Former Vice President Joe Biden is among the front-runners for the Democratic presidential nomination, and he sees Nevada — with its first-in-the-West caucuses — as a key early state in which he can burnish his standing.
Biden has targeted the Silver State, increasing his staffing here earlier this year as he and his campaign work to bring his message to Nevada Democrats and any voters fed up with the current White House resident, Donald Trump.
With the February caucuses inching closer, Biden recently sat down with the Sun to discuss what Nevadans are interested in as the 2020 elections near, actions on climate change and his reaction to the recently passed Las Vegas homeless ordinance.
The 2020 health care debate
Biden says he hears about numerous issues affecting residents on the ground in Nevada, including health care, which has been a sort of demarcation line between him and similar center-left Democratic presidential hopefuls and more progressive rivals like Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
“I hear an awful lot of talk about health care,” he said. “I think that’s the most important issue here and all across the country.”
Biden’s health care proposal is based on adding to Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act signed into law by President Barack Obama. Biden would extend that plan to include, among other features, a public option — the ability to choose a government insurance plan such as Medicare or Medicaid instead of a private insurance plan.
Sanders and Warren have both said they would pursue a “Medicare for All” single-payer program that would replace private insurance coverage with a single government-run program.
Biden said he had heard concerns from Americans who are interested in keeping their private insurance and confusion around exactly what single-payer entails.
Unions and the middle class
Biden has made his support of unions an integral part of his campaign, including in Nevada. He has courted union support in the state, and former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis has campaigned for him in the Silver State.
“I find there’s a lot of concern about middle-class wages. Am I going to be able to make a living wage, am I going to be able to continue to keep my insurance?,” he said. “Am I going to be able to be in a position where I can deal with an income that is real (with which) I can support my family and still live a middle-class life?”
Biden said the amount of union power in Nevada has contributed to an environment of concern around the health care debate. Unions are generally heavily involved in health care negotiations with their employers, and, Biden said, could have members attached to the private plans they negotiated.
“I think it’s particularly a concern across the board — with not just unions, but employers who provide decent health care — but particularly unions because they gave up income to be able to have that insurance that they like and they don’t like someone telling them what’s in their best interest,” Biden said.
Weighing in on the homeless ordinance
Biden said the recent passage of a controversial city of Las Vegas ordinance that banned camping in certain areas such as downtown was a mistake and did not address the larger societal problems that lead to homelessness.
“I think criminalizing homelessness is a mistake,” he said. “I’m not a local official, I’m not the mayor, but I think it’s a mistake.”
The ordinance requires officers to direct homeless people to resource centers or shelters or out of the area in which sleeping is banned. Starting in February 2020, homeless people who refuse officers' orders on camping will be subject to penalties, including a $1,000 fine or up to a six-month jail sentence. If there is no shelter space, the ordinance will not be enforced.
Biden said there were three major reasons why people end up living on the street: lack of affordable housing; domestic abuse; and a lack of mental health facilities. He urged further discussion of these root issues.
"A significant portion of the people who are homeless don’t know that there may be beds available," Biden said. "To criminalize sleeping on the street seems to me to be counterproductive. Housing someone in a jail rather than building housing doesn’t seem to make sense to me.”
Climate change and the needed fixes
The Paris Agreement, an international accord to that aimed to cut greenhouse gas emissions and curb global warming, was signed during Biden’s tenure as vice president. Trump, after taking office, said he would pull the country out of the agreement and officially began the process earlier this month.
Biden said the U.S. would rejoin the pact if he is elected president.
“First thing I’ll do as president of the United States — not figuratively, literally — we’ll rejoin the accord,” Biden said. “Second thing, I’d invite every country that’s part of the accord to Washington within the first 100 days to up the ante.”
He said environmental concerns could be fixed while also creating job opportunities and economic growth. He said economic incentives, such as tax credits for performance standards, and infrastructure improvements, including curb carbon dioxide emissions in the cement industry, could set the country on a path toward fixing the climate crisis. He stressed the need to take steps that cannot be easily undone in the future.
“We’re the only country in the world that’s ever taken great crises and turned them into enormous opportunities, and we should become the net exporter of great technologies that are going to help the rest of the world,” he said.