Julian Castro

Julian Castro

Former secretary of housing and urban development

Julian Castro served as secretary of housing and urban development under President Barack Obama from 2014 to 2017, the youngest member of Obama’s cabinet. He was mayor of San Antonio, Texas, from 2009 to 2014 and rose to national prominence after giving the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Born and raised in San Antonio, Castro practiced corporate law after earning his law degree from Harvard University in 2000.

China

Castro has called China one of the two greatest geopolitical threats to the United States, along with climate change. He emphasizes increasing U.S. economic competitiveness and renewed diplomacy as ways to deal with Beijing’s growing economic and military clout.

  • Castro told CFR that China is using forced technology transfers, subsidies, and intellectual property theft to overtake U.S. firms, seeking to undermine U.S. alliances in Asia, and threatening freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
  • He says that President Donald J. Trump’s “go-it-alone” strategy of unilaterally imposing tariffs on China without creating a coalition to take on Beijing has hurt American farmers and businesses, and is failing to force China to change its trading practices.
  • He says Washington must prioritize human rights in its relationship with Beijing. He has condemned China for its treatment of Muslim Uighurs, including their imprisonment and forced labor in “concentration camps” in the Xinjiang region, calling the situation “morally reprehensible.” 
  • He has called for sanctions on companies and individuals complicit in Beijing’s behavior, including banning companies from operating in the United States. 
  • He also supports the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, legislation that seeks to pressure China over its treatment of protesters in Hong Kong.

Climate and Energy

Castro calls climate change “the biggest threat to our prosperity,” and he supports the Green New Deal and vows to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate. His climate plan pledges trillions of dollars to phase out greenhouse gases and invest in green energy.  

  • Castro told CFR that the first thing he would do as president is return the United States to the Paris accord.
  • His climate plan commits the United States to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2045, including carbon-neutral electricity by 2030. It proposes $10 trillion in federal, state, and private investments in clean energy and infrastructure, which he says will create ten million new jobs.  
  • He pledges to immediately stop fossil fuel extraction on public lands and end all taxpayer subsidies for fossil fuel production. He promises transition funding and retraining programs for workers in fossil fuel industries. He backs a carbon tax for large-scale polluters.
  • He proposes new legislation to address environmental discrimination by requiring all federal actions to be reviewed for their environmental impacts on marginalized communities.
  • He would create a “climate refugee” category, which would grant asylum to people who have been displaced due to climate change.
  • His proposals include a $200 billion green infrastructure plan that would revamp the U.S. power grid and make buildings more energy efficient.
  • He says he would designate 30 percent of U.S. lands and oceans as protected areas and expand funding for clean water programs.
  • He promises to invest in clean energy in developing countries and create new export markets for U.S. clean tech. He would prohibit U.S. agencies from financing fossil fuel projects abroad.
  • He touts having worked with private industry to shut down a coal-fired power plant as mayor of San Antonio. He also points to his efforts to rebuild communities hit by natural disasters as housing secretary.
  • As mayor, he welcomed the Texas fracking boom, but says he would end the leasing of federal land for fossil fuel extraction, including fracking. He is opposed to building new nuclear power plants.

Counterterrorism

Castro’s approach to terrorism has focused on white nationalists in the United States, whom he calls a “clear and present” threat to U.S. security. He warns about online radicalization and says that Muslim communities have been scapegoated as terrorists. 

  • After mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in August 2019, Castro strengthened his call for antiterrorism efforts in the United States to focus on white nationalism
  • A plan he released in the wake of the shootings calls for a new White House initiative on countering domestic terrorism and hate groups, which would be given $100 million. He advocates for international cooperation to combat the spread of violent extremism on the internet and pledges $50 million a year for State Department anti-extremism programs. 
  • He wants to separate the homeland security branch of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which investigates transnational crimes such as drug trafficking, from the agency’s deportation efforts.
  • He pledges to close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that has housed hundreds of terrorist suspects.

Cybersecurity and Digital Policy

Castro’s approach to cybersecurity has centered on protecting U.S. elections. Castro blames Russia for interfering with the 2016 election and said he expects Moscow to intervene again in 2020, on Trump’s behalf. 

  • To counter Russian interference in U.S. elections, Castro wants the federal government to invest more in protecting state election systems from cyberattacks.
  • He has said Senator Elizabeth Warren’s plan to break up big tech companies, such as Google and Facebook, is “worth considering,” but as part of a larger need for the Justice Department to apply more scrutiny to large companies and mergers.

Defense

Castro has expressed skepticism about recent U.S. military interventions. He argues for limiting the use of military power but opposes Trump’s “erratic” moves to withdraw U.S. troops from combat zones.  

  • He says that high levels of military spending alone will not guarantee continued military readiness, and promises to apply “greater scrutiny” to how the Pentagon budget is spent. He advocates for focusing on new technologies such as cyberwarfare rather than Cold War-era systems.
  • He criticized Trump’s 2018 announcement that all U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Syria, saying a more gradual timeline is necessary to ensure that U.S. allies are prepared. 
  • He told CFR that “there is no military solution” to the conflict in Afghanistan, and promises to end the U.S. “general combat role” there during his first term. However, he has also said that a small force might need to remain in Afghanistan indefinitely.
  • He says he would pursue direct negotiations with the Taliban and the Afghan government to end the war, guarantee the rights of women and minorities, and ensure cooperation in the ongoing fight against terrorism. 
  • He says he is committed to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and would increase U.S. troop support for east European and Baltic states to deter Russian aggression. He says he will press European allies to devote more resources to their own military capabilities.
  • He is an advocate for allowing transgender personnel to serve openly in the military, a policy the Trump administration reversed. He has also called for deported undocumented immigrants who have served in the military to be allowed back into the United States and given a path to citizenship.
  • Castro’s housing plans pledge to end veteran homelessness by the end of his first term in office. He also promises greater mental health coverage in the Veterans Affairs health system, and opposes any attempt to privatize the system.

Diplomacy and Foreign Aid

Castro strongly emphasizes diplomacy and criticizes Trump for damaging the alliances that he says have made the United States strong and prosperous since World War II. With immigration at the center of his campaign, his focus has been on strengthening ties with Latin America.

  • Castro calls Canada and Mexico the United States’ most important allies, along with Europe, and says his first international trip would focus on renewing those relationships. He says rejoining major international agreements such as the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and the Paris Agreement on climate are also priorities. 
  • He emphasizes the United States’ moral standing in the world and the need for Washington to take a leadership role in fighting for human rights. He told CFR that the United States’ greatest foreign policy accomplishment since the end of World War II was the proliferation of democratic governments and creation of multilateral institutions such as the United Nations.
  • He says filling diplomatic posts and improving morale at the State Department would be a priority.
  • He proposes a “Marshall Plan” for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. This would consist of increased aid to help the Central American countries fight crime, reestablish the rule of law, and improve economic conditions, in part to reduce immigration to the United States. 
  • He told CFR that he would prioritize relationships with African governments and expand initiatives such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), started under President George W. Bush.

Economic Policy

Castro’s economic plans seek to raise taxes on the wealthy, boost wages for the poor, and create affordable housing for everyone. He is a backer of unions, a higher national minimum wage, and more vocational education to increase American competitiveness.

  • Castro says he would repeal the 2017 tax reform that lowered top marginal tax rates for individuals and cut the corporate rate from 35 percent to 20 percent.
  • Instead, he promises new taxes on inherited wealth and capital gains, expanded tax credits for families and low-income workers, a $15 dollar per hour national minimum wage, and $75 billion in new loans for small businesses.
  • Revenue from these reforms would help pay for a $200 billion infrastructure fund that would leverage up to $2 trillion in financing to improve communities’ resilience to natural disasters and shore up the electrical grid, transportation, and public housing.
  • He promises to strengthen oversight of Wall Street by expanding the authority of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, enacting new regulations on distressed mortgages, and increasing the Justice Department’s enforcement of financial crime.
  • He supports free tuition for public universities, community colleges, and vocational training schools. He proposes incentivizing the training of skilled workers through the creation of trade school programs at the high school level.
  • He says the country must be “much stronger” on antitrust enforcement, and that mergers in the tech, agribusiness, and telecom sectors must be scrutinized to protect competition and small business.

Immigration

Immigration is a top priority for Castro, and he proposes numerous reforms to the system. He has joined others in the Democratic field in condemning the current migrant-detention policy. 

  • His immigration reform plan would create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents, including Dreamers, who were brought to the United States by their parents as children.
  • He would also revamp the visa system to allow for faster entry and end the limit on visas based on national origin, reverse Trump’s ban on travelers from several Muslim-majority countries, strengthen protections for guest workers, end deportations of veterans and allow deported veterans to return, and end collaboration between local authorities and ICE.
  • He promises to decriminalize unauthorized border crossings, end the detention and separation of undocumented immigrants who have committed no other crimes, reorganize ICE, and end construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. 
  • He opposes the Trump administration’s policy of making asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their claims are processed. He would expand the grounds for asylum to include those fleeing domestic violence and gang violence and increase overall refugee admissions.
  • He calls for a new “Marshall Plan” for Latin America to promote development in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, with the aim of reducing the number of migrants coming to the U.S. border. 

Middle East

Castro’s views on the Middle East have focused on what can be done through diplomacy rather than force.

  • Castro told CFR that the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement was the best way of preventing Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and he promises to rejoin the deal if Iran returns to compliance. He argues that pulling out of the deal makes it less likely that countries such as North Korea will be willing to reach an agreement with the United States.
  • He says that the Trump administration “ginned up” the current confrontation with Iran and that the United States must work with allies to de-escalate tensions. Still, he says he would not necessarily ease sanctions, and would work with U.S. allies to address Iran’s ballistic missile program, its human rights violations, and destabilizing behavior in the region.
  • He told CFR that a two-state solution is the “only acceptable outcome” of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and says that Israel must choose between being a Jewish state and a democratic state. He says he would restart the peace process that has stalled due to Trump’s “willful disregard” for Palestinians. 
  • He opposes all Israeli settlement activity in Palestinian territory and has said he would be open to withholding assistance to Israel if it attempts to annex the West Bank. He pledges to restore U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority and reestablish a Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington.
  • He opposed Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, but has not said whether he would move it back to Tel Aviv. 
  • On Iraq and Syria, Castro has said he wants to withdraw U.S. troops but criticizes Trump’s approach as being too sudden and lacking a plan. He has condemned Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria, though he says he’s “not a big fan” of the military commitments Washington made in the region.
  • He told CFR that it’s time to “reassess” the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the Saudi-led war in Yemen and the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He pledges to immediately end arms sales and all other military cooperation with the kingdom, and to sanction individuals involved in Khashoggi’s death.

North Korea

Castro has been highly critical of Trump’s diplomatic efforts with North Korea, saying they have merely raised Kim Jong-un’s profile. He says he would continue negotiations only if Pyongyang commits to verifiable steps to end its nuclear program.

  • Castro told CFR he would negotiate with North Korea to establish a “credible arms control process.” He would consider partial sanctions relief in exchange for a freeze on further nuclear testing, transparent inspections, and restrictions on missile development.
  • He says that the security of South Korea is a “vital and non-negotiable U.S. interest” that cannot be weakened to make progress with Pyongyang. 
  • He called a June meeting between Trump and Kim in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea “all for show,” with nothing substantive behind it. He also criticizes Trump’s efforts as boosting the prestige of a dictator.
  • He blames the lack of progress with North Korea on Trump’s breach of typical diplomatic protocol, by which lower-level diplomats typically do much of the work in pulling together a deal before national leaders ever meet in person.

Russia

While Castro doesn’t see Russia as being on the same level of threat as China, he has been highly critical of President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to undermine U.S. democracy and he calls for greater cooperation among U.S. allies to combat them. He argues that failing to defend Ukraine against Russian interference would set a dangerous precedent around the world.

  • He told CFR that he would support Ukraine against Russian aggression, including through military assistance. He says he would maintain sanctions on Russia imposed by the Obama administration, and would seek the return of Crimea to Ukraine. 
  • He supports a deeper relationship between Ukraine and European institutions including the European Union and NATO. He backs observer status for Ukraine within NATO, but not full membership.
  • He believes that Russian interference helped sway the 2016 election in favor of Trump, and that Moscow will interfere again in 2020. He says Congress must do more to secure U.S. election systems.

Trade

Castro has chosen a middle ground on trade, supporting the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other deals but arguing that they should be renegotiated with U.S. workers and the environment in mind. He says the United States must maintain its dominant position on trade to counter the growing power of China and others.

  • Castro told CFR that trade deals too often prioritize the interest of corporations over workers. He says he would not approve any new deals that lack high labor standards, pro-union rules, and strong enforcement provisions. He also pledges to incorporate policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in all trade agreements.
  • Castro says that Trump’s tariffs on China are hurting Americans, especially farmers, the most. He is less clear on what his own approach would be to confronting China—which he calls one of the greatest global threats—but he has stressed the importance of working more closely with allies.
  • As San Antonio mayor, he strongly supported NAFTA. However, he is in favor of renegotiating it to strengthen labor and environmental standards and says Trump’s revamped version, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, doesn’t go far enough in this direction.
  • His line is similar regarding Obama’s Asia-Pacific trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump rejected. Castro says he would not support it as currently formulated but believes it could be successfully reworked.
  • When Trump suggested levying tariffs on Mexico to pressure it to stanch the flow of immigrants to the United States, Castro called the idea “grade-A dumb,” saying it would cost more than four hundred thousand U.S. jobs.

Venezuela and Latin America

Castro criticizes Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, saying Venezuelans should be able to choose their own leader, but he opposes U.S. military intervention in the country. He emphasizes his plan to boost U.S. aid to Latin America.

  • In contrast with Trump and some other Democratic candidates, Castro has not recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s president over incumbent Nicolas Maduro, though he says Venezuela’s citizens should have the opportunity to do so.
  • He told CFR that Maduro is a “dictator” and that the United States should pursue a multilateral diplomatic approach to put pressure on Maduro’s government, including through sanctions, in order to ultimately achieve free and fair elections.
  • He is against U.S. military intervention in Venezuela and says Trump’s aggressive rhetoric has bolstered Maduro. He also says Trump has failed the Venezuelan people by refusing to grant the country’s residents temporary protected status, which would allow them to stay in the United States.
  • He calls for a “Marshall Plan” for Central America that would provide economic assistance to countries including El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, much the way the United States helped the nations of Western Europe rebuild after World War II. He hopes to build on such a plan to create a hemisphere-wide bloc that could compete with China and other nations.

This project was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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