Dems push universal health care, police overhaul in platform

Democratic officials are moving toward a 2020 platform that promises universal access to health care, an overhaul to the U.S. criminal justice system and sharp reductions in carbon pollution driving the climate crisis, but it stops short of many goals pursued by the party’s left flank.

An 80-page draft platform obtained Tuesday evening by The Associated Press presents a broadly liberal program for the country. The approach reflects presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden’s effort to balance the center-left establishment that has been his political home for decades with the party’s ascendant progressive wing. His goal has been to avoid the kind of rancor that hobbled Hillary Clinton’s general election campaign four years ago, even as President Donald Trump and Republicans lambaste the former vice president as “captive” to a “radical left.”

The latest draft from the party’s drafting committee, led by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, was sent to members of the platform committee, which is scheduled to begin debating the platform in a Monday meeting held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic. Convention delegates will vote on the platform by mail ballot ahead of the party’s nearly all-virtual convention set to begin Aug. 17.

Bottoms’ committee based its work in part on policy groups that Biden’s campaign convened with progressives chosen by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has twice consecutively finished as runner-up for the nomination and used that leverage to pull the establishment toward him.

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Still, the draft as written has key marks of Biden’s victory, chiefly on health care and climate issues. The party, as it did in 2016, calls for a public option government insurance plan to be added to existing private insurance markets but makes no mention of the single-payer insurance system that Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren advocated during the presidential primary campaign. The draft does state that “finally covering every American through the public and private insurance system alone is not enough to guarantee universal access.”

On climate, the platform appears not to go even as far as Biden’s proposals. The draft calls for rejoining international alliances of nations agreeing to sharp reductions in carbon pollution. But Biden, after working with progressives, agreed explicitly to the goal of making the nation’s energy grid carbon neutral by 2035. The platform makes no mention of some Democrats’ Green New Deal legislative proposals that includes even more aggressive timelines.

The party’s discussion of law enforcement reflects the nation’s reckoning with systemic racism that was more muted four years ago.

“Our criminal justice system is failing to keep communities safe,” the draft reads, adding that “police brutality is a stain on the soul of our nation.” The platform calls for “strict national standards governing the use of force” and for the nation to “reimagine policing for the benefit and safety of the American people,” with the U.S. Justice Department taking a more active role in collecting statistics on police violence and investigating departments where it is alleged. But the document stops short of activists’ calls to “defund the police,” reflecting Biden’s position on the matter.

Trump has erroneously sought to link Biden to the activists’ calling for eliminating traditional law enforcement.

Still, Democrats’ draft language on policing and law enforcement is significantly sharper than a much shorter section on the matter in 2016. That platform called for improving police-community relations but emphasized: “Across the country, there are police officers inspiring trust and confidence, honorably doing their duty … demonstrating that it is possible to prevent crime without relying on unnecessary force. They deserve our respect and support.”

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