roe v. Wade decision, though he has gone back and forth on abortion in the past and has publicly struggled to reconcile his political positions with his Catholic faith. As recently as 2008, he said he believed life began at conception, though he emphasized that this was a personal view and that he did not think it was appropriate to impose it on others through abortion restrictions.

[Read more about Mr. Biden’s views on abortion.]

But on some related policies, he has a more conservative record than other candidates in the race. As a senator, he voted multiple times against federal funding for abortions, including under government-run health plans. He also supported the Reagan administration’s so-called Mexico City policy, which blocks foreign aid to organizations that provide abortion counseling or referrals, and crafted his own amendment in 1981 to ban foreign aid for abortion-related biomedical research. Earlier this year, his aides would not say whether he still supported those policies.

One of the most contentious elements of Mr. Biden’s record is his involvement in the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which many Democrats revile for contributing to mass incarceration, especially of people of color. Mr. Biden has previously defended his work on, and vote for, that bill. But in discussing criminal justice at an event in January, he acknowledged, “I haven’t always been right.”

This month, he also said he regretted supporting the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which increased prison sentences for crack cocaine offenses.

[Here’s a look at all 20 candidates for the Democratic nomination.]

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