Bernie Sanders receives high marks for character and consistency but low marks for promoting consistently socialist ideas and policies.
Sanders receives low scores for his views on the free market, national security, and American ideals. He supports significantly increasing taxes and is a big supporter of single-payer health care and additional government programs. He expresses animus to private wealth, large corporations, and what he sees as income inequality. He views government as a tool to redistribute wealth in America, pointing to European socialist economies as models to be followed.
He receives higher scores for being personally and professionally ethical and principled and consistent in his beliefs. However, he has accomplished very little while in office and is known for poor political and communication skills.
His plan, released in January 2016, would establish a federally run health system with no co-pays, deductibles or other patient payments, and appears to cover all medical services, although many details are lacking. His campaign estimates the plan would cost $1.38 trillion per year (presumably on top of current federal health expenditures for Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, and other programs), paid for through a 2.2 percent premium on income, a 6.2 percent employer tax on payroll, and higher tax rates on income over $250,000, starting at 37 percent and topping out at 52 percent for income above $10 million. Capital gains and dividend income would be taxed as regular income, and the estate tax rate would be raised as well. Another $310 billion a year would be raised by eliminating what would be the obsolete tax deduction for employer-provided health benefits.
In 2010, Sanders gave an 8½-hour filibuster against extending the Bush tax cuts. He has advocated for implementing a progressive estate tax (the tax more popularly known as the “death tax”), supported raising the income tax rate on individuals who earn over $1 million, and voted against repealing the tax on medical devices.
He has long praised the 1950s-era income tax rates that topped out at 90 percent for the wealthiest and said he would accept lower economic growth in exchange for a reduction in income inequality. In the 1970s he argued for a 100 percent marginal tax rate on income over $1 million and as recently as the 1990s expressed interest in a “maximum income” that would effectively be a 100 percent tax on income above a certain level.
In terms of his own tax reform proposals, Sanders proposed significant tax increases as part of his health reform plan. Key elements include a 2.2 percent income tax surcharge on all taxpayers, a 6.2 percent payroll paid by employers, and higher tax rates on income over $250,000, starting at 37 percent and topping out at 52 percent for income above $10 million. Capital gains and dividend income would be taxed as regular income, the estate tax rate would be raised, and the elimination of the tax deduction for employer-provided health benefits is estimated to bring in an additional $310 billion per year. All told, his proposal to pay for single-payer health care is estimated by his campaign to bring in an additional $1.38 trillion per year. He has also said he plans to raise corporate tax rates. It’s not clear if further tax hikes beyond those included in his health plan will be proposed by Sanders, but he has vowed that taxes on the wealthy will be “a damned lot higher than it is right now,” although he has also said they would not be as high as the 90 percent rate he has spoken favorably of in the past. He has also indicated that in order to fund paid family and medical leave the payroll tax would have to be increased.
Sanders opposed a bill that would have extended the ban on state and local government taxing Internet access. This particular Internet tax bill would have extended that ban as well as the prohibition of state and local governments from taxing e-commerce transactions.
Sanders voted for the “fiscal cliff” deal in early 2013 that retained the Bush tax cuts for middle- and lower-income families but allowed taxes to rise on high-income earners. In his statement explaining his vote, he complained it hadn’t increased corporate, estate or capital gains taxes, or raised taxes on the wealthy even further.
Sanders has proposed taxing investment transactions to finance his plan for “free” college for Americans as well as other spending. The tax would be 0.5 percent of each stock transaction, and a lower tax on bond and derivative trading, bringing in an estimated $300 billion each year.
Over the course of Sanders’ congressional career, 19 of his 20 top campaign contributors have been labor unions. He voted to allow a bill to move forward that would eliminate the requirement of an employee vote in order to establish a union and also would require binding arbitration if the employer and union are unable to negotiate a contract under collective bargaining.
He is highly critical of what he considers the lack of regulation of corporations and has sponsored legislation such as the Corporate Tax Dodging Prevention Act, which would change how the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) treats foreign corporations and corporations who have assets in tax havens such as the Cayman Islands. In his statement supporting the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Sonja Sotomayor, he apparently sees a role for the U.S. Supreme Court in the matter of what he believes to be growing corporate power: “At a time of growing I also want to ascertain her [Sotomayor’s] views as to how the courts can protect the rights of workers and consumers against the abuses of large and powerful corporations.”
Sanders supports raising the minimum wage to $15. He has introduced legislation mandating that businesses with more than 15 employees offer 10 days of paid sick leave to each worker, as well as sponsoring legislation requiring 12 weeks of paid maternity and paternity leave and 7 days of paid sick leave per year. He has said he has a “serious problem” with Uber and similar services, calling them “unregulated,” although he has not specifically proposed new regulations.
On another regulatory front, he came out in support of the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to regulate the Internet under “net neutrality” rules.
Sanders voted in favor of the federal regulation of fracking for natural gas. He also introduced the Climate Protection Act of 2013, which would have required, among other things, a “carbon pollution fee” on any manufacturer, producer or importer of a carbon polluting substance; federal money to local government to support preferential parking programs for carpools; and a requirement for natural gas fracking operators to disclose chemicals used in fracking projects.
In December 2015 Sanders unveiled an ambitious plan to curb what he sees as the threat of global warming. His proposals include reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050; taxing carbon; banning drilling offshore and in the Arctic; opposing all oil pipeline projects; prohibiting export of oil and natural gas; banning fracking for natural gas; banning mountaintop removal coal mining; and putting a moratorium on renewing nuclear plant licenses. He also pledged that he would enact policies to get 50 percent of the country’s energy from “clean” sources by 2030.
Other elements of his plan include significant subsidies for solar, wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric power, as well as spending money on electric car charging stations and high-speed rail for both passenger and freight traffic.
Sanders opposes the Keystone XL pipeline project, and he voted to extend the oil drilling ban in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In November 2015 he introduced legislation that would prohibit new leases of public lands for coal, natural gas, or oil exploration and development.
Sanders has a consistent and vocal record of seeking to extend new taxes and regulations on American business in the name of combating the effects of climate change. He has voted in favor of moving a cap-and-trade bill to a vote and co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) that would create a carbon tax. He has also introduced legislation that would require the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to calculate a “carbon score” for federal legislation that would project net greenhouse gas emissions created by the enactment of a federal bill or resolution.
Sanders has been a supporter of the agricultural community, which is a dominant player in Vermont’s economy. The dairy industry accounts for more than 70 percent of Vermont’s agricultural sales, so it is not surprising that Sanders has opposed the phase-out of dairy economic supports. He has also opposed the phase-out of economic support to the sugar industry as well. Like some of his conservative colleagues in Congress, he has supported legislation that would limit farm subsidies based on income.
Sanders is unabashedly opposed to the privatization of public sector programs. He tends to communicate this opposition by stating Republicans want to “abolish” programs like Social Security, Veterans Affairs health care and Obamacare. He does not seem to distinguish between abolishing a program and privatizing it.
Sanders has opposed budget reforms such as the requirement for Congress to balance the federal budget, the requirement of a two-thirds majority to vote to raise taxes, and a ban on earmarks. He also supported raising the debt limit in 2014.
Sanders has proposed spending $1 trillion over a five-year period on public infrastructure such as roads, bridges and airports, and combined with his other spending proposals he would increase total federal spending by at least $18 trillion over the next ten years if his policies were implemented. The bulk of that new spending would be for a single-payer health care system.
Sanders is a longtime supporter of a universal, single-payer health care system. His plan, released in January 2016, would establish a federally run health system with no co-pays, deductibles or other patient payments, and appears to cover all medical services, although many details are lacking. His campaign estimates the plan would cost $1.38 trillion per year (presumably on top of current federal health expenditures for Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, and other programs), paid for through a 2.2 percent premium on income, a 6.2 percent employer tax on payroll, and higher tax rates on income over $250,000, starting at 37 percent and topping out at 52 percent for income above $10 million. Capital gains and dividend income would be taxed as regular income, and the estate tax rate would be raised as well. Another $310 billion a year would be raised by eliminating what would be the obsolete tax deduction for employer-provided health benefits.
He voted in favor of Obamacare, which he believes is a precursor to a fully government-run system. He is a co-sponsor of legislation to repeal the so-called “Cadillac Tax” on high-cost employer-provided health plans.
He is opposed to any private sector solutions in health care, including health savings accounts. He also opposes allowing small businesses to pool together to save costs on health insurance and limiting liability in medical malpractice suits.
He voted against the 2003 legislation creating a Medicare prescription drug benefit and characterized it as “written by the insurance companies and the drug companies.” He has co-sponsored legislation allowing prescription drugs to be re-imported from countries with price controls and also to permit Medicare to directly negotiate prices with drug companies, which many consider to be a form of price controls.
Sanders has also proposed eliminating patent protections for all pharmaceuticals, instead offering government-funded prizes for drug innovation. Under his proposal the government would determine how valuable a drug was by considering the severity of the condition treated, the size of the affected population, and other information, and provide an award to the drug’s developer. All drugs would then be produced as generics.
He is a vociferous opponent of Medicaid block grants.
Sanders voted against President Bill Clinton’s welfare reform bill in 1996 – a bill that created work requirements for welfare recipients and received bipartisan support. He’s introduced a bill that would increase Social Security benefits and impose the program’s payroll tax on income above $250,000 (currently income above $117,000 is not subject to the payroll tax), as well as increasing benefits for low-income seniors. He has fought entitlement cuts and maintains that the current Medicare program is the vehicle for a universal health care system in the United States.
Sanders voted in favor of the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill. Among other things, the bill would have allowed illegal immigrants to remain in the country while seeking legal status and providing a pathway to citizenship (often called “amnesty”). He has opposed building a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, opposed prohibiting illegal immigrants convicted of violent crimes from being granted legal status, and opposed legislation that would allow local authorities to enforce immigration laws.
He has spoken against expanded immigration, however, expressing concerns that low-wage immigrants would compete with American citizens for jobs.
Sanders opposes free trade and gave an extended speech on the Senate floor explaining his opposition to trade agreements with Colombia, Korea and Panama. He voted against the North American Free Trade Act and opposed extending permanent normal trade relations with China – a bill that President Clinton signed in October 2000.
Sanders has a mixed record on corporate welfare, opposing the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank but then supporting home-state dairy producers with agricultural subsidies. He also has an expansive and bizarre definition of corporate welfare, such as his insistence that Walmart receives corporate welfare because some of its employees also receive public assistance. He has denounced subsidies for fossil fuel producers, but his legislation to repeal subsidies mostly targets standard business deductions and accounting practices that apply to all companies. He has also supported subsidies for “green” energy producers including windmills and solar panels.
He supports the renewable fuels standard, which requires refiners to blend specific volumes of ethanol, biodiesel, and other fuels into gasoline and diesel.
His proposal to do away with drug patents and replace them with government-funded prizes for developing new treatments would give significant discretion to political appointees to distribute billions of dollars to favored or preferred individuals, institutions, and companies, based on highly subjective criteria.
Sanders has proposed bringing back the Glass-Steagall Act’s separation of commercial and investment banking, and vowed in January 2016 he would order the breakup of “too big to fail” banks, within one year, through Dodd-Frank’s regulations. He also pledged to limit ATM fees and cap interest rates on credit cards and other loans at 15 percent.
In January 2016 he said his Federal Reserve reforms would include requiring it to focus on full employment, as opposed to the current twin goals of full employment and sound monetary policy. Sanders opposed the Fed’s decision in December 2015 to raise interest rates, citing concerns that doing so would stunt economic growth and slow job creation. He also voted for legislation requiring an audit of the Federal Reserve.
In 2011, Sanders created a “panel of experts” to help him draft legislation that would reform the Federal Reserve. He did this in the wake of a report that faulted “apparent conflicts of interest by bank-picked board members at the 12 regional Fed banks.” The “panel of experts” assembled by Sanders were all, with the exception of one, members of academia and not practitioners in the financial or banking industry itself.
Sanders voted for Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank, two pieces of legislation in recent years that imposed significant regulatory burdens on financial institutions and accounting practices at major corporations. He opposed the Troubled Asset Relief Program, often described as a bailout of Wall Street, because it didn’t address “too big to fail” or what in his view was insufficient regulation of financial markets. He has proposed taxing stock, bond and derivatives trading to finance his higher education plan.
Sanders called for allowing Puerto Rico to declare bankruptcy under Chapter 9 of the U.S. Code (currently reserved for municipalities), and called for debt restructuring that “protects [Puerto Rico’s] people without harming ordinary investors and pension funds in the United States” while also demanding that “vulture funds” take a significant loss on distressed debt they purchased. He also said any debt issued in violation of Puerto Rico’s constitution should be declared void, which could significantly diminish the ability of states, municipalities, government agencies, and other entities to borrow
He is a proponent of allowing the U.S. Post Office to offer basic banking services such as checking and savings accounts, check cashing, and possibly small loans.
Sanders was an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War and was a member of the anti-Vietnam War party, the Liberty Union Party.
Following the June 2015 referendum in Greece on austerity, Sanders lauded the victory of the “no” side that rejected making economic reforms and further budget cuts in exchange for continued financial aid from Europe.
In 2014, on the cusp of the Russian occupation of Ukraine, Sanders advocated for economic sanctions against Russia over military intervention – a policy position that was shared by many in both major political parties.
In the course of his career, Sanders has defended Israel. In 2014, when confronted in a town hall by Vermont constituents over Israel’s military actions in response to rockets launched by Hamas, Sanders observed that he thought Israel had “overreacted” but explained Hamas had been launching rockets from populated areas. He became extremely agitated and testy when clearly anti-Israel constituents argued with him and defended Hamas.
He supports normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba. In 1996, he voted against increasing sanctions against the island nation. In 2014, Sanders was part of a congressional delegation trip to Cuba to “discuss human rights, trade and health care issues in Havana and also travel to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.” He believes that the economic embargo has cost American businesses billions of dollars while Canadians and Europeans are creating jobs through their investment in Cuba. Sanders applauded Obama’s December 2014 announcement to begin talks to restore diplomatic relations with the small communist country.
Sanders praised the Obama administration’s negotiated deal with Iran regarding its nuclear weapons program, calling it “a victory for diplomacy over saber-rattling.”
As mayor of Burlington, Sanders regularly spoke out on foreign policy issues, generally favoring Marxist causes overseas and expressing vehement opposition to President Reagan’s anti-communist policies. He visited Nicaragua and called the country’s dictator “heroic,” and also travelled to Cuba where he sought a meeting with Fidel Castro but settled instead for a meeting with the mayor of Havana. He spent his honeymoon in the Soviet Union as part of a “sister city” delegation.
In 2006, Sanders helped to negotiate a deal with Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez to provide low-cost heating oil to Vermont citizens, widely viewed as part of a campaign by the strongman to curry favorable media attention in the U.S. and embarrass then-President George W. Bush.
During the first Democratic presidential debate, Sanders identified climate change as the top threat to U.S. national security.
Sanders supported the Afghanistan War but opposed using military force in Iraq. Although he supported the Afghanistan War, he did call for a timeline that outlined the plans for troop withdrawal. He opposed both the Patriot Act and its reauthorization. He acknowledges that ISIS is a threat but believes the countries in the region where the terror group is active should lead the fight against it. He has announced his opposition to U.S.-imposed no-fly zones in Syria.
During the second Democratic debate, Sanders said climate change has or will lead to an increase in terrorism.
He has called for the U.S. to accept more refugees from Syria but has not put any number on how many should be allowed in, saying it’s not possible to do so “until we understand the dimensions of the problem.”
He opposed both the Patriot Act and its reauthorization and supported Obama’s effort to close Guantanamo Bay, a U.S. naval station that has been used to house captured terrorists since 2002.
Regarding Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked classified information about domestic surveillance programs, Sanders suggested he should be punished but it should be tempered because “Snowden played a very important role in educating the American people to the degree in which our civil liberties and our constitutional rights are being undermined.”
Sanders has a long history of opposing major weapons systems and increases in capabilities. In 1995, for example, he introduced legislation that would have eliminated the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal, and in 2002 he proposed a 50 percent cut to the military budget. He has regularly cited the defense budget as one area he would look at for spending cuts, citing what he believes to be significant fraud, waste, and abuse by contractors.
Prior to the 9/11 terror attacks, Sanders routinely introduced legislation to cut U.S. intelligence spending. Since those attacks, he has not introduced similar legislation.
Sanders supported the confirmation of Obama nominees (and now sitting Justices) Sonja Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. In a publicly released statement, Sanders applauded Obama’s nomination of Sotomayor, as he felt it addressed the ethnic and gender imbalance that exists on the U.S. Supreme Court. Judging from his statement supporting her nomination, he apparently sees a policy-setting role for the Supreme Court in the matter of what he believes to be growing corporate power: “At a time of growing I also want to ascertain her [Sotomayor’s] views as to how the courts can protect the rights of workers and consumers against the abuses of large and powerful corporations.”
Sanders has supported increasing the minimum sentences for possession of a firearm while committing a crime. In lieu of supporting truth-in-sentencing programs (requiring those sentenced to fulfill their full sentences, essentially abolishing the parole system) he has supported funding for alternative incarceration programs. He has supported replacing the death penalty with life imprisonment and has co-sponsored a resolution that requires DNA evidence for federal executions. He has also said the federal ban on marijuana should be repealed, giving states the authority to regulate it.
His First Amendment record has been largely geared toward curbing corporate speech. In 2011, he introduced a constitutional amendment that would exclude corporations from the First Amendment right to spend money on political campaigns. This was in reaction to the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision, which determined the U.S. government cannot put limitations on election advertisements funded by corporations, unions or other groups.
His global warming agenda includes “[b]ring climate deniers to justice” and references support for think tanks skeptical of his views on climate change, suggesting possible legal action against those who fund or promote a contrary agenda.
Sanders was a co-sponsor of the Media Ownership Reform Act of 2005, which would have reinstated the “fairness doctrine” in talk radio, which most observers believe would curtail conservative-oriented speech.
Asked at a forum in Iowa about a perceived lack of diversity on public broadcasting, Sanders suggested that “we need some big changes” in the media so Americans who are in economically dire straits “see a reflection of their life, of their reality, in media.” He specifically cited CNN, NBC, and ABC, as well as soap operas, as examples of media that fail to reflect the views he believes they should, suggesting he may see an expansive role for the government in guiding a wide range of broadcast programming.
In 1985 Sanders, an enthusiastic supporter of the communist dictatorship in Nicaragua, backed the regime’s decision to shut down La Prensa, a newspaper critical of the regime, suggesting that since the country was in a war and the paper wasn’t supportive of the regime it was acceptable to silence the dissenting voice. He frequently compared the regime’s actions to hypothetical situations in which U.S. newspapers were advocating the overthrow of the government or violence, saying in the U.S. those newspapers would have been shut down.
Sanders voted against a bill that would have provided more rights for property owners who are in land disputes with government and has opposed ending the practice of using race as a factor for college admissions.
He has expressed concern about how “we can preserve our civil liberties and constitutional rights while we defend our nation against those who would do us harm.” Yet he voted against a constitutional amendment that would guarantee religious liberty, and he was critical of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case protecting religious employers.
Sanders has generally supported legislation that maintains policymaking and policy control at the federal level, including immigration law, natural gas fracking, education and health care. However, he has called for federal laws against marijuana to be repealed, saying it should be left to each state to decide whether to legalize the use of cannabis.
Sanders supported the No Child Left Behind education bill but later supported an overhaul of the legislation that would end the requirement that schools show progress toward meeting federal goals. Sanders opposed standardized testing in schools because it “narrows school curriculum and constrains the development of critical thinking and creativity. He is opposed to school vouchers and parental choice in education.
Sanders is referred to as the “socialist senator” and The Washington Post recently described him as being in a “natural state of – agitation.” He has maintained his socialist policy positions, including his strong anti-corporate attitude, throughout the course of his career.
Although Sanders has been a harsh critic of what he calls “mass incarceration” and a criminal justice system he says imprisons too many people, as a member of Congress he has voted for many of the bills that have increased criminal penalties, such as the 1994 Clinton-era Omnibus Crime Bill that expanded use of the death penalty and required states to limit early release programs in exchange for federal funds. While this is not completely inconsistent with his rhetoric, it does suggest he has cast votes that helped produce the very outcomes he decries.
Sanders’ wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, left her position as president of cash-strapped and faltering Burlington College with a $200,000 “golden parachute” after she lost support of the board to continue in her position. Bernie Sanders has been highly critical of CEO compensation, including “golden parachutes” given to terminated executives.
Sanders has managed to avoid any suggestion of impropriety in public office, and sports a generally spotless ethics profile. His history of backing, or at least sympathizing with, brutal Marxist dictatorships such as those in the U.S.S.R., Cuba and Nicaragua in the ’80s do do suggest a serious moral blind spot, however.
Following the 2008 economic crisis, Sanders spoke in favor of Rep. Ron Paul’s call to audit the Federal Reserve, which he accused of operating in secrecy regarding the Wall Street bailout. Sanders introduced an amendment in the Senate identical to Paul’s House legislation. Under pressure from the Obama administration and others, Sanders substituted a far weaker amendment that became part of the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill.
Sanders served as the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee from 2013 to 2014. He joined with Republican Sen. (and former presidential contender) John McCain (R-Ariz.) to write legislation to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs following the scandal of veterans being stuck on waiting lists to receive medical care.
In 2012, The New Statesman, a U.K.-based magazine, named Sanders a “Top-20 US Progressive.” Others named to this list included Paul Krugman, Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky and Rachel Maddow. He is also the recipient of the Col. Arthur T. Marix Congressional Leadership Award from the Military Officers Association of America.
Sanders credits himself with doubling voter turnout during his tenure as mayor of Burlington, Vt. He is also the co-founder of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the largest caucus within the Democratic Caucus in Congress. He served as the Progressive Caucus’ chairman for eight years.
Sanders has made relatively few political missteps to date, although he has been criticized for failing to reach out to non-white communities that are a crucial component of the Democratic nomination process, and he also appears to have mishandled a protest concerning the “Black Lives Matter” movement during an appearance at a large gathering of left-wing activists.
Although he has never been a prolific fundraiser in the past, Sanders has raised more than $15 million through June 2015, placing him in the top tier among both Republicans and Democrats.
Sanders has not become recognized as a leading voice in the progressive/socialist community as a result of his speaking or interpersonal skills. He is often referred to as lacking in charisma, “cranky” and “cantankerous.” A profile in National Journal said this of him:
“Clearly, a Sanders presidential campaign would be a tempestuous affair. As [journalist Chris] Graff puts it, ‘He has no social skills.’ The media, specifically, would be likely to find itself on the receiving end of his wrath. That’s because Sanders—like many true believers of all political inclinations—doesn’t have lot of patience for those who want to question him. ‘His idea of coverage is just: Report what he said,’ Graff explains. ‘And if he says it, it’s important.’”
However, despite what are generally considered poor communication skills, Sanders has managed to develop a substantial following in the progressive/left community, and he has routinely drawn large crowds to his campaign events that top those of his rivals. His support stems largely from what is seen as a genuine and uncompromising commitment to the causes he espouses, and his support in the polls has been steadily rising over the past several months. His performance in the first Democratic presidential debate was viewed by most as good, although few thought him the winner. One pundit said that in the debate Sanders “spoke to his supporters. He spoke to the base of the Democratic Party. I’m not sure he showed why he’s electable.”
Sanders has proven that he can raise money among the socialist faithful. But can he compete with Clinton as the race for the Democratic nomination narrows? His viability as a candidate with broad appeal rests on whether Americans are ready for a proud and open socialist. His song plays well to the home crowd of dedicated leftists, but how will it play among America’s middle class?
Hillary Clinton receives a higher mark for political skills and low marks for issues and character.
Clinton’s ethics and principles consistently shift when it is politically advantageous for her – expressed in her political gamesmanship and low grades for ethics, principles and consistency. Her free market positions are consistently liberal, supporting higher taxes, government growth, and federal expansion on nearly all levels, including increased government regulations on businesses.
Oddly, despite years of public service, she has no notable accomplishments. She advocates but rarely leads, having never spearheaded any major legislation or initiative. Her foreign policy and national security experience is extensive, given her prior position, but many of her initiatives have left the world less stable.
As a senator, Clinton voted against President George W. Bush’s major tax-cut packages. Once they were enacted, she did generally vote to extend many of the existing cuts.
She has endorsed the so-called “Buffett Rule,” which aims to make high-income earners pay a larger percentage of their income in taxes, without providing many details other than a 5 percent surtax on personal income over $5 million, unveiled in early January 2016.
As part of her economic agenda, Clinton has announced several targeted tax changes she would push as president, including a hike in capital gains taxes on investments held less than six years and unspecified changes concerning executive compensation in order to limit what she calls “short-termism” and “quarterly capitalism,” what she believes is an unhealthy focus on short-term profits at the expense of long-term growth. In order to limit corporate inversions, she has called for raising to 50 percent the stake that an overseas merger partner must own of the combined firm, as well as an “exit tax” to collect taxes on profits held overseas. Responding to a question at a campaign event, she said she would be willing to use patents owned by multinationals as “leverage” against companies with profits held overseas, but she has not offered details on what this would entail.
She also has proposed giving businesses a 15 percent tax credit for profits they share with workers, as well as a tax credit for businesses that offer apprenticeships.
In order to pay for her five-year, $275 billion infrastructure spending proposal, Clinton has said she would raise taxes on businesses (which she terms “reforms”), but she has not specified what taxes would be raised.
Clinton announced in late November that she would push for targeted tax cuts aimed at people who care for dependent parents, worth up to $1,200, as well as up to a $5,000 credit for those who have out-of-pocket medical expenses exceeding 5 percent of their income.
Clinton voted in favor of a bill to extend the moratorium on Internet taxes.
According to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center, Clinton’s tax policies would raise approximately $1.1 trillion over the next decade, with the top 1 percent of earners paying nearly three-quarters of those new taxes.
Clinton has been sharply critical of the budget sequestration enacted as part of the debt limit deal in 2011, focusing in on the reduction in spending on scientific research. She also praised the 2013 Ryan-Murray budget compromise deal to increase spending in the short term in exchange for promised cuts in later years.
Like Obama, Clinton proposed a stimulus package during her 2008 campaign. Her $110 billion plan would have focused on helping low-income families. She has long been opposed to a balanced budget amendment, though she did vote in favor of a one-year moratorium on earmarks. In 2001, she voted in favor of an additional $123.1 billion in discretionary appropriations for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.
Clinton has proposed a $30 billion program to alleviate economic damage to coal-producing areas from her climate change policies. Her plan would provide more subsidies for “clean energy” production, entrepreneurs, and broadband access in hard-hit areas, as well as expand funding for infrastructure projects.
She also proposed an infrastructure spending program of $275 billion over five years, with a focus on improvements to roads, bridges, airports and shipping ports, and more recently proposed another $50 billion be spent on youth jobs programs, re-entry programs for released prisoners, homeownership support targeted at poor and minority homebuyers, and “to support entrepreneurship and small business growth in underserved communities.”
As a senator, Clinton supported a so-called card check bill, which would allow unions to dispense with the need for a vote to organize at a particular company. The bill also curtailed an employer’s ability to influence the outcome of organization efforts.
As part of her plan to provide assistance to communities hit by climate change policies on coal, she has proposed having the federal government provide taxpayer bailouts to union-negotiated pension and health plans at coal and other companies that go bankrupt.
As a senator she voted to increase the minimum wage and has announced her support for a $12 federal minimum wage, well above the current $7.25 standard but below the $15 level many progressive activists prefer. She supports requiring paid family leave for new mothers.
She also voted in favor of the Sarbanes-Oxley bill to impose heavy accounting and bookkeeping regulations on certain industries and was a co-sponsor of legislation after the housing crisis that would have imposed a temporary moratorium on foreclosures. She endorsed Obama’s call for tough “net neutrality” regulations to be imposed on Internet service providers.
As part of a proposal to reduce energy use in the U.S., she announced she would work to establish energy-efficient model building codes, expand the number of products covered under Energy Star ratings, and subject more appliances and equipment to energy efficiency mandates.
Clinton is on the record speaking of the benefits of fracking, though she favors regulating the practice. She nominally supports exporting natural gas and oil production and sees gas as a clean, job-creating alternative to coal. After months of declining to weigh in on whether the Keystone XL pipeline should be approved, citing her role as secretary of state in helping guide the assessment process. Clinton finally announced in September 2015 that she opposed construction of the pipeline.
Clinton opposes drilling in the Arctic Wildlife National Reserve and voted in favor of an amendment to that effect. She does support some offshore drilling, but again calls for heavy regulation by government in that arena. In August 2015 she announced her opposition to an Obama administration decision to allow drilling in the Arctic Ocean. She has also said that she would prevent any further development of fossil fuel resources on federal lands, although it wasn’t clear if she would allow extraction to continue on sites that have already been developed.
In a March 2016 forum, she said a Clinton administration would “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
Clinton strongly favors efforts to curb carbon emissions in response to what she perceives to be a threat posed by global warming. A firm supporter of cap-and-trade schemes, she also supports the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. As a senator, she supported a bill that would have expanded federally protected lands and waters.
As part of her 2016 campaign, Clinton has called for a goal of 500 million additional solar panels installed across the country and for renewable resources to generate enough electricity to power every home in the country.
While not overtly opposed to NAFTA, given that it was a signature priority for her husband, she did state that she thought there ought to be higher priorities, such as health care. She went on to criticize NAFTA during her 2008 campaign for the presidency. She also opposed the Central America Free Trade Agreement, though she favored trade agreements with Singapore, Chile and Oman. Clinton has announced her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal recently concluded by the Obama administration and that as Secretary of State she had a role in negotiating.
She supports maintaining the Export-Import Bank, a taxpayer-supported institution that primarily benefits large U.S. corporations including Boeing and General Electric. At an event for the biotechnology industry, she suggested the federal government should subsidize companies in the industry against the risks they face as investors, and she proposes to dole out to generic medicine manufacturers funds collected from pharmaceutical companies that don’t in her view invest enough in research and development.
As part of a $25 billion program aimed at supporting small businesses, particularly those owned by women and minorities, she has pledged that she will “encourage banks, businesses, and foundations to match capital and financing” to entrepreneurs who have gone through government-approved training and support programs, which could put the government in the business of directing private investment into favored firms.
As a senator she previously opposed an ethanol mandate requiring an increasing amount to be blended into gasoline, but in 2015 she reversed her position to favor the mandate.
Clinton voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008, generally described as a bailout for large banks, when she was still in the U.S. Senate.
Clinton has said she does not support a single-payer plan but meeting notes from her early health care reform efforts during her husband’s presidency show she favored it at that time. She has expressed her support for Obamacare and said she is open to making changes to it, and proposed repealing the so-called “Cadillac tax” imposed on expensive health plans with the caveat that the lost revenue should be made up elsewhere. She has also laid out specific proposals to limit out-of-pocket health care costs, including requiring insurers to provide three “sick” visits to the doctor at no out-of-pocket cost, offering a tax credit for out-of-pocket costs, and capping out-of-pocket drug costs at $250 a month.
She reiterated her support for a “public option” in Obamacare, a government-run insurer that would compete with private insurance companies in the market. She supported this idea in her 2008 campaign as well.
She also would require pharmaceutical companies to invest a specific percentage of their profits in research and development, eliminate the tax deductibility of consumer advertising give Medicare the power to set drug prices for the program, and reduce the number of years biological medicines were received patent protection from 12 to 7. Her campaign has suggested that funds collected from pharmaceutical companies that fail to invest the required percentage in research and development would be given to generic medicine manufacturers to encourage competition.
In December 2015, Clinton proposed spending $2 billion a year over 10 years to find a cure to Alzheimer’s disease.
Clinton was also instrumental in passing the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), a program that provides federal matching funds to states to provide health insurance for low-income families with children.
Clinton joined most of her Democratic colleagues in the Senate in voting against President Bush’s expansion of Medicare to create a prescription drug plan, largely based on a belief it was not generous enough to seniors and did not do more to control drug prices.
During her 2008 presidential campaign, Clinton proposed a plan that would mandate insurance coverage for all Americans. The plan’s cost, estimated (by her campaign) at $110 billion, would have been funded by repealing the Bush tax cuts.
One area Clinton did make a focus during her senate career was entitlements. In the past she supported keeping the cap on taxable income for Social Security, but more recently has suggested the might consider extending payroll taxes at income above the cap. She has proposed an initiative that would create retirement accounts for Americans but opposes any effort to privatize Social Security by allowing individuals to control their own accounts. She has said she wants to “enhance” Social Security, thought to mean offering more generous benefits to poorer retirees, but has not provided specifics or addressed the question of whether benefits should be increased for all retirees. She has said she would not rule out raising the retirement age for some people in the future, although she also said she doesn’t favor it.
In 1996, she was heavily criticized for supporting her husband’s decision to sign the welfare reform bill, and she supported a bipartisan plan to increase work requirements for welfare recipients.
Clinton strongly favors immigration reform. She supported a comprehensive immigration reform plan in 2007 that would create a new type of visa allowing anyone in the U.S. without a valid visa to remain in the country for the rest of their lives. After 13 years, these immigrants would then be eligible for citizenship. She voted for the construction of a fence between the United States and Mexico, supports a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here which she calls “essential” to reform.
More recently, she vowed to go beyond Obama’s executive orders on immigration to expand the ability of illegal aliens to stay in the U.S. She has criticized the “sanctuary city” policies that prevent or hinder the deportation of illegal immigrants who commit other serious crimes.
She has seldom weighed in on agricultural issues. She did vote in favor of an amendment limiting subsidies to a married couple to $250,000, and more recently said she would double funding to the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program, which provides training and assistance to people new to agriculture.
Clinton revealed a Wall Street reform agenda in October 2015 that would extend the statute of limitations for financial crimes, devote more Department of Justice and SEC resources to investigation and prosecution of financial crimes, a “fee on risk” aimed at leverage and short-term loans by financial firms, and requirements that bonuses paid to senior managers and executives be returned if the bank later loses money and has its financial health imperiled. She has also called for giving regulators the authority to re-organize or break up large firms, without providing details, as well as imposing a tax on high-frequency trading
Clinton voted in favor of the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation imposing new accounting and investment regulations on companies and has opposed efforts to reform or repeal the Dodd-Frank regulations of the financial industry. She has also opposed efforts to bring back the Glass-Steagall Act’s separation of investment and commercial banking. As part of her rural development agenda, she has proposed simplifying regulations for community banks that often provide credit in rural areas.
She has also proposed increasing the potential rewards for Wall Street whistleblowers who come forward with information, currently capped at $1.6 million, and banning “golden parachute” payouts to persons in the financial industry who go to work for government.
As a former secretary of state who was active in crafting foreign policy along with her husband during his presidency, Clinton has significant foreign affairs experience. Even before her tenure as secretary, she served on the Armed Services Committee in the U.S. Senate.
While she opposed many elements of the war on terrorism as a senator, she is generally thought to be more hawkish than most members of her party, having voted for military intervention in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Clinton admitted that she opposed the Iraq troop surge in 2007 largely for political reasons as she pursued the Democratic nomination for president. Clinton says Gates misunderstood her comments, which were describing the political difficulties of getting the American public to support a surge.
In 2008 Clinton argued that the Iraq War had diverted focus from the fight in Afghanistan and said she would send more troops to that country, and as secretary of state she supported President Obama’s decision for an 18-month “surge” to fight the Taliban and al-Qaida. More recently she has said she agrees with Obama’s decision to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan through at least 2017.
As a senator, Clinton proposed a bill to increase the size of the Army by 80,000 soldiers.
She has been dismissive of allegations of widespread problems with the Veterans Health Administration, saying that veterans who get care are generally pleased with it and accusing Republicans of criticizing the agency due to an “ideological agenda.” Following severe criticism from veterans groups and others about her comments, she retracted her statement and weeks later while unveiling her VA reform plan called the problems “serious, systemic, and unacceptable.” Her plan would allow veterans to seek care outside the VA system in certain circumstances, but she has pledged she would oppose plans to privatize most services.
She also voted for the Patriot Act in 2001 and again in 2005. She has suggested (possibly inaccurately) that Edward Snowden, who leaked classified documents exposing domestic surveillance programs before fleeing to China and later Russia, could have come forward as a whistleblower and received protection, but instead broke the law and should face criminal sanctions if and when he returns to the U.S.
Even within the Obama administration, Clinton was considered to take a relatively proactive posture on military efforts abroad.
As secretary of state, Clinton supported military intervention in Libya and the training of Syrian rebels, positions which compelled the administration to take a more aggressive pose. She has spoken against the use of U.S. ground troops to fight ISIS and recently called for the U.S. to accept 65,000 refugees from the war-torn area. She has also backed the establishment of U.S.-enforced “no fly zones” in Syria and said she would increase the number of U.S. Special Forces personnel on the ground in Syria and Iraq as well as step up airstrikes against ISIS.
She has also called for United Nations sanctions against Iran, and stated that the use of military force against that country should not be taken off the table. In March 2015 she sharply criticized the Republican senators who signed a letter to the Iranian leadership warning them on the limits of a deal that was not ratified by Congress, and she praised the deal that Obama agreed to with Iran in July 2015.
Clinton has expressed concern that the international community is not taking the threat of terrorism and war seriously enough. She accused NATO of sliding into “military irrelevance” and fought for tougher sanctions against Russia. She supports financial and military aid for Ukraine in its fight against Russian-backed separatists and has described Russia’s annexation of Crimea in harsh terms, comparing it to Nazi aggression. She has also said she favors imposing more sanctions on Russia if it assists Hezbollah in Syria.
Clinton has endorsed the Obama administration’s decision to resume normal diplomatic relations with Cuba and also called for the embargo on trade to be lifted.
Asked in the first Democratic debate what the top national security threat was, she said, “The continued threat from the spread of nuclear weapons, nuclear material that can fall in the wrong hands.”
When asked in a 2014 interview with CBS News if she believed in American exceptionalism, Clinton said, “I do. I believe even more today than I did when I became secretary of state.… We are, number one, the longest surviving democracy, but not just in the way we were created but in the way we’ve evolved … we had to fight a Civil War, we had to amend a Constitution … and we’re still making changes to try to move us towards that ‘more perfect union.’ I don’t know of any other nation that is as self-correcting, self-aware, as willing to make change, in order to live up to our founding principles, as we are.… We know we’re not perfect, we don’t claim to be perfect, but we are exceptional. And I think we have to both understand that and we have to safeguard it.”
As a U.S. senator, Hillary Clinton voted against the nominations of Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, as well as to Roberts’ elevation to the role of chief justice.
Clinton has praised the court’s opinions in King v. Burwell and Obergefell v. Hodges. She has called the court’s opinion in Citizens United v. FEC “a grave error” and has promised to “do everything I can to appoint Supreme Court justices who protect the right to vote and do not protect the right of billionaires to buy elections.” She has said her Supreme Court nominees must support overturning Citizens United. In terms of the type of nominee she would appoint, she cited those who “respected precedence, felt what life was like for normal Americans, and had a career path outside of school and a conservative think tank.”
She has also promised to “appoint judges to our courts who understand that Roe v. Wade isn’t just binding legal precedent,” but “the touchstone of our reproductive freedom, the embodiment of our most fundamental rights, and no one – no judge, no governor, no Senator, no President – has the right to take it away.”
Clinton has described the U.S Constitution as a “living and working” document.
On crime, Clinton has said she supports the death penalty in “egregious cases” that she thought would be “limited and rare.” She also suggested she favors significant changes to the criminal justice system to address “mass incarceration” and intends to offer specific policy proposals in the future.
She has made an amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and limit political speech a centerpiece of her campaign. She called the Supreme Court’s religious liberty decision in the Hobby Lobby case “deeply disturbing” and criticized the idea that the religious views of a company’s owners deserved constitutional protection. Clinton supported the Family Entertainment Protection Act, legislation that would regulate the video game industry for violent content.
In the aftermath of the Bush v. Gore decision following the 2000 election, Clinton stated that the electoral college should be scrapped in favor of a national popular vote. She is also on the record asserting Congress ought to be more respectful of presidential authority.
As first lady of Arkansas, Clinton worked to establish teacher testing and tougher state standards for curriculum and classroom size. Clinton has been a supporter of charter schools for several decades, although she has recently criticized them, saying that “most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them.” She further explained that she views the role of charter schools as a way to “learn what worked and then apply them in the public schools.” She remains a backer of charter schools, however.
She also voted in favor of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), though she opposes school choice and any sort of voucher program for low-income students. She has also voiced concerns over what she considers excessive testing of schoolchildren required under NCLB. She has proposed providing federal funds to states that offer universal kindergarten.
She has endorsed Obama’s call for community colleges to be free and has proposed a $350 billion plan to make college more affordable that includes federal funds to states who increase their spending on higher education, reducing loan rates, and requiring colleges to repay some portion of defaulted student loans.
Clinton has supported affirmative action policies in the past and is credited with helping to push Bill Clinton’s administration to fill half of all positions with women.
Clinton has generally favored stricter gun control laws, although she has endorsed the idea that the Second Amendment protects an individual right. She supports passage of a new “assault weapons” ban similar to the one passed in 1994, and favors allowing states and localities to determine their own gun laws, possibly including complete bans such as Washington, D.C., once had. She voted against legislation that would have prohibited lawsuits against gun manufacturers and sellers if their product were used in a crime.
In her 2000 U.S. Senate race she backed federal legislation that would have required gun owners to be licensed and handguns to be registered, but by her 2008 presidential campaign had backed off her support for this. More recently she has called for allowing lawsuits against firearm manufacturers and dealers if their products used in a crime, eliminating the requirement that gun sales be allowed if a background check doesn’t clear the system in 3 days, and imposing background checks on private firearm sales through executive action.
She has been a consistent advocate for abortion rights, most recently criticizing a House bill that would prohibit the procedure after 20 weeks. Her “HillaryCare” proposal in 1994 included language requiring abortion to be covered by all insurance plans. She has said she could not support any U.S. Supreme Court nominee who didn’t support the Roe v. Wade decision.
Clinton recently shifted her longstanding position against same-sex marriage, endorsing it in March 2013 after opposing it during the 2008 campaign. She praised the June 2015 Supreme Court ruling finding a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.
Clinton criticized Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that would have allowed individuals, companies, and other organizations the opportunity to claim a religious exemption from having to follow certain laws. She said a Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses following the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage was “breaking the law by denying other Americans their constitutional rights.”
She also denounced the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case that protected the rights of religious business owners to not have to include certain forms of contraception in their employee health plans. She was a co-sponsor of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, along with a bipartisan group of U.S. senators including Sam Brownback, Tom Coburn, and Chuck Schumer, but has also endorsed the so-called Equality Act, which could trample the religious freedoms of individuals and organizations who object to same-sex marriage.
While her policy views have changed frequently depending on the political winds, such as her shifts on immigration and trade, she has been steadfast in supporting government programs she believes help children. This is consistent with her writings and personal advocacy on behalf of disadvantaged children. She outlined her vision in the book It Takes a Village.
Clinton’s private work has often been at odds with her proclaimed policy views. To cite just one example, she served on the board of Walmart, one of the more staunchly anti-union businesses in the country, but continually portrays herself as an ally of organized labor.
More recently, Clinton has spoken in strongly populist tones regarding income inequality, suggesting the wealthy are somehow responsible for the plight of the poor, while earning six-figure speaking fees and seeing her own family’s wealth grow considerably after her husband left the White House. Shortly after unveiling part of her plan to stop climate change, she boarded a private jet with a significant carbon footprint.
She has both supported and opposed trade relations with Cuba. She initially opposed NAFTA but ultimately supported it. More recently she appears to have backtracked on trade again, voicing concerns over the Trans-Pacific Partnership that her own State Department played a major role in negotiating.
Although they were stalwart supporters of teachers unions and strong opponents of homeschooling and school choice, Clinton and her husband nonetheless sent their daughter to an elite private school. While she is certainly not alone in this particular brand of hypocrisy, Clinton’s vocal opposition to education choice is particularly glaring.
Raised in the United Methodist Church, Clinton has long sought ways to reconcile her faith with her political values. She once described herself as having the mind of a conservative and the heart of a liberal.
In terms of ethical issues, Clinton has no shortage, including the recent mass deletion of emails from the privately controlled server hosting the email account she used as secretary of state, questionable profits from commodity trading in the late 1970s, the disappearance and then discovery of legal billing records related to a failed savings and loan run by a business partner of the Clintons, the firing of the White House travel staff, and the Whitewater scandal that snared convictions of the Clintons’ business partners as well as the governor of Arkansas at the time, but not the Clintons.
A batch of e-mails released in early January 2016 included one in which, as secretary of state, she instructed an aide to remove classification markings from a document and send it to her through an unsecured system if the secure system was not working, contributing to the perception that she mishandled and was careless with classified material.
Most recently, serious allegations have been raised in a new book documenting numerous instances where large contributions were made to the Clinton Foundation or speaking fees paid to Bill Clinton by foreign governments, companies, and individuals at the same time they were seeking, and receiving, favorable decisions from the State Department when Hillary Clinton served as secretary of state. At a bare minimum, it appears the Clinton Foundation failed to honor its agreement with the Obama administration to reject or seek approval of foreign contributions.
According to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served under Obama while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, Clinton admitted that her opposition to the troop surge in Iraq was based on political concerns and her 2008 presidential campaign. Clinton has denied the charge, saying Gates misunderstood what she had said.
Clinton stood up to what could be described as knee-jerk disdain of lobbyists in her 2008 campaign, saying, “A lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans. They represent nurses, they represent social workers, yes, they represent corporations that employ a lot of people.” Given that she was speaking to a far-left conference at the time, Clinton deserves credit for taking the heat on espousing an unpopular view.
Clinton also supported her husband’s decision to sign welfare reform in 1996, legislation that was deeply unpopular with liberals.
As first lady of Arkansas, she served on an education reform commission and supported its call for competency testing of teachers, which was vigorously opposed by teacher unions. Her support for the North American Free Trade Agreement was also opposed by labor.
According to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served under Obama while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, Clinton admitted that her opposition to the troop surge in Iraq was based on political concerns and her 2008 presidential campaign. Clinton has denied the charge, saying Gates misunderstood what she had said.
Outside of her tenure in the Senate, Clinton has been more of an advocate than an executor. For this reason, she lacks a singular accomplishment that defines her political career, and it is even difficult to ascertain what she might want those accomplishments to be. In order to be a successful candidate and president, she will have to define herself outside of the presidents she has operated under.
As a senator, her track record is light. She authored no major legislation and did not secure major coalitions for or against any signature legislation.
Clinton has authored a number of bestselling books. Her most recent, Hard Choices, chronicles her service as secretary of state and has all the hallmarks of a pre-presidential memoir. She embarked on a lengthy book tour in support of the book.
With significant political experience dating back to at least the mid-’70s, Clinton may be the most experienced candidate in the 2016 cycle. By nearly all accounts she did very well in the first Democratic debate, showing skills and experience likely honed in more than two dozen debates during the 2008 campaign.
Yet for all her experience, Clinton has been known to be tone-deaf and displays little of the same skill as a campaigner as her husband. In one recent example, she said that problems many veterans had accessing health care through the Veterans Administration were not widespread and accused Republicans of being driven by a political agenda, which forced her campaign to quickly walk back her comments after they came under sharp criticism.
She has been overly cautious in her statements on a variety of issues, failing to state her position on items like the Trans-Pacific Partnership for several months and what the federal minimum wage should be. After saying for months she would not take a position on the Keystone XL pipeline because she was part of the review process as secretary of state, Clinton bent to political pressure and declared her opposition.
A noted fundraiser, not just for herself, but for the Democratic party at large, Clinton embarked on a massive tour throughout the United States in support of Democratic candidates leading up to the 2014 midterm elections. While it could be argued those visits did little good for the candidates in a Republican wave election, it speaks to the respect she has within her party that she was so frequently called upon at a time when Obama was avoided. These visits have given her exposure in key states such as Iowa, a fact certainly not lost on the expert campaigner.
In a moment indicative of Clinton’s zealotry and ambition, her staff crafted a “hit list” of politicians who had wronged her during her 2008 presidential bid; many observers suspect if she did not order this list created, it was certainly done in an environment she fostered. This may call into question her ability and willingness to bury the hatchet, much less work across party lines. When Sen. Claire McCaskill made a disparaging remark about Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton instantly canceled a fundraiser she had planned for McCaskill.
Clinton is a capable and experienced speaker. She has spent more than two decades in the national spotlight and been the subject of often withering criticism from political opponents.
Yet for all her experience, Clinton has been known to be tone-deaf and displays little of the same skill as a campaigner as her husband.
Her language can be legalistic and sound like she’s parsing words, such as her defense of the use of a private email server as secretary of state, and she has been criticized frequently for her evasive responses in interviews and generally making herself inaccessible to the press.
Clinton remains a fundraising machine among Democratic candidates. Her long Democratic ties over decades of public service make her a constant and credible fundraising threat. On the other hand, scandal follows her. Any other candidate might crumble under scandal after scandal, decade after decade. While it may be improbable that she can shake her recent scandals, (i.e., Benghazi, email, and family foundation funding), Clinton has found ways in the past to overcome these profound weaknesses.
Martin O’Malley receives higher marks for character and low marks for issues and accomplishments.
He scores well for political skills, given his surprising victory in Baltimore and his later win over a sitting Republican governor. However, he demonstrates reluctance to work across the aisle to achieve effective compromise. O’Malley’s free market grade is low based on his record of increasing taxes and spending, as well as his support for Obamacare.
While he has been a consistent liberal Democrat, he did oppose gambling prior to becoming governor and then endorsing them while governor. His ethics grades are low because of his manipulation of crime statistics and his crony capitalism. He is also considered a poor communicator.
During his time as Maryland governor, O’Malley raised taxes and fees and created new taxes and fees numerous times.
Between 2007 and 2014, O’Malley approved 40 new or increased taxes and fees, totaling at least $9.5 billion additional taxes to Maryland taxpayers. These new and increased taxes included an income tax increase on Marylanders earning more than $100,000, an increase in the alcoholic beverage sales tax increase from 6 to 9 percent, bridge and tunnel toll increases, an increase in the sales tax from 5 to 6 percent, an increase in the state corporate income tax from 7 to 8.25 percent, raising cigarette taxes from $1 to $2 per pack, and a vehicle excise tax increase.
One of the taxes approved by O’Malley was the so-called “rain tax,” which collected a fee based on the area of a piece of property that was impervious to rain, such as driveways or a house.
O’Malley signed into law an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10, and as Baltimore mayor supported a measure aimed at Walmart requiring it to pay at least 8 percent of its wages toward health benefits or face a hefty tax. He recently endorsed a $15/hour federal minimum wage.
O’Malley unveiled in September 2015 a set of major regulatory proposals affecting employers, including requiring 12 weeks of paid maternity or paternity leave and making pay information publicly available.
With only two months remaining in his term, and after Republican Larry Hogan had been elected to succeed O’Malley as governor, O’Malley introduced more than 30 new regulations, including regulations on hydraulic fracturing, nutrient runoff from chicken manure, and power plants using coal. He has expressed concern over the so-called “sharing economy,” in which individuals work as independent contractors with companies like Uber, and said he is preparing to announce policies that would provide benefits and protections for those workers. He has described himself as a fan of Uber, and said he thinks the company is good for Americans.
O’Malley has expresses support for net neutrality regulations on the internet, which interfere with Internet service providers’ ability to manage their networks and market their services.
In 2013, O’Malley signed legislation that required all public school teachers in Maryland to pay union dues. O’Malley also criticized a 2014 Supreme Court decision that stopped some public employees from being legally compelled to pay union dues.
O’Malley angered organized labor as mayor by privatizing 176 custodial and security jobs, and exploring privatizing hundreds more in his effort to provide better services to city residents.
In June 2015 O’Malley unveiled an ambitious plan to deal with climate change. He advocated the complete elimination of fossil fuels in the U.S. by 2050, utilizing a cap on carbon dioxide emissions to help achieve this goal. While governor, he signed an agreement to make Maryland a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI. This agreement resulted in the implementation of a cap-and-trade program in the state.
Late in his final term as governor, O’Malley struck a deal to allow hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to procure natural gas in Maryland, but only in conjunction with very strict regulations. O’Malley opposes the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to bring crude oil down to Gulf Coast refineries from Canada’s oil sands. He also opposes offshore oil drilling and the export of oil and natural gas produced in the U.S.
In 2014, he supported new EPA rules that required states to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent. But O’Malley had previously lobbied for the EPA to ease air-quality regulations that would have negatively impacted Carnival Cruise Lines, after that company threatened to pull its business from the Baltimore area.
Because Maryland has a balanced budget amendment, budgets under O’Malley’s administration were always balanced. This, coupled with a reluctance to cut spending, is arguably the impetus for the 40 new and increased taxes and fees O’Malley signed into law during his administration. Despite the tax increases, O’Malley left a $1.2 billion budget gap for his successor.
O’Malley referred to the budget sequester as a “jobs killer” and suggested it would damage his state’s economy. He also said during the 2012 “fiscal cliff” debate that Republicans should compromise with Obama and raise taxes in order to “shed their sort of Tea Party obstructionist stench.”
O’Malley’s record on spending and size of government is mixed. He did eliminate 4,200 state jobs, but while he touts $9.9 billion in spending cuts during his tenure, the fact is total state spending rose from $29 billion to $38.5 billion under his watch. The “cuts” O’Malley refers to are based on his getting the legislature to alter spending formulas that would have otherwise driven spending up even further.
O’Malley is a supporter of Obamacare, and he elected to create a state-based health care exchange called for under the Obamacare law. The exchange web site designed by O’Malley’s administration was fraught with problems, leading to the design eventually being scrapped as the state adopted the software system used by the state of Connecticut. He is opposed to the idea of block granting Medicaid and giving states more control over the program in exchange for capping federal spending on the program.
In November 2015 O’Malley released his own health care reform agenda, which would largely enhance Obamacare as it currently is. Key elements of his plan include aggressive anti-trust enforcement regarding hospital and insurer mergers, a ban on what he terms “price gouging profiteering in prescription drugs,” allowing the federal government to set drug prices through Medicare’s buying power, and allowing illegal immigrants to get Medicaid benefits and buy insurance on Obamacare exchanges. He has set a goal of getting 95 percent of the public insured, above the current level of approximately 88 percent.
O’Malley has claimed that under his leadership, the state of Maryland moved 75,000 welfare recipients into jobs. He has endorsed increasing Social Security benefits and increasing the amount of income subject to the FICA taxes that fund Social Security. He has rejected the idea of raising the retirement age.
While governor, O’Malley took several trade mission trips, including visits to India and Brazil. He opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal negotiated by the Obama administration. His campaign unveiled a trade agenda in October 2015 in which he said he would only support free trade agreements “that establish strong and enforceable rules for fair competition,” including requirements that “labor unions, consumer groups, health and environmental advocates” all participate in negotiations, which in practice would likely make it very difficult to reach meaningful trade agreements.
O’Malley supports providing a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens currently in the country and has pledged to expand the number protected from deportation under President Obama’s “deferred action” executive order. He has also said he would change current regulations to allow illegal immigrants protected by deferred action to qualify for insurance subsidies under Obamacare.
During a 2010 debate, O’Malley referred to illegal immigrants as “new Americans,” even as he endorsed tougher enforcement against illegal immigration by the federal government. In 2011, O’Malley signed a bill that granted the children of illegal immigrants eligibility for in-state tuition rates at Maryland state universities.
O’Malley instituted new policy in 2014 that the Baltimore Jail would no longer honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detailers, a policy sometimes called “sanctuary.” Also that year, O’Malley halted the “Secure Communities” program in the city of Baltimore that provided information to ICE on illegal immigrants arrested by local police.
O’Malley has advocated for the federal government to increase funding for dairy farming by $350 million and also signed a letter supporting reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, a key corporate welfare entity.
In his 2012 budget, O’Malley called for spending $175,000 to determine the feasibility of constructing a stadium to house the DC United Major League Soccer team. O’Malley signed into law the Maryland film tax credit in 2012.
In December 2014, analysts urged the state to let the tax credit expire in 2016, saying that the state had not benefited enough from the $62.5 million that the tax credit allowed to TV and film companies. The report claimed that the state only received between $0.04 and $0.06 return on every dollar in tax credits.
O’Malley was one of several governors who requested billions of dollars in funding from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, typically referred to as the bank bailout, which he hoped to use to stimulate small business loans.
In a March 2015 op-ed, O’Malley said the Dodd-Frank financial industry regulations “didn’t go far enough” and proposed reinstating Glass-Steagall, the Depression-era regulations separating commercial from investment banking. He also said the largest banks should be broken up into smaller banks, called for higher capital reserve requirements for large banks, and called for much more aggressive prosecution of banks that break laws. In addition he supports banning from working for the financial industry anybody who worked in a federal regulatory or policy role for the federal government.
O’Malley favors allowing Puerto Rico to enter into bankruptcy in order to deal with the U.S. territory’s massive debt crisis.
O’Malley has offered relatively little in terms of specific foreign policies he would change. What was billed as a major foreign policy address in June 2015 largely focused on the economy, leading Time magazine to note “O’Malley did not name specific proposals for addressing any major foreign policy issues, instead speaking generally about strengthening U.S. cybersecurity, combating climate change and “degrading” the Islamic State, “not only with military power” but with “political solutions.” During the first Democratic debate, O’Malley identified climate change and Islamic State as the leading threats to national security.
O’Malley unveiled a military personnel and veterans agenda in November 2015 that included a pledge to end unemployment among veterans by 2020, increase the ability of the VA inspector general to investigate problems, apply data analysis to problems facing veterans, and reform the process for “other than honorable” discharges of service members who have post-traumatic stress syndrome or traumatic brain injuries.
He has supported modernizing the nation’s nuclear forces, in part as a money-saving measure.
He was named by Obama as co-chair of a bipartisan panel of state and federal officials focused on defense and homeland security.
O’Malley was a consistent and vocal opponent of the war in Iraq. He has also stated that he believes Israel has a right to defend itself from attack, and said in March 2015 that a nuclear-armed Iran was the greatest threat to U.S. national security. He voiced his support for the nuclear arms deal reached with Iran by the Obama administration, saying it “holds a lot of promise.”
Criticizing the foreign policy of the Obama administration, O’Malley said President Obama’s lack of action on ISIS allowed that threat to grow. O’Malley added in an interview with The New York Times that “it is at great risk to our national interest and national security to ever become disengaged from the broader world.” He has called for the U.S. to welcome up to 65,000 refugees fleeing from war-torn Syria, while opposing the establishment of a “no-fly zone” over the country because it could lead to a confrontation with Russia.
Regarding domestic surveillance to fight terrorism, O’Malley said he favors requiring law enforcement and intelligence agencies to get a warrant before accessing digital information. He said Edward Snowden, a National Security Agency contractor who leaked classified information related to domestic surveillance programs, should be punished, saying he broke the law and endangered Americans.
O’Malley has also called for additional emphasis on state fusion centers that allow greater information sharing between law enforcement and intelligence agencies, as well as expanded use of facial recognition software on surveillance cameras in public places.
O’Malley endorsed Obama’s plan to renew diplomatic ties with Cuba and ease the embargo.
While governor, O’Malley took several trade mission trips, including visits to India and Brazil.
O’Malley has a record of making liberal and Democrat appointments to the state’s courts.
His appointees to the Maryland courts were overwhelmingly Democrats, by a 95 percent to 5 percent ratio. This was a sharp break from his Republican predecessor, whose nominees were 52 percent Republicans and 48 percent Democrats.
Two of O’Malley’s appointments to the Maryland Court of Appeals (equivalent to a state supreme court), Sally Adkins and Mary Ellen Barbera were considered liberals.
O’Malley has pledged to only appoint judges to the Supreme Court who will overturn Citizens United and rule against corporate personhood. O’Malley praised the Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell (Obamacare tax credits) and also applauded the court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges (same-sex marriage).
O’Malley opposed a bill that would have given judges more discretion on sentencing for non-violent drug offenders. When he was mayor of Baltimore, major crime fell by half according to FBI statistics, owing in part to O’Malley’s implementation of the CompStat system of measuring and analyzing crime data – the same system that New York City embraced under Rudy Giuliani.
More recently, O’Malley called for significant reform of the criminal justice system, including banning companies from asking potential employees about criminal records, abolishing the death penalty, and requiring all police departments to publicly report use of lethal force, deaths of individuals in police custody, excessive force, and “discourtesy.”
O’Malley opposed the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, seen by many as a victory for religious liberty, tweeting, “No woman should have her health care decisions made by her boss. Period. This decision is wrong and a setback for women’s health.”
O’Malley has spoken favorably of taxpayer financing for political campaigns and said he would appoint judges who would overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and strip corporations of the right to speak on political matters.
As mayor of Baltimore, O’Malley defended the city’s affirmative action program setting aside 20 percent of the city’s contracts for minority-owned firms after it was struck down in court.
O’Malley has called for federal-state partnerships to address climate change. In an interview, O’Malley suggested that “entrepreneurial federalism, can-do federalism, where the federal government partners with states that are more ready than others, more willing than others, to make progress.”
He has suggested he would favor a constitutional amendment replacing the electoral college with direct election of the president, and signed legislation as governor of Maryland that would award all of Maryland’s electoral votes to the candidate winning the national popular vote instead of whoever won the most votes in his state.
O’Malley is supportive of charter schools, considering them a part of the bigger plan for public school reform. In January 2014, O’Malley signed a proclamation declaring the week of January 30 to be “National School Choice Week” in Maryland. However, O’Malley strongly opposed the use of school vouchers during the 1999 race for Baltimore mayor. O’Malley supports the development and implementation of the Common Core standards.
O’Malley has proposed changes to college financing that would allow students to graduate without debt. The plan includes freezing tuition at public universities and ultimately limiting it to an amount equal to 10 percent of the state’s median income, tying repayment of student loans to income, allowing more former students to refinance their loans at lower rates, and increasing grants to low-income students.
As governor he proposed and signed into law a bill that banned assault weapons and gun magazines with more than a 10-round capacity, and also required eight hours of training, fingerprinting, and a state-issued gun license to buy a handgun. More recently he has proposed prohibiting private citizens from selling guns unless they are a licensed dealer, creation of a national gun registry, an assault weapons ban, and regulations on how guns are stored and secured in private homes. He has said his administration would not defend in court a law protecting gun manufacturers from lawsuits when their products are used in crimes.
O’Malley is pro-choice, although it is unclear what if any limits he might support. In 2002 as mayor of Baltimore he said through a spokesperson he supported a 1992 state referendum that would allow limits at time when a fetus could survive outside the womb, generally around 23 to 24 weeks after conception at the time. In 2013 he received a perfect 100 percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America, a pro-abortion rights group.
O’Malley is a supporter of same-sex marriage, sponsoring legislation as governor in 2011 allowing same-sex marriage in Maryland that was signed into law in 2012. He also welcomed the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision creating a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.
O’Malley has generally governed consistent with his liberal values. One reversal of note was on decriminalization of marijuana, where O’Malley originally announced his opposition because he was concerned it would be “a gateway to even more harmful behavior.” He signed a bill decriminalizing marijuana four months later.
He also reversed himself on using slot machines to provide for education funding, which he called a “morally bankrupt” way to fund education and attacked his opponent in 2006 for supporting slots expansion. By 2007 he had changed positions, and he endorsed a significant expansion of slot machines across the state to fund education.
While running for governor in 2006, O’Malley claimed that during his tenure of Baltimore mayor, crime was reduced by 37 percent. Because the statistic was derived from a crime audit that utilized questionable methodology, both Democratic and Republican rivals accused him of manipulating crime statistics to serve his electoral ambitions.
In 2008, land developer Edward St. John was fined $55,000 by the state of Maryland for making illegal contributions to O’Malley’s campaign for governor. O’Malley was accused of a quid pro quo deal with St. John after the governor’s office announced transportation project that created a new $28 million highway interchange from Interstate 795 to one of the properties owned by St. John. O’Malley’s administration denied any impropriety in the deal, stating that this transportation project had been a priority since before O’Malley was elected.
The Maryland state ethics commission is investigating whether O’Malley undervalued the value of furniture bought by taxpayers for the governor’s mansion for $62,000 and then declared “junk” and sold to O’Malley for $9,638 when he left office.
O’Malley has moderately bucked the teachers unions by supporting charter schools and by declaring National School Choice Week 2014 in a proclamation. He also pushed pension reform that was opposed by unions.
O’Malley’s reputation for competent executive leadership took a major hit with the rollout of the state’s Obamacare exchange, widely regarded as disastrous and inept. O’Malley’s lieutenant governor was given the responsibility for overseeing implementation of the exchange website, and investigators are currently exploring charges the O’Malley administration concealed information about the exchange’s problems and wasted tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.
O’Malley has pulled off some surprising political victories, even in heavily Democratic Maryland. O’Malley was the lone white candidate in the campaign for Baltimore mayor in 1999. It was widely expected that an African-American candidate would win the election in predominately African-American Baltimore. O’Malley campaigned hard and won significant endorsements from African-American lawmakers and church leaders. O’Malley went on the win the Democratic primary with 53 percent of the vote.
In his first campaign for Maryland governor, O’Malley defeated Republican incumbent Bob Ehrlich 53-46 percent.
According to Maryland House Minority Leader Nic Kipke, a Republican, O’Malley never reached out to Republicans during his time in office. Kipke added, “He’s ignored Republicans throughout his entire political career, starting back when he was running for mayor. … He’s never needed to deal with Republicans, and he’s not going to start now.”
O’Malley served as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, suggesting a degree of confidence in his leadership and political skills by his colleagues.
O’Malley is not well regarded as an effective political communicator, being considered “a boring, soft-spoken, data-driven, and an unabashedly liberal” politician. He was a featured speaker at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, landing a speaking slot in prime time on the convention’s second day. His speech, however, was criticized as “contrived,” “artificial and gimmicky,” and “underwhelming.” His performance in the first Democratic presidential debate was generally regarded as mediocre, with one analyst suggesting he had “slipped through the cracks” with a “bland delivery.”
Among the lower tier of Democratic candidates in terms of fundraising, O’Malley will struggle for viability, especially facing Clinton and Sanders. From a small Eastern state, O’Malley’s liberal credentials are unsurprising (like Chafee) and he has not been able to break through, either in terms of ideas or his campaign – a reality proved during the most recent Democratic debate.
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