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The Six 2020 Candidates in Congress Explained

A deeper look at the lawmakers running

The Six 2020 Candidates in Congress Explained
L to R: Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren (Credit: Shutterstock.com)

Ten Democrats have announced bids for the 2020 presidential election, and six of those candidates still hold office in Congress—one member in the House and five senators. 

So far, the only lawmakers running to challenge Donald Trump are Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii; and Sens. Kamala Harris of California; Cory Booker of New Jersey; Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; and Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, who plans to make a second campaign for the Democratic nomination.  

As the candidates balance their legislative and campaign agendas, their paths will continue to cross on the hill, where they’ll still be attending committee hearings and, no doubt, proposing legislation.  

Booker and Harris partnered this month to unanimously pass a bill to make lynching a federal hate crime. Both senators introduced and passed the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act for the first time, along with support from Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, during the last session of Congress—and before Booker and Harris became primary opponents on the 2020 front.  

Nevertheless, after the legislation died in the House, Booker and Harris announced plans to reintroduce the measure before they launched their campaigns. 

Policy fault lines 

The six candidates’ platforms overlap on some issues and contrast on others. As the New York Times reports, health care has proved to be the first issue up for debate.  

Klobuchar and Sanders have been outspoken in backing Medicare for all Americans. But they have voiced opposing philosophical health care views during various TV 2020-related appearances. 

Medicare for all “is something we can look to in the future,” Klobuchar said during a town hall on CNN. “I’m looking at something that will work now.” 

Sanders, on the other end, has made Medicare-for-all a policy priority, introducing the Medicare for All Act of 2017. The bill was cosponsored by Harris, Booker, Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. Gillibrand has formed an exploratory committee and has not yet committed to running. 

In the House, Gabbard signed onto the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, which was introduced by then Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan. Gabbard continues to support the health care position and has it listed as one of her campaign initiatives

The Six Lawmakers Running 

To understand their campaign positions and political stakes, here is some background on the candidates’ campaign announcements, political history and legislative efforts. 

Gabbard—Announced on Jan. 11 during a CNN interview with Van Jones

She kicked off her controversial campaign with a rally in Oahu, Hawaii, and bolstered her anti-war positions by reiterating her military service. Before the third-term Democrat became a rising star in the party, she did two tours in Iraq with a National Guard medical unit, where she was promoted from captain to major.  

In addition, she has met with prominent dictators such as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been accused of using chemical weapons against his people. During an interview with ABC’s The View on Feb. 20, Meghan McCain confronted Gabbard about her disapproval of U.S. military intervention in Syria.  

“You have said that the Syrian president, Assad, is not the enemy of the United States,” McCain said. “Yet he’s used chemical weapons against his own people 300 times; that was a red line with President Obama. That is not our enemy? Thirteen million Syrians have been displaced.” 

Gabbard faced similar criticism in 2017 after she met with Assad. In response to McCain, she said she was not “disputing” nor “apologizing or defending these actions.”  

“My point is that the reality we are facing here is that since the United States started waging a covert regime change war in Syria starting in 2011, the lives of the Syrian people have not been improved,” Gabbard said.  

Since the start of the 116th Congress, Gabbard has sponsored two bills — both armed-forces related. One of the measures has a Senate companion bill, introduced by Klobuchar. That legislation, the Burn Pits Accountability Act, would direct the defense secretary to include in periodic health assessments, separation history and physical examinations, and evaluations of whether a member of the armed forces was exposed to open burn pits or toxic airborne chemicals. 

Harris—Announced on MLK Day (Jan. 21) on Good Morning America 

After announcing her candidacy, Harris launched her campaign with a rally in Oakland, California, attended by 20,000 people. 

Despite using her legal background as a campaign slogan, Harris’ criminal justice experience has been heavily criticized. During a town hall with CNN the day after her Oakland rally, she defended her record as a prosecutor. 

“My career has been based on an understanding that, one, as a prosecutor, my duty was to seek and make sure that the most vulnerable and voiceless among us are protected,” Harris said. “I have also worked my whole career to reform the criminal justice system, understanding, to your point, that it is deeply flawed.” 

As a senator, Harris has focused on criminal justice as well as immigration reform and education. In the 116th Congress, she proposed nine bills. One of the measures would limit U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to engagement and enforcement of actions with unaccompanied migrant children. Another bill, which passed in the Senate, would reauthorize the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Historic Preservation program.  

“I am hopeful that we can get this signed into law so that HBCUs across the country can begin these vital improvement projects as soon as possible,” Harris said in a press release. 

Booker— Announced on Feb. 1 in a video message on Twitter. 

Booker, a former mayor of Newark, New Jersey, has served only one full term in Congress since winning a special election in 2013 to fill the vacancy of late Sen. Frank Lautenberg. In recent years, Booker has had many bipartisan legislative victories on issues, including criminal justice, infrastructure and tax policy.  

After his announcement speech in Newark, the press asked Booker how he planned to balance campaign and congressional demands. He said he is going to continue to be an “active voice” in the Senate.  

“I know I can do my job as a senator,” Booker said. “I also know I can answer the call of what my country needs right now, which is leadership that is going to bring us together and not rip us apart.” 

Booker championed many bipartisan legislative efforts since entering the Senate. He was an original cosponsor of the First Step Act of 2018, which became law in the final month of the 115th Congress. The legislation reforms the federal prison system and seeks to reduce recidivism.  

During the 116th Congress, Booker partnered with Scott of South Carolina to use the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to create “opportunity zones” that will allow companies to receive tax incentives for investing in economically vulnerable communities. In October, the Treasury Department released proposed regulations for the program.  

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Earlier in Booker’s Senate career, he teamed up with Republican lawmaker Roger Wicker of Mississippi to cosponsor a measure that would authorize Amtrak services and improve passenger safety and rail infrastructure. The duo also worked on legislation that would give local governments the ability to compete for more federal highway funding.  

As a member on the Judiciary Committee, Booker made waves during the confirmation hearing of then-Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh.  

The day after hearing from Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who had accused him of sexual assault, Booker spoke for more than 20 minutes before leaving the committee vote. Booker said he could not be part of what history will likely look back on as a dark moment. 

“With that sir, I will leave,” Booker said to Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. 

Since the start of the 116th Congress, Booker has only proposed two bills, both of which are co-sponsored by Republicans. One measure would ensure all law enforcement officers receive retirement benefits. The other bill would prohibit federal agencies and federal contractors from requesting the criminal history records of job applicants before the applicant receives a conditional offer. 

Warren—Launched her campaign on Feb. 9 at the site of 1912 labor strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts

As a self-proclaimed champion of the working and middle classes, Warren began her Washington career during the 2008 financial crisis. Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appointed Warren to lead the oversight panel in charge of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which provided a $700 billion rescue package to the finance sector.  

Through her work with TARP, Warren developed an idea that evolved into the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The bureau was created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law, which sought to protect mortgage, credit card and other financial borrowers.  

Since Democrats took back control of the house in 2018, House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., has made it her priority to restore the CFPB. Like Waters, Warren has criticized predatory loan practices and big banks.  

Warren has made fixing a “rigged system” part of her campaign platform. 

“The man in the White House is not the cause of what is broken, he is just the latest and most extreme symptom of what has gone wrong in America,” Warren said to a crowd in Lawrence. “A product of a rigged system that props up the rich and powerful and kicks dirt on everyone else.”  

Warren has proposed five bills since the start of her second congressional term—three of which have focused on federal funding and tax codes for retirement. 

Klobuchar— Launched her campaign on Feb. 10 at a rally in Minnesota. Klobuchar spoke to a crowd of about 9,000 while it was 16 degrees and snowing. 

During the speech, Klobuchar talked how she would distinguish herself as a candidate. 

“I promise you this: As your president, I will look you in the eye. I will tell you what I think. I will focus on getting things done. That’s what I’ve done my whole life. And no matter what, I’ll lead from the heart,” Klobuchar said.  

Days before announcing her bid, former staffers accused Klobuchar of mistreatment. One staffer said the lawmaker accidentally hit another staffer with a flying binder.  

Klobuchar, not surprisingly, did not address the allegations during her speech. Other staffers have come to her defense; Klobuchar herself has said she is a “tough boss.”   

Despite some former staffers’ discontent with the senator, Klobuchar seems to be a legislative powerhouse this term. Since the onset of the 116th Congress, she has sponsored 22 bills—the most of the 2020 candidates in Congress.  

One bill to highlight is a measure that would amend the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. This legislation would mandate that a state cannot use an individual’s failure to vote as a basis for removing them from the official list of registered voters.  

“Voting is not a use-it-or-lose-it privilege—it is a fundamental right. We should be doing everything we can to make it easier for Americans to vote, not harder,” Klobuchar said in a press release. 

Sanders—Launched his second run for the White House on Feb. 19. He says his campaign raised nearly $6 million in 24 hours by averaging $27 per donor. 

Sanders is an Independent who caucuses with Democrats and was chairman of outreach for the Democratic leadership in the Senate.  

Just days after he entered the race, the Democratic National Committee announced plans to hand out an “affirmation form” for candidates to verify they will run and serve as members of the Democratic Party. 

After losing the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton in 2016, Sanders has continued to push for a more leftist Democratic Party. The senator is a proponent of a $15 minimum wage, single-payer health care systems and tuition-free college.  

He is the only socialist in the Senate and keeps a plaque of the Socialist Party’s founder in his office. During his primary run in 2016, Sanders discussed his political affiliations and philosophies as “Democratic Socialism.”  

During this year’s State of the Union, President Donald Trump took aim at Sanders and newly elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., by declaring “America will never be a socialist country.”  

In the 116th Congress, Sanders has sponsored eight bills. The bulk of the measures focus on prescription drug prices.  

“We’re going to be taking on the insurance companies and the drug companies,” Sanders said on CBS’ This Morning.  

One of the bills sponsored by Sanders has a Republican cosponsor, Rep. Mike Lee of Utah. S. J. Res. 7 is a joint resolution to direct the removal of U.S. Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen.  

Sanders has called the conflict in Yemen the “worst humanitarian disaster facing this planet.”  

Jessica A. Floyd is a candidate for her master’s degree at Medill-Northwestern University focusing on politics. You can follow her on Twitter @JessAFloyd

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