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What to Expect at the Democratic National Convention

August 17, 2020

The 2020 conventions will be downright unconventional. With both the Democratic and Republican conventions downsized and digitized, candidates and their teams will have fewer opportunities to connect with delegates and schmooze supporters and the press, and less time to showcase their leadership style. Historically, conventions are the election race opening bell, the political All-Star Game of the summer, and the family evening television event for two solid weeks. But in 2020, the conventions will be more like a group of Netflix episodes watched on our laptops at home, while the world outside grapples with a global pandemic, a contentious voting process, and calls to immediately address major societal issues like systemic racism. The challenge for President Trump and former Vice President Biden will be to address these issues to the satisfaction of the broader public, while connecting to individual Americans in their living rooms. Pay closer attention and you will see in the speeches, committee meetings, and platforms the seeds of potential major political and economic policy changes coming that could have a significant impact on business in America in 2021 and beyond.

This week at the DNC, former Vice President Biden and Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), along with their potential future political appointees, will start to signal a substantive political vision that seeks to gain supporters not only as an effective alternative to the current administration, but also as a ticket focused on key policy issues impacting the health care, manufacturing, distribution, tech, auto, and energy sectors. The conventions will provide the clues that our Crowell & Moring team will help interpret for you. As the Democratic National Convention starts tonight, here are some of the key policy priorities to watch.

Policy Priorities to Watch for at the DNC include:

  • COVID-19 – The Biden team is expected to roll out its own plan to stop the spread of the coronavirus, expand testing, accelerate the development of a safe but effective vaccine, build a distribution plan for 350 million people, and provide financial support to American businesses and individuals until the nation’s people and economy can recover.
  • Health Care – The Biden team is expected to outline a plan to grow and strengthen the Affordable Care Act if it survives the coming Supreme Court decision or how to build a new version if the Supreme Court upends the law and leaves millions of Americans without health insurance plans. Watch for a plan for broader coverage of more Americans and a push to delink health insurance from employment so workers can take it with them. Watch for a push by progressives like Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for a Medicare for All plan.
  • China and Russia – If elected, the Biden team is going to have to decide whether to maintain the Trump Administration’s trade war with China, ramp-up pressure on Russia and otherwise engage in more conflict than cooperation with these major political and economic powers, while also trying to pull the American economy out of the worst recession and unemployment numbers since the Great Depression.
  • Taxes – In the event of a Democratic sweep (Biden wins, Democrats flip the Senate, and Democrats hold the House), watch for a rollback of provisions from the 2017 Trump tax reform law, including increasing the corporate rate to 28 percent (President Trump’s bill lowered it from 35 to 21 percent), tax increases for high wage earners and a potential renewed threat to capital gains and carried interest. The progressive wing of the party will push hard for these changes.
  • Infrastructure – The Biden team is expected to continue to support a broader infrastructure package of legislation which will commit public funds (and encourage private investments) to rebuild federal transportation, energy, and high tech infrastructure while also providing funds to state and local governments to initiate projects to repair or rebuild their infrastructure priorities.
  • Renewed Federal Regulation – The Biden team and potential political appointees will likely send signals in speeches, committee meetings, and in the press during the convention concerning which of President Trump’s executive actions they wish to roll back and which non-actions they wish to reverse through new federal regulation. Look for clues in the areas of trade with China, the environment, energy, immigration, international cooperation, and also look for a potential embrace of certain Trump Administration policies such as the press for more manufacturing of critical medical and other supplies in America or the so-called “Buy America” movement.
  • Police Reform & the Effort to Address Systemic Racism – The Biden team will be under considerable pressure from Democratic voters to embrace and implement reforms related the concerns of the Black Lives Matter movement and to demonstrate an ability to govern and address issues related to race and the country’s history of slavery, segregation, and discrimination. There will be pressure to translate the movement into meaningful political action nationally and also in the American business community. There will be a major push for the Biden team to act on issues such as police reform, implicit bias, improving diversity in C-suites and board rooms, funding and requiring broader diversity and inclusion training and otherwise addressing both social and economic issues in the nation and in corporations and other economic actors.  
  • Key Advisors and Potential Appointees – Watch DNC speakers for indications of who might have the inside lane for key positions in the administration, including those who could hold future cabinet level positions at the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and others.
  • Party Platforms – Look for more liberal platform provisions to accommodate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to include calling for a more generous universal coverage model, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, importing more prescription drugs, improving public education and reducing student loan debt, increasing funding for social safety net programs, building more low income housing and creating other economic benefits for the middle class and poor in America.

The Convention Timeline:

  • The Democratic National Convention is scheduled to take place from August 17-20.
  • Monday, August 17 – Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Former First Lady Michelle Obama, and Governor Andrew Cuomo deliver keynote speeches.
  • Tuesday, August 18 – Delegates are expected to formally nominate former Vice President Biden remotely via roll call vote. Former President Bill Clinton and Sally Yates, the former Acting Attorney General, speak.
  • Wednesday, August 19 – The vice presidential nominee, Senator Kamala Harris, is scheduled to deliver a keynote address from a remote location. Former President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer speak.
  • Thursday, August 20 – Former Vice President Biden will accept the Democratic Party’s formal nomination and give his acceptance speech on the final night of the convention.
  • Other speeches to watch for: Former Republican Governor from Ohio John Kasich and Dr. Jill Biden.

And be sure to sign-up for our webinar, “Election 2020 and Implications for Your Business,” on September 3.

And stay tuned for our look at what to expect at the Republican convention, with insights from Crowell & Moring senior policy director, Scott Douglas, former finance director to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and senior counsel Byron R. Brown, former deputy chief of staff for policy at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

For more information, please contact the professional(s) listed below, or your regular Crowell & Moring contact.

James G. Flood
Partner – Washington, D.C.
Phone: +1.202.624.2716
Tim Shadyac
Director, Government Affairs – Washington, D.C.
Phone: +1.202.624.2958