Five things to know on the Democratic platform
Democrats will finalize their 2020 convention platform this week as they get set to officially nominate Joe Biden to take on President Trump in the general election.
The platform is described by many Democrats as the most progressive in history, but falls well short of the radical changes Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) wing of the party has fought for. Still, it reflects the gains progressives have made in pulling the Democratic Party to the left on key issues.
Nonetheless, some progressives have said they cannot back the platform, underscoring intraparty rifts and previewing some of the policy fights that might lie ahead if Biden is elected president.
The Hill obtained the final 92-page draft sent to Democratic lawmakers and delegates for a vote. Here are five things to know about it.
Not every Democrat is backing the platform
Two progressive lawmakers — Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) — publicly announced they will vote against their party’s platform, saying it does not go far enough in overhauling the U.S. health care system with the goal of achieving universal coverage.
Tlaib said her constituents are demanding a single-payer system and Khanna said moving away from a private, “profit-based” system is imperative and the “moral issue of our time.” Khanna also criticized the platform for proposing to lower the Medicare eligibility age to 60, rather than to 55, the age of eligibility in the 2016 platform.
Several other Democratic delegates have announced their opposition as well, although the platform is expected to pass with overwhelming support and there will not be anything resembling a floor fight.
Some progressives have dismissed the importance of the platform entirely, viewing it as a meaningless exercise in rhetoric that doesn’t have any real world bearing on what direction the country will take under Democratic leadership.
Still, the refusal to sign on by some of the most prominent progressive lawmakers in Congress is a reminder of the lingering divisions that Democrats have been dealing with since the 2016 primary battle between Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
The party appears to be more united at the moment, both in opposition to Trump and in making an effort to find common ground after a bruising primary fight that once again exposed deep fault lines between the left and center.
The party platform was written under guidance from a joint task force between the Biden and Sanders campaigns. But the party is clearly headed for some high-profile clashes in the future, even if Biden wins.
The platform seeks to paper over some differences
Democrats tried to strike a balance for a convention that features both former Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) as speakers.
For instance, in a nod to the nationwide protests over racial injustice and police brutality this summer, the platform calls for major reforms to policing and removing Confederate symbols from public spaces.
But it largely reflects provisions of legislation that the House passed in June that would ban the use of chokeholds like the one used by a Minneapolis police officer that led to George Floyd’s death, limit the sale of military-grade weapons to domestic law enforcement agencies and establish a national registry of police officers accused of misconduct.
The platform does not make any mention of the push by some progressives to “defund the police,” instead focusing only on areas where Democrats have already established consensus in the House bill. Biden has said he supports additional police funding for hiring and training to improve outcomes.
The platform does not mention the Green New Deal, yet the environmental framework the Democrats have adopted this year is easily the most aggressive set of green policy prescriptions the party has promised to date. And if it falls shy of some of the Green New Deal’s ambitious objectives, it nonetheless borrows liberally from its urgent warnings that climate change poses a dire threat to human lives and livelihoods — and demands a forceful response from Washington policymakers.
“Climate change is a global emergency,” the platform warns. “We have no time to waste in taking action to protect Americans’ lives and futures.”
The platform strikes a populist tone on the economy, recalling Sanders’s campaign by vowing to transform a system that is “rigged” against average workers.
The section on trade is similarly influenced by Sanders, who has railed against U.S. trade deals he says have sold out American workers in the heartland. Biden has been attacked by both Trump and Sanders for his past support of global trade deals, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The Democratic platform states that “the global trading system has failed to keep its promises to American workers,” and vows to build on Democratic provisions added to Trump’s United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
But for all the unity behind defeating Trump, there were already signs of strain on Monday in the alliance of centrists and progressives backing Biden.
After Kasich said in an interview with BuzzFeed News that Ocasio-Cortez receives “outsized publicity,” she shot back in a tweet that “a Republican who fights against women’s rights doesn’t get to say who is or isn’t representative of the Dem party.”
Democrats embrace the public option with a nod to Medicare for All
The issue of health care deeply divided Democrats during the primary and continues to be one of the lingering sore spots between centrists and progressives.
The debate between “Medicare for All” and expanding ObamaCare was thoroughly litigated over the course of the primary. Biden won the nomination in part by sticking to the center and maintaining that Democrats could achieve universal health care by adding a public option.
The 2020 Democratic platform reflects Biden’s vision, expressing support for a public option to be administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that will cover “all primary care without any co-payments and control costs for other treatments by negotiating prices with doctors and hospitals, just like Medicare does on behalf of older people.”
Some Democrats view the mainstreaming of the public option as a huge achievement in its own right — something that was not politically possible when the Affordable Care Act was being debated by Congress in 2009.
Still, progressives want to go much further, with many advocating for abolishing private insurance altogether. The platform extends an olive branch to the progressive left, saying the party welcomes those who support Medicare for All.
“Generations of Democrats have been united in the fight for universal health care,” the platform states. “We are proud our party welcomes advocates who want to build on and strengthen the Affordable Care Act and those who support a Medicare for All approach; all are critical to ensuring that health care is a human right.”
The coronavirus is a top focus for Democrats
Biden has made his withering criticism of Trump’s leadership in battling the coronavirus pandemic the centerpiece of his presidential campaign. The Democratic platform follows suit, with a blistering opening salvo about Trump’s handling of a pandemic that has had devastating health and economic impacts.
“President Trump’s abject failure to respond forcefully and capably to the COVID-19 pandemic — his failure to lead — makes him responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans,” the platform states.
The Democrats’ own solutions are aimed at correcting the “deep fault lines in our economy, society and our health care system” that have disproportionately impacted people of color and the working poor.
The platform calls for making COVID-19 testing “widely available, convenient and free for everyone.” The party says it will expand funding to the states to conduct contact tracing.
For those who have become unemployed and lost their insurance because of the pandemic, Democrats say the government should step in and pick up 100 percent of the costs to keep them on their employer-sponsored plans.
They’re calling for an expanded unemployment insurance program and paid sick leave to cover independent contractors, part-time employees, and gig and tipped workers.
Tougher internal fights will come
Taken as a whole, the Democrats’ platform is designed with a very simple strategy in mind: to unite the party for the sake of defeating Trump in November. To that end, most of the specific policy disagreements between the various Democratic factions have been put aside or glossed over — at least temporarily — for the sake of achieving that broader political objective.
Indeed, the Democrats’ near-unanimous support for the platform across a spectrum of ideologies reflects both their urgent desire to boot Trump from office — and their deep fear that Democratic fissures would only help to keep him there.
Yet if the Khanna and Tlaib defections have illustrated anything, it’s that those ideological divisions not only remain, but also will doubtlessly resurface — likely in highly public ways — if Biden wins the White House.
Those differences might be most pronounced over health care policy, particularly in the midst of a deadly pandemic when the fate of ObamaCare — and health coverage for millions of Americans — remains in legal limbo.
But the list of divisive, hot-button issues that would certainly reemerge next year is a long one, including progressive efforts to adopt a Green New Deal, defund the police, divest from Israel, abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement and ban fracking — none of which were included in the 2020 platform.
Those debates will surely test the unifying powers of both Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has largely held her caucus together in opposition to Trump, but would face new challenges under a Democratic White House.