Steve Bullock

Steve Bullock

Governor, Montana

Steve Bullock has withdrawn his candidacy.

As governor of Montana since 2013, Steve Bullock touts his experience working to boost his state’s trade relationships abroad, and he has championed the cause of limiting corporate money in politics. From 2009 to 2013 he served as Montana’s attorney general, and from 2004 to 2008 he ran a private legal practice in Montana. 

He previously worked as a lawyer at an international law firm in Washington, DC, between 2001 and 2004, and in the office of the Montana attorney general from 1996 to 2001. Born and raised in Montana, he earned his law degree from Columbia University in 1994.

China

Describing China as a “tremendous economic threat,” Bullock believes that the United States needs to work with its allies to be “tough” on Beijing for its theft of intellectual property and other abusive trade practices.

  • Bullock has criticized President Donald J. Trump’s trade war, arguing that it hurts U.S. producers because tariffs cause them to lose access to international markets. 
  • He says that Washington should find other ways to work with allies to put pressure on China for its trade practices.
  • He told CFR that the United States should hold China accountable for human rights violations and work with allies to pressure Beijing to “improve its treatment of the Uighurs and ensure that it keeps its word to the people of Hong Kong.” 
  • He has also said the United States must respond to China’s land-construction efforts in the South China Sea.
  • At the same time, he says, Beijing and Washington need to work together on combating climate change.

Climate and Energy

Bullock calls climate change a threat to “our economy and way of life,” and “one of the defining challenges of our time.” 

  • Bullock’s climate plan includes quickly transitioning to clean energy such as wind and solar power, setting emissions-reduction targets for federal agencies and the military, and reengaging in global climate efforts. 
  • He says that on day one of his presidency he would rejoin the Paris Agreement, from which Trump withdrew.
  • He would commit the United States to reaching carbon neutrality by 2040, a decade earlier than the goal set by the United Nations. He would direct federal agencies to achieve net-zero emissions on public lands by 2030. 
  • He would also require federal agencies to develop plans to reduce carbon emissions every year, and he would push the military to lower its carbon footprint by investing in biofuels and clean energy. 
  • He would reverse Trump’s efforts to weaken automobile fuel efficiency standards and instead seek to strengthen them. 
  • He would work with state governments, businesses, and labor unions to update the U.S. electric grid. He argues that this would create jobs and spur economic growth. He would also direct the Department of Labor to strengthen training programs for workers transitioning to jobs in clean energy.
  • He told CFR he would direct the Departments of Commerce, Energy, and State and the Export-Import Bank to help other countries adopt U.S. clean energy technologies. 
  • As governor, Bullock adopted the blueprint for Montana’s energy future in 2016, with a goal of investing more in renewable energy, creating jobs, and providing tax incentives for companies.

Counterterrorism

Bullock has spoken in favor of gun reform to address domestic terrorism and criticizes surveillance and interrogation policies implemented after the 9/11 attacks.

  • He described the August 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, which killed twenty-two people, as “an act of domestic terrorism” and said that the president must condemn white nationalism. He now pushes for gun reform, though in 2016 he opposed a ban on assault weapons and universal background checks on gun purchases. 
  • He believes that the CIA’s use of what he calls torture harmed the United States’ reputation and wasn’t effective in extracting intelligence. As president, he says, he would “push for a return to a broader respect for the rule of law.”
  • He also criticizes “dragnet wiretapping” and other expanded surveillance conducted by U.S. agencies after 9/11 as both illegal and ineffective, arguing that it has slowed the government’s ability to identify real threats.

Cybersecurity and Digital Policy

Bullock’s comments on cybersecurity have focused on increasing U.S. election security. He has also expressed support for more oversight of large technology companies.

  • Bullock promises measures on election cybersecurity, including new investments in equipment, regulations to increase reporting of cyber incursions in voting systems, and new standards for tech companies to remove misinformation from their platforms.
  • He has expressed skepticism of the market share, low tax payments, and privacy practices of large tech companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google, and says his administration would look into antitrust laws to decide whether they should be broken up.
  • In 2018, Bullock declared October as “National Cybersecurity Awareness Month” in Montana. He was the first governor to sign an executive order [PDF] requiring internet service providers contracting with the state to adhere to net neutrality principles.

Defense

Bullock says his “number one priority” would be to protect the United States. He promises to review the defense budget, modernize the military, and give Congress a larger role in authorizing military actions.

  • Bullock says he would launch a major review of the U.S. defense budget to cut waste and ensure that the military is “delivering the best value for our taxpayer dollars.” He promises to give the military the resources to address emerging challenges, including cyberattacks, drones, and artificial intelligence. 
  • He told CFR that he will do “everything in my power” to end the war in Afghanistan by the end of his first term and bring U.S. troops home. He says this will require a diplomatic solution that includes upholding women’s and minorities’ rights. As governor, he made a visit to Afghanistan in 2013.
  • He says that Congress needs to pass fresh authorizations for the ongoing use of military force in Syria and elsewhere, rather than relying on 2001 legislation. He says military action against Iran or North Korea would require separate congressional approval.
  • He is opposed to the deployment of military forces along the southern U.S. border to enforce immigration policy.
  • Since 2015, he has been a member of the Council of Governors, a bipartisan group of ten governors appointed by the president that addresses issues related to the National Guard, homeland security, and defense support to civil authorities.

Diplomacy and Foreign Aid

Bullock condemns Trump’s foreign policy as “America alone” and says the president has undermined the United States’ alliances, emboldened its adversaries, and abandoned its values.

  • Bullock told CFR that the United States’ greatest foreign policy accomplishment is the system of alliances and institutions established after World War II. He promises to “invest in this system,” along with U.S. allies.
  • He argues that the United States’ alliances “make our planet safer” and they are “a key advantage over authoritarian states like Russia and China.” 
  • He promises to “rebuild” international ties, and says his first trip as president would be to visit North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies to “reestablish respectful relationships and mutual aid.”
  • He wants to use his platform as president to call for international support of initiatives that “empower women, foster democracy, and fight discrimination.” 
  • He would reverse the so-called global gag rule, which blocks U.S. aid funding to foreign organizations that perform or advocate for abortion services. The rule was first implemented in 1984, reversed several times since, and reimposed under Trump.

Economic Policy

Bullock decries increasing inequality and decreasing economic competitiveness, promising policies to retrain workers for a globalized labor market, make the tax system more progressive, and rebuild American infrastructure.

  • Bullock’s economic plan criticizes the 2017 tax reform as a “handout” to corporate donors that added $2 trillion to the national debt. He promises to make businesses “pay their fair share” and create new tax credits for working families and childcare.
  • He wants to raise the national minimum wage to $15 per hour, make workers’ benefits portable, make it easier for unions to organize, and create a national family and medical leave policy. As governor, he supported increasing the state minimum wage.
  • He says he would expand education options, including vocational programs, by creating tax incentives for companies that offer training and apprenticeships, providing free tuition for community colleges, and lowering student loan interest rates.
  • He pledges infrastructure investments to boost American global competitiveness, including $350 billion in roads and transit, updates to the electric grid, and a promise to connect the entire nation to broadband internet within three years.
  • As chair of the National Governors Association, he led an initiative [PDF] that focused on creating jobs in rural communities and training mid-career workers for new opportunities.

Immigration

Bullock echoes much of the Democratic field in championing immigrants, though he calls the U.S. immigration system “broken.” He backs a path to citizenship for undocumented people in the United States, and also advocates for strengthened border security. 

  • Bullock’s immigration proposal calls for Congress to provide a path to citizenship for the country’s estimated eleven million undocumented residents, though he says they should have to pay a fine, go “to the back of the legal immigration line,” and learn English.
  • He would allow asylum seekers to make claims from their home countries, increase the number of judges to quickly process asylum cases, and ensure that children are not separated from their families by reversing the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy.
  • He supports legislation to give legal status to Dreamers, undocumented residents who were brought to the country as children. 
  • He opposes Trump’s proposal to expand the wall on the U.S. southern border, and in 2018 he refused a White House request to send Montana National Guard troops to the border. He argues that border security must be improved with better technology, more border agents, and crackdowns on employers who hire undocumented workers.
  • He does not support eliminating criminal penalties against people crossing the border, as advocated by some other candidates. He would not abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but would refocus enforcement efforts on “serious criminals.”
  • He would restore foreign aid to the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, which Trump has sought to cut, in order to reduce pressure on people there to emigrate.
  • He says refugee admissions should be increased to at least 110,000 per year, after Trump slashed the number to under 30,000. 

Middle East

Bullock is critical of unilateral U.S. efforts in the Middle East, and says he will return to diplomacy with both allies and adversaries in the region. 

  • Bullock told CFR he would rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, from which Trump withdrew, to prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
  • He describes Israel as a trusted partner and friend of the United States, though he says there have been “challenges” with Israeli settlements in occupied territory. 
  • He supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He pledges to restart negotiations, which he says have “reached a standstill” under an administration that “does not have credibility” in the region.
  • He told CFR the United States must hold Saudi Arabia accountable for its human rights record, calling for a “credible investigation” into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and an end to U.S. support for the “reckless” Saudi-led war in Yemen.
  • He says the U.S. role in Yemen should be to deliver humanitarian aid to civilians and facilitate a peace process between the warring parties.
  • He calls the 2003 invasion of Iraq the greatest mistake of American foreign policy since the end of World War II. He says the “naive” Iraq War cost thousands of lives and trillions of dollars for “virtually nothing in return,” and he pledges to avoid such unilateral actions.

North Korea

Bullock is open to diplomacy with North Korea but says that Pyongyang must commit to showing real progress on denuclearization for any agreement to happen. 

  • Describing North Korea as an “irresponsible regime” whose nuclear program threatens “every nation around the globe,” Bullock told CFR that any agreement must include “credible commitments and verifiable progress” by Pyongyang to reduce its nuclear weapons arsenal.
  • He says he will work with regional allies to ensure that North Korea’s nuclear program is “properly monitored and managed.” 
  • He has criticized Trump for meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “without anything in return.”

Russia

Bullock has described Russia as one of the United States’ greatest global foes and promises to work closely with allies to deter Russian aggression. 

  • He told CFR that Russia’s actions in Ukraine demonstrate its “lack of regard for the territorial sovereignty of its neighbors” and show how far Moscow is willing to go to maintain its “so-called ‘sphere of influence.’”
  • He says the United States must work with its allies in Central and Eastern Europe and ensure they have the “necessary military capabilities” to deter Russian aggression. He also wants to continue imposing sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea.
  • He promises to increase NATO military preparation for a potential Russian incursion in the Baltic region.  
  • At the same time, he says, he would pursue diplomatic efforts to reduce nuclear stockpiles, including “evaluating” arms control opportunities with Russia. 
  • He warns about continued Russian interference in U.S. elections, arguing that current laws are insufficient to stop Russian money from influencing the process. He proposes reforms to keep so-called dark money groups from funneling foreign funds into U.S. elections.

Trade

As governor of a state that relies on agricultural exports, Bullock has worked to boost trade ties with countries around the world and he criticizes Trump’s tariffs. He backs global trade agreements but says they must do better on workers’ rights and the environment.

  • Bullock says he would end Trump’s use of tariffs, which he says are especially harmful to U.S. farmers and ranchers, who are losing export markets for their products. He says that Washington should find other ways to work with allies to put pressure on China over its trade practices.
  • He promises to negotiate new trade agreements that “expand markets for American businesses.” As governor, he led trade missions to Canada, China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, with the goal of selling Montanan products abroad. 
  • However, he says that U.S. trade deals must avoid a “race to the bottom” on workers’ rights, and argues that any new agreements must include legislation that provides retraining for workers hurt by trade. 
  • He opposed the Barack Obama administration’s signature Asia-Pacific trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). He told CFR he would consider rejoining the deal, which he says can help counter Chinese influence in Asia, only if “enforceable” labor and environmental standards are added to it. 
  • In 2017, he joined seven other U.S. governors in supporting the modernization of some provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which Trump has sought to renegotiate. 

Venezuela and Latin America

Bullock says Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is a “dictator” and that the United States must support opposition leader Juan Guaido in his efforts to create a transitional government. He also backs increasing aid and boosting trade ties with other Latin American countries.

  • Bullock blames “decades of governmental incompetence” for Venezuela's economic and humanitarian crisis. He told CFR that the United States should work with its partners to apply “diplomatic and economic pressure” on the Maduro regime. 
  • He supports increasing aid to the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, which Trump has sought to cut, in order to reduce pressure on people in those countries to emigrate.
  • As governor, Bullock supported Obama’s détente with Cuba, which Trump has reversed, and backed ending [PDF] the U.S. embargo on the country.
  • He represented all U.S. governors at the inauguration of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in 2018, calling for deeper “economic, diplomatic, and cultural relationships” between the United States and Mexico.

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

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