Democrats Meet Virtually To Approve Platform That Builds Off Biden-Sanders Effort

Jul 27, 2020
Originally published on July 27, 2020 7:23 pm

Updated at 7:25 p.m. ET

Democrats met remotely Monday afternoon to approve a lengthy policy platform that seeks to balance the interests of the Democratic Party's more moderate and liberal factions.

The virtual meeting came three weeks ahead of what will be one of the strangest party conventions in U.S. history: No delegates and few Democratic dignitaries will travel to Milwaukee to nominate former Vice President Joe Biden to be the party's standard-bearer. Instead, the convention will be held mostly remotely, with only Biden and a few other speakers appearing from Milwaukee.

The draft platform, released last week, draws heavily from a report issued this month by joint task forces organized by Biden and his onetime campaign rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. It tries to bridge the gap between Sanders' progressive politics and Biden's more moderate approach to governing.

Dozens of Democratic members considered amendments to the plan Monday.

They approved amended language opposing President Trump's deployment of federal agents to quell protests in Portland and other cities, as well as planks affirming support for unions, and for expanding paid sick leave. By Monday evening, the Democratic National Committee had not shared the exact language of the amendments.

The draft party document released last week endorses universal health care and makes it clear that low- or no-cost coverage for every American is the party's eventual goal. Rather than backing a single mandatory government-run health insurance program, however, it calls for adding a public option to the existing Affordable Care Act.

The platform does nod to "Medicare for All," the policy backed by Sanders, saying: "We are proud our party welcomes advocates who want to build on and strengthen the Affordable Care Act and those who support a Medicare for All approach."

The platform also sets aggressive goals for combating climate change, including making all American power plants carbon neutral by 2035 and adding 500 million solar panels and 60,000 wind turbines to the country's electricity grid within the next five years.

It also calls for a $15 minimum wage, mandatory paid family leave, more federal gun control, broad changes to federal sentencing guidelines and drug laws, and many other changes that most Democratic candidates for Congress and the White House have supported for years.

Platform committee co-chair Denis McDonough, who served as former President Barack Obama's chief of staff, called it the "boldest Democratic platform in American history."

Still, anticipating virtual floor fights and frustration from progressive activists who want the party to set an even more aggressive policy course, Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez said at the top of the committee meeting that "we should never confuse unity with unanimity, nor should we confuse debate with division."

Indeed, as the platform committee meeting went on, several proposed amendments were rejected, including an attempt to shift platform language to fully support Medicare for all, and another to more forcefully condemn Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

Like most Zoom meetings in 2020, the Democrats' committee session had its buffering blips, unintentional mute moments and cross-talk.

But the Democrats' attempt to vote virtually was still more than Republicans tried: Trump and Republican Party leaders have decided to adopt the party's 2016 platform in full at their convention next month, rather than craft new language.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Three weeks ahead of the Democratic National Convention, Democrats are voting today on their party's platform. Like most things these days, including most of that upcoming convention, it's been a remote affair. The policy document is the Democrats' latest attempt to bridge the gap between the party's more moderate and progressive wings. NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow has been following along and joins us now.

Hey, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good afternoon.

CHANG: Hey. So what are some of the planks getting hammered out in this platform?

DETROW: So the committee is voting on it throughout this afternoon, and we're waiting to see the exact language of a lot of the amendments that have been added in today. But looking at the draft released last week, it looked a lot like that recommendations that were put together by a joint task force organized by the Biden campaign and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. We had talked a lot about that. It was an attempt to get progressives more invested in Biden's campaign and to shift him to the left a little. So health care was a good example of how that worked. Sanders and his allies knew that Joe Biden was not suddenly going to be in favor of "Medicare for All," which he opposed throughout the primary and which we talked about 16,000 times on...

CHANG: (Laughter).

DETROW: ...ALL THINGS CONSIDERED throughout that process. But, you know, the final language in that task force report and in the platform makes it clear that universal health care is the ultimate end goal for the party. And it embraces a pretty expansive public health insurance option that would be added to the existing Affordable Care Act. So shifts like that are in this that go a bit beyond Joe Biden's previous stances in a lot of policy areas, including climate change and criminal justice reform and in many other areas.

CHANG: OK. And I understand that today, dozens of Democratic representatives met virtually to consider this draft platform. What did people have to say about it?

DETROW: There have been a lot of speeches. Of course, there have been several Zoom glitches.

CHANG: Oh, goody.

DETROW: We are waiting for that final language again. But, you know, you saw some amendments addressing recent events, like President Trump sending federal agents into cities like Portland; also some pushes by Sanders supporters to move things even more to the left. There was a vote on changing the platform to endorse Medicare for All. It did fail by a large margin. And anticipating that, the Democratic Party Chair Tom Perez opened the meeting by saying the debate over policy does not mean the party is falling apart and divided with each other.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOM PEREZ: We should never confuse unity with unanimity nor should we confuse debate with division. Our party, like our country, has always been stronger for its diversity. And make no mistake about it. We have far more in common than what our differences are.

DETROW: So even as Democrats struggle to do business as usual over Zoom with some unintentional muting and things like that, it is worth noting that Republicans did not try to do this at all. Amid the several back-and-forths about what Republicans would do with their convention, they decided just to use the 2016 platform in full this year.

CHANG: So funny - I mean, I get it; how many of us still forget to mute on Zoom. Anyway, Scott, you know, does today give us a preview of the party conventions themselves, you think?

DETROW: It does. The Democratic convention will be almost all remote, very scaled back. State delegates were told not to even come to Milwaukee. Joe Biden will accept the nomination there, but it's unclear who else will be there. And some of the other high-profile Democrats that we'll hear from throughout the week may be delivering their remarks from other parts of the country. Just this afternoon, we got word that all attendees at the convention will have to take daily COVID-19 tests administered in Milwaukee before entering the arena. They'll also have to agree to wear masks at all times when outside their hotel rooms. And Democrats are urging people to get a test beforehand. Though, of course, it's hard to do that in a lot of places right now. And just to step back, this is so different than the Republicans. Democrats had planned on this minimized careful approach for a while now. Republicans are still making up their minds.

CHANG: That is NPR's Scott Detrow.

Thank you, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.