Michael Bennet

Michael Bennet

Senator, Colorado

Michael Bennet has served as a senator from Colorado since 2009. He is a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence and was part of the 2013 Gang of Eight, which passed omnibus immigration reform in the Senate. From 2005 to 2009, he served as superintendent of Denver’s public school system. 

After earning his law degree from Yale University in 1993, he clerked for a federal judge and served as a special assistant U.S. attorney before moving to Colorado in 1997 and entering the business world. The son of a diplomat, he was born in New Delhi, India, and grew up in Washington, DC.

China

Bennet has called China a U.S. competitor and a bad actor on trade, but he favors building coalitions to combat Beijing rather than the unilateral approach of President Donald J. Trump.

  • Bennet says that Washington must confront “Chinese malfeasance” on trade but says that “the trade wars are the wrong way to go.” He says the United States should mobilize “the entire rest of the world” and strengthen its alliances in order to stand up to China on its trade practices.
  • He says China is not the greatest threat the United States faces, but rather is surpassed by Russia. He has declined to label China either a friend or a foe of the United States, preferring to call it a “competitor” instead.
  • “America and China are now competing to define the future, and unlike us, they’re playing to win,” he told CFR.
  • He worries that China is “supporting a surveillance state” and expanding its methods around the world with its Belt and Road Initiative. 
  • He says he would consider restricting the operations of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, calling the company an agent of China’s “proliferation of their network around the world” and a national security risk.
  • He contrasts China’s scientific progress with a “self-inflicted” scientific vacuum left by the United States’ lack of investment.

Climate and Energy

Bennet says his home state of Colorado is already dealing with the effects of climate change, and he has issued a plan to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and invest in green technologies, which he believes can boost the economy.

  • Bennet has been ambivalent about the Green New Deal framework backed by many Democrats, but has embraced an aggressive emissions-reduction goal for the U.S. economy of net-zero emissions by 2050. 
  • His climate plan would spend $1 trillion and create a new “climate bank” to leverage an additional $10 trillion from the private sector to create new infrastructure and export green-energy technology. He says his plan would create ten million climate-related jobs over the next decade.
  • He told CFR he would immediately rejoin the Paris Agreement, from which Trump withdrew, and he would call for a new global climate summit to be held in the first hundred days of his administration.
  • He also calls for expanded conservation efforts, promising to set aside 30 percent of U.S. lands and oceans, and for investments in sustainable agricultural practices that sequester carbon in the soil. 
  • He says if Congress will not pass the necessary legislation to implement his plan, he will use executive action through the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory powers to reduce emissions.
  • As a senator, he voted for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which was rejected by Barack Obama’s administration. He has also backed the expansion of natural gas extraction, which he says is a net positive if it replaces coal.

Counterterrorism

Bennet feels that many of the U.S. military actions in the Middle East and elsewhere have had a destabilizing effect and failed to stamp out terrorism. He supports leaving only residual forces in place to monitor and combat terrorist activities in these regions.

  • He proposes drawing troop levels down “as far as we can,” while supporting small counterterrorism missions in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Cybersecurity and Digital Policy

Bennet has made election security a central theme of his campaign, warning of the continued threat of Russian cyberattacks and other interference, and he proposes a broad campaign to push back against foreign cyber threats. 

  • Bennet emphasizes the gravity of Russia’s efforts to destabilize the United States through disinformation spread online. He published a book in 2019 on “how Russia hacked social media and democracy.”
  • He has issued an election security plan, which points to efforts by Russian hackers to access U.S. voting systems. He promises to implement $1 billion to update all voting machines, requirements for paper ballots, and new federal funding streams for election cybersecurity. 
  • He says Russia and other countries that seek to hack U.S. voting systems must face increased sanctions to deter them.
  • He also proposes creating a new foreign interference threat center to coordinate intelligence agencies’ responses, an “international coalition to defend democracy” that brings together U.S. allies, and an ambassador-level envoy for election-interference issues around the world. 
  • He calls for greater regulation of social media companies to restrict foreign funding and make them “accountable” for disinformation spread by hostile foreign actors on their platforms.
  • He says he would “absolutely examine” whether large companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google should be broken up. 

Defense

Bennet has criticized foreign wars for wasting money that could have been spent at home, called for updating U.S. defense alliances, and supported civil rights in the military.

  • Bennet criticizes Trump for having no strategy for current U.S. force deployments and argues that U.S. troops are overextended. He says he would reduce waste and inefficiency in the Pentagon budget.
  • He says he would seek to recruit more service members in advanced technology fields and invest more in the fields of space, cybersecurity, nuclear, and artificial intelligence.
  • He emphasizes the limits of military force, telling CFR that “you can’t bomb climate change any more than you can launch a cruise missile at white nationalism.”
  • He criticizes the money spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which he says should have gone toward domestic priorities. He didn’t oppose U.S. forces going into Afghanistan but says they “shouldn’t have been there for 20 years.”
  • He told CFR that he wants to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan in his first term, but that Washington may need to keep “enough of a footprint” there to maintain counterrorism efforts for the foreseeable future.
  • He has condemned Congress’s budget fights and Trump’s willingness to shut down the federal government as weakening U.S. military preparedness. “We have airplanes that cannot fly because of the budget ridiculousness in Washington,” he says.
  • He promises to “initiate conversation” with the United States’ defense allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on how to modernize the alliance to deal with emerging threats.
  • He promises additional investment in mental health services for veterans and opposes efforts to privatize the Veterans Affairs health system.
  • He pledges to reverse Trump’s ban on transgender personnel serving in the military, which Bennet has called “cruel and discriminatory.”

Diplomacy and Foreign Aid

Bennet joins most of the other candidates in arguing that Trump has harmed the United States’ standing among its allies and partners around the world, and he believes rebuilding these relationships is essential for addressing many foreign policy problems.

  • He promises to “reclaim U.S. global leadership” and “re-engage our allies.” He says he would advance American interests by building international coalitions.
  • He told CFR that Trump “lacks any coherent strategy on foreign policy” and warned against the “siren song of isolation.” He argues that Trump’s approach has been to “embrace our enemies, confound our allies, and betray our strengths and our values.”
  • He calls Trump’s efforts to reduce foreign aid and cut the State Department budget “devastating” to U.S. global leadership.
  • He says that addressing growing threats such as China requires strengthening U.S. alliances, especially in Asia, and he argues that Trump’s approach has needlessly alienated those allies.
  • He promises to form “an international coalition to defend democracy” which would include supporting press freedom and rule of law around the world.
  • He says his administration’s diplomacy and foreign assistance would focus on protecting democracy around the world from cyber threats, and he has proposed an ambassador-level envoy for election interference issues.

Economic Policy

Bennet’s economic policies focus on addressing stagnant wages and crumbling infrastructure. He argues that critical investments have been neglected in favor of irresponsible tax cuts and foreign wars. 

  • Bennet’s economic platform argues that “globalization, automation, and unfair competition from China” have lowered wages and cost jobs.
  • He opposes what he says were $5 trillion worth of tax cuts for the rich in recent years, and argues that those cuts, in addition to $5 trillion on foreign wars, have ballooned the U.S. debt. He says that money could have been used to fix U.S. infrastructure, expand broadband internet across the country, and make Social Security solvent.
  • He warns about the government budget deficit, calling high levels of debt “risky and careless.” He calls Trump “the most fiscally irresponsible president we’ve had in generations.” 
  • He proposes an “American family act” to address income inequality. It would expand the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, create national paid family and medical leave, and give workers more bargaining power. 
  • In the Senate, he previously introduced legislation to expand the Child Tax Credit and other benefits for families with young children.
  • He also offers a $500 billion plan to invest in worker training and apprenticeships and other pro-worker policies, and he backs policies to direct the Federal Reserve to better focus on its commitment to ensuring job and income growth. 
  • He supported a 2018 bill that reformed Wall Street regulation, including removing oversight of many smaller U.S. banks that was put in place after the 2008 financial crisis.
  • He says he would direct his Justice Department to investigate whether large companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google should be broken up. 

Immigration

Bennet says the United States’ “broken” immigration system “hobbles the economy,” and he favors comprehensive reform that includes a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants. He opposes many Trump administration border policies but calls for increased border security.

  • Bennet supports comprehensive immigration reform that combines increased border security, updates to worker visa programs, and a “tough, but fair” path to citizenship or legal status for the United States’ estimated eleven million undocumented residents.
  • He was a member of the Gang of Eight senators, who passed a version of this reform in the Senate in 2013 that subsequently failed in the House of Representatives.
  • He opposes Trump’s efforts to build out the wall on the U.S. southern border, saying “it’s not the most efficient way to protect ourselves,” but has supported giving Trump funding for the wall in exchange for citizenship for Dreamers, undocumented residents brought to the country as children. 
  • He says he would “do everything I could to protect the Dreamers,” including issuing executive orders. He was a cosponsor of the original DREAM Act, which would have granted them legal status.
  • He argues that Trump’s restrictive immigration policies have hurt farmers who depend on a steady flow of skilled workers.
  • He condemns Trump for turning the border into a “symbol of nativist hostility” and opposes his administration’s family-separation policy and his “Muslim travel ban,” which bars arrivals from several Muslim-majority countries.
  • However, Bennet also backs increased spending on border security and rejects proposals by some Democrats to decriminalize illegal border crossings. He says securing the border is “an obligation.”

Middle East

Bennet is a critic of U.S. interventions in the region, especially the 2003 Iraq War, and has advocated for diplomacy with Iran and a tougher stance on Saudi Arabia. 

  • Bennet has called the Iraq War “one of the worst mistakes America ever made,” arguing that it upset the region’s balance of power and allowed Iran to benefit from the ensuing chaos. He told CFR that the Iraq invasion betrayed American values and eroded trust in U.S. political leadership.
  • He opposed Trump’s “reckless” decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, and says he would rejoin the deal or renegotiate a similar one that he would try to make stronger.
  • As a senator, he voted for the Iran nuclear deal despite reservations. He says the negotiations should have included measures to restrict Iran’s ballistic missile program.
  • He says that Israel is “the one essential country on the planet,” though he says he has had “disagreements” with the Israeli government. He says he would keep the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, where Trump moved it from Tel Aviv in 2018.
  • He has criticized Trump’s policies in Syria. He opposed air strikes against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, which he says risked a wider war and should have been approved by Congress.
  • He also condemned Trump’s 2019 withdrawal of U.S. forces from northern Syria, calling it a betrayal of the Kurds, a gift to the self-proclaimed Islamic State, and a “historic blunder.”
  • He says Trump has failed to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He backed a Senate resolution to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, a conflict he says requires a political solution. 

North Korea

Bennet criticizes Trump’s relationship with Kim Jong-un for failing to produce measurable results on denuclearization, and he promises more sober diplomacy.

  • Bennet has said that Trump “deserves support” for pursuing diplomacy with North Korea, but that he has turned negotiations into a “three-ring circus” that has produced no results.
  • He says he wouldn’t meet with Kim until it is possible to have a “real discussion,” after many more lower-level, preparatory talks. 
  • He told CFR that Trump’s rejection of other arms control deals, such as the Iran nuclear agreement, undermines the U.S. negotiating position with North Korea.
  • He says the United States must work more closely with China, Japan, and South Korea. He expresses doubts about Pyongyang ever giving up its nuclear weapons, and says U.S. policy must thus seek to “constrain their development.”

Russia

Bennet has made Russian cyberattacks and disinformation a central theme of his campaign, warning of the continued threat of interference from Moscow and the need for additional countermeasures. 

  • He says that Russia, not China, is the greatest geopolitical threat facing the United States. He says Russia is seeking to undermine not just the U.S. election system, but all Western democracies.
  • He emphasizes the gravity of Russia’s efforts to destabilize the United States through disinformation spread online. He published a book in 2019 on “how Russia hacked social media and democracy.”
  • He has issued an election security plan to combat efforts by Russian hackers to access U.S. voting systems. He promises to implement $1 billion to update all voting machines, requirements for paper ballots, and new federal funding streams for election cybersecurity. 
  • He says that Russia and other countries that seek to hack U.S. voting systems must face increased sanctions and that social media sites must be better regulated to prevent the spread of Russian propaganda.
  • He criticizes Trump for not “pushing back” against Russian President Vladimir Putin and says he would work with U.S. allies, including NATO members, to defend against interference from Moscow.

Trade

Bennet is a vocal critic of Trump’s trade war with China and tariffs on U.S. allies, which he says have hurt the U.S. economy and especially farmers. He has opposed some global trade agreements for lacking protections for workers and the environment.

  • Bennet says that “no one wins in a trade war” and warns that Trump’s “reckless” tariffs are damaging the U.S. economy. He calls tariffs “a tax on our producers.”
  • He says he agrees with Trump that Washington needs a stronger response to China’s “unfair trade practices” but argues that the president should have worked with allies to maximize pressure on Beijing instead of raising tariffs on Canada, Mexico, and the European Union.
  • He says the trade war has been particularly hard on farmers, who have seen exports fall and bankruptcies rise as countries levy retaliatory tariffs on U.S. producers.
  • He opposed Obama’s signature Asia-Pacific trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), arguing that it did not go far enough to protect workers and the environment. 
  • He now says he would restart talks on the TPP, because the countries involved “went ahead without us” and the United States must compete with China in the region.
  • He has said that Trump’s renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) must include provisions to improve U.S. access to Canadian dairy markets and maintain existing agricultural market access.

Venezuela and Latin America

Bennet supports U.S. efforts to recognize Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido and calls for additional aid and other support for Venezuelans amid the country’s economic and humanitarian crisis. 

  • Bennet calls the regime of Nicolas Maduro “illegitimate” and supports Guaido, who was recognized by the United States and most South American and European countries as rightful interim president of Venezuela in 2019. 
  • He cosponsored 2019 legislation that authorizes $400 million in humanitarian aid to Venezuela and its neighbors, among other measures. He has also called on Trump to grant Venezuelans temporary protected status (TPS), to allow them to live and work in the United States for a period of time.
  • He says that as president he would immediately reach out to the leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico to begin addressing the migration crisis in Central America. 

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

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