Biden-Sanders Unity Effort Yields Proposals, Including LGBTQ Initiatives

Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are pictured on stage at a First in the West Event at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas
Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden butted heads during the Democratic primary race, but now they’re teaming up to take on Donald Trump in November.
Reuters/ Carlo Allegri

A unity task force created by former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders drew from the platforms of both Democratic leaders to map out 110 pages of recommendations for a path forward for the presumptive Democratic nominee one month before the Democratic National Convention.

Biden and Sanders are vying to unite the party after a crowded and contentious Democratic primary race that saw Sanders perform well, winning the popular vote in the first three states, before the former vice president stormed back in South Carolina and subsequently pulled away in the following contests when moderate candidates dropped out and threw their support behind him. The race drew lingering distinctions between progressives hungry for sweeping change, particularly in healthcare policy, and a moderate flank of voters more satisfied with an approach that builds on the work of former President Barack Obama. 

As in 2016, Sanders’ team — which helped push the party platform to the left on a number of fronts when Hillary Clinton secured the nomination — again sought to make a mark on the platform, and the Vermont senator will again make the case for Biden after crisscrossing the nation campaigning dozens of times for Clinton four years ago. But now, facing the possible re-election of Donald Trump, whose failure to lead has most recently contributed to a nationwide coronavirus death toll of 138,000 and counting, his team seems to be approaching the unity effort with a more determined commitment to the urgent goal of removing the incumbent president from office.

The six key areas of focus on the agenda include climate change, criminal justice reform, the economy, education, health care, and immigration, but queer issues are also featured throughout. 

Analilia Mejia, the national political director for the Sanders campaign, and Carmen Martin, who had been appointed by Obama to be US attorney for the District of Massachusetts, led the task force, which included four members representing the Biden team and four representing Sanders. Former Secretary of State John Kerry was among those on Biden’s side, while Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez helped make recommendations on behalf of the Sanders team.

The recommendations did not go as far as some progressives hoped — neither single-payer healthcare nor the Green New Deal received one mention — but there were some key areas that are being highlighted nonetheless.

The task force offered trade-offs, of sorts, on healthcare, vowing to give Americans the option to utilize a “high-quality, affordable public option” via the Obamacare marketplace. At least one of those plans will not have deductibles, will be housed under Medicare, cover primary care without co-payments, and control costs by negotiating prices with doctors and hospitals. Only low-income Americans ineligible for Medicaid would be automatically enrolled at no cost, though it would be available to anyone.

The task force also called for reversals of the Trump administration’s anti-LGBTQ healthcare regulations and to “take action to guarantee that LGBTQ+ people have full access to needed health care and resources, including by requiring that federal health plans provide coverage for HIV/ AIDS treatment and HIV prevention medications like PrEP and PEP, gender confirmation surgery, and hormone therapy.”

The task force included LGBTQ people, as well as women of color and low-income women, when demanding that federal funding be restored for Planned Parenthood, which offers gender-affirming care and reproductive healthcare.

Democrats said they are aiming to counteract the coronavirus-driven economic downturn by creating jobs, providing boosts in funding to state and local governments, propping up small businesses with grants and loans, and enacting paid sick leave protections for workers.

Queer folks were mentioned throughout different sections of the recommendations outlined by the task force. On housing, the task force members stressed the importance of ending homelessness and noted that LGBTQ youth, particularly Black youth, are disproportionately impacted by housing insecurity. To that end, the task force called for enacting strong housing protections for queer people. 

The task force also included the experiences of queer students in the conversation surrounding education, pointing to the need to reinstate the Obama era Department of Education guidance protecting trans students under Title IX and to prevent discrimination against LGBTQ students.

The Trump administration’s aggressive resistance to immigrants naturally prompted the task force to call for the unraveling of neglect on that front: It recommended the lifting of discriminatory travel bans, the ending of family separation, the pursuit of community-based alternatives to detention centers, and the welcoming of refugees who are fleeing anti-LGBTQ nations or abusive environments. The task force also seeks to give Dreamers access to Affordable Care Act benefits.

The economic-focused recommendations call for a major revitalization of the nation’s infrastructure — with an emphasis on doing so in a green, sustainable way; expanding affordable broadband networks, an issue that has become more urgent in the face of a pandemic that has forced many individuals to work from home; increasing affordable banking services through the Federal Reserve, as well as more accessible banking options such as postal banking; raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour; bolstering the labor movement and unions; and more. 

There is also an economic emphasis on race, including strengthening the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to address employment discrimination; improving access to credit and increasing funding for minority-owned businesses; and eradicating discriminatory housing practices that have prevented Black families from a fair chance at home ownership. The task force seeks to address the racial gap in insurance rates and increase funding for Obamacare outreach and enrollment programs.

On the climate front, the task force aims to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for all new buildings by 2030 and get rid of carbon pollution at power plants by 2035 under a plan that would bring online 500 million solar panels and wind turbines. That kind of infrastructure would be made in the United States via unionized jobs, the task force pledges. 

The members would like to create an “environmental justice fund” that invests into federal agencies that eliminate legacy pollution already in place, a driving factor of illness and deaths in communities of color, low-income areas, and indigenous communities. On a broader level, Democrats are pledging to work with communities to screen and map out racial and socioeconomic issues in federal climate, energy, and infrastructure programs.

Criminal justice initiatives include revamping use of force guidelines and federal prosecutorial guidelines to discourage overcharging cases employed as a means of forcing plea deals; supporting progressive prosecutors; banning police chokeholds; ending the use of private prisons and detention centers as well as solitary confinement; and directing federal funding to create a civilian corps of unarmed first responders like social workers, EMTs, and trained mental health professionals to respond to non-violent emergencies.

Biden will accept the nomination during a Democratic National Convention that will be mostly virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic. He will be in Milwaukee, where it was originally slated to be held, and some limited events that will take place. Delegates, however, are casting their votes remotely.

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