As coronavirus infections continue to spread uncontrolled in most states across the U.S., many Americans are deeply concerned about how the situation will be addressed.
Joe Biden has sharply criticized President Donald Trump when it comes to his response to the coronavirus pandemic. Biden has called for a comprehensive federal plan to contain the virus, including more widespread testing, more equipment for hospitals and medical workers, and major funding for treatment and vaccine research.
If elected, Biden says, he would also enact plans to prevent future virus outbreaks. For example, he wants to reinstate a U.S. global health security team focused on pandemic preparedness that was dismantled by the Trump administration in 2018. Biden also wants to prioritize and expand health security planning in the U.S. and around the world.
The long history of unjust treatment of Black people in America is a major focus of this election.
This past spring, in the wake of police killings of Black Americans, huge protests erupted across the country in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic has seriously underscored the widespread problem of racial inequality in the United States. Data show that people of color are contracting and dying of the virus at the highest rates, largely because of the wealth gap that exists between white people and people of color. Many Americans of all races are now demanding an end to police violence and other injustices toward Black people in this country.
Joe Biden has said racism is a problem that needs urgent attention in the U.S. He acknowledges that inequality between Black people and white people is the result of long-standing laws and policies. Still, Biden has been strongly criticized for his record on race. While he has supported civil rights laws, as a senator in the 1980s and ’90s, he championed legislation that hurt Black Americans. He wrote and supported “tough on crime” laws requiring long prison sentences, including for people convicted of low-level crimes. Such laws have disproportionately affected Black Americans.
Last year, Biden expressed regret for criminal justice laws he championed in the Senate that have contributed to racial injustice. Going forward, he says that he is committed to rooting out racism in the criminal justice system, from policing practices to sentencing laws. As president, he says he would enact polices to close the racial wealth gap, which is a direct result of centuries of racist laws, policies, and practices. For example, he has pledged to expand access to high-quality education, business opportunities, health care, and housing for Black Americans. He has also called for the U.S. government to increase investigations into claims bias and brutality against Black people in police departments nationwide, so that patterns of discrimination can be exposed and fixed.
From 2010 through early 2020, the U.S. economy experienced strong growth. Then came the coronavirus pandemic. Last spring, most businesses across the country temporarily shut down to contain the spread of the virus. As a result, the economy is now in its worst economic downturn in roughly a century. Though many businesses have since resumed operations, experts expect the economy to rebound slowly. They say many businesses won’t ever reopen and that it’s likely that millions of job losses will be permanent.
Joe Biden believes that to save the economy, the U.S. government must provide businesses more help to safely reopen. He says the federal government should pay for workers called back to their jobs to get tested for the virus and also cover the cost of sick leave if they need time off because they are infected. Biden says he will hold businesses accountable for following safety standards to protect workers. He also pledges to create a national group to trace the personal contacts of people who become infected, something health officials say is critical to containing the virus.
When it comes to strengthening the economy and adding jobs in the long term, a key part of Biden’s plan is the launch of major building projects. For example, he wants to invest $1.3 trillion over 10 years to upgrade the nation’s transportation systems, schools, and more. Biden supports increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $15 per hour and raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans and big corporations.
Millions of Americans lack health insurance, which is a plan that helps people pay their medical bills. And many of those who do have health insurance struggle to afford it. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of making affordable health care accessible to all Americans.
The last major change to the U.S. health-care system took place a decade ago, when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law. It has helped millions of Americans get health insurance. Still, the law has been criticized because for many Americans, health insurance is still too costly.
While many Republican officials want to repeal the law, Joe Biden says he wants to protect and improve it. He says that as president, he would work to bring the cost of ACA insurance plans down for more people. He also wants to create an entirely new health-care plan that anyone could join, called a public option, which would be provided by the government rather than by a private insurance company. Currently, health insurance policies are sold only by private companies.
Joe Biden has said he believes that climate change—the gradual shift in Earth’s average temperature and weather patterns—is a major threat to the United States and the world.
Scientists say that to combat climate change, nations must sharply reduce carbon dioxide emissions. When people burn fossil fuels like oil, coal, and gas to power homes, businesses, and cars, carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases are released into Earth’s atmosphere. That’s driving climate change, experts say. If carbon levels aren’t drastically cut, scientists warn, Earth’s average temperature will continue to increase, sea levels will continue to rise, and the number of extreme weather events, such as droughts and wildfires, will grow.
Biden supports the framework of an ambitious plan to combat climate change called the Green New Deal. He pledges to drastically reduce carbon emissions if he becomes president—cutting them to zero by 2050. He says he’ll do so by investing $2 trillion to, for example, launch major building projects to improve transportation systems, buildings, and industries so they rely less on fossil fuels or run entirely on renewable fuels. He also opposes more drilling for oil and gas on U.S. lands and waters, and says he’ll hold businesses that pollute the environment accountable for damage they've caused.
Education has become a big issue for voters in the U.S., in part because inequalities in public education nationwide are hurting students of color. Many schools nationwide are segregated by race and wealth. School districts primarily serving Black students and other students of color receive much less in state and local funding per student than mostly white districts, which are usually wealthier. Another education issue Americans are concerned about is skyrocketing college costs, which many people are struggling to pay.
Joe Biden says he wants to make sure all students have access to high-quality educational opportunities—from preschool through college—and attend schools with diverse populations. For example, he says that as president he would work to eliminate the funding gap between school districts serving mostly white students and those that primarily serve students of color. Biden has also said he wants the U.S. government to provide money to school districts to create plans to diversify their schools. In addition, he wants to make tuition at public colleges and universities free for many families.
Over the past few decades, the focus of the immigration debate in the U.S. has been on the nearly 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. who are undocumented. That means they are living in the U.S. without official permission to be here. In recent years, some Americans have also been concerned about how to respond to people from Central America who have come to this country with their children by crossing the U.S. border with Mexico. Many of those people are fleeing violence in their home countries and are hoping to apply for a special protection called asylum. (If granted, asylum allows immigrants to stay in the U.S. permanently.)
Immigration reform has been one of President Donald Trump’s priorities since taking office. He has enacted strict policies that have restricted both legal and illegal immigration. In contrast, Joe Biden supports increasing levels of legal immigration. He calls the Trump administration’s actions on immigration—including a policy that required children to be separated from their adult relatives and placed in overcrowded detention centers after they arrived here illegally—a moral failure. Biden promises to end many of the current administration's immigration policies (for example, restrictions on the number of people who can resettle in the U.S. to escape violence or unfair treatment in their home countries). He also says he wants to create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who are already living in the U.S. and contributing to the economy.
One of the biggest international challenges America now faces involves other nations using cyberoperations to disrupt U.S. elections. (Cyberoperations are attempts to digitally disrupt or destroy computers, networks, or information.)
Intelligence experts and the U.S. Senate have concluded that Russia used cyberoperations during the 2016 election to help get President Donald Trump elected. Russia spread false or misleading information on social media and hacked into voting systems.
If he’s elected president, Joe Biden has said, he will direct the development of plans to disrupt foreign influence on American elections and punish any nations found to have interfered in the election process. He also thinks the government—and consumers—should pressure technology companies, such as Facebook, to strengthen their rules about misleading information and hateful language posted on their sites.
Another major concern of U.S. leaders has been the desire of America’s adversaries, particularly Iran, to develop nuclear weapons. President Trump has taken a hard-line stance against Iran. In 2018, he pulled the U.S. out of a 2015 deal made with a group of other nations in which Iran had agreed to limit its nuclear program. Many experts believed the deal was working. Since then, tensions with Iran have been building.
Biden says it was a mistake for the U.S. to pull out of the 2015 deal. He says he would re-enter the agreement if Iran reaffirms it will abide by it—and that he would work with allies to further strengthen the deal. Biden also pledges to more effectively push back on Iran’s behavior in the Middle East, such as its funding of terrorist groups.