Washington Week

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Admiral Joe Sestak: 7 things you need to know

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By Roey Hadar

Production Associate

Joe Sestak is a retired U.S. Navy admiral and a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives. The 67-year-old Pennsylvania became the 25th Democrat running for the party's nomination on June 22. 

Here are seven things you need to know about Sestak.

  • He is running on a platform calling for accountability to Americans.  Sestak's central policy proposals include a $1 trillion infrastructure investment, an expansion of the Affordable Care Act to include a public option, and a plan to curb climate change that includes limits on emissions and a carbon dividend.
  • Sestak served over three decades in the U.S. Navy, rising to the rank of three-star admiral.  Sestak served on President Bill Clinton’s National Security Council as Director for Defense Policy. In 2002, Sestak assumed command of a battle group of thousands of sailors, marines and SEAL team members that participated in operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • In 2006, he defeated a ten-term Republican incumbent to win a seat in the U.S. House. Sestak flipped Pennsylvania’s 7th congressional district in the Philadelphia suburbs, which was heavily Republican at the time, in a key swing race in the 2006 midterms. He served two terms in Congress before leaving office in 2011.
  • He defeated longtime Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary in 2010. Sestak defied the Democratic establishment in 2010 to run against Specter, a former Republican who had flipped to join the Democrats in 2009. Despite efforts by President Barack Obama and others in the White House and Democratic Party to keep him out of the race, Sestak won the Democratic nomination. He lost the general election to Republican Pat Toomey. He launched another Senate bid in 2016 but fell short in the Democratic primary.
  • He’s the only 2020 presidential candidate with a Ph.D. Sestak earned a doctorate in political economy and government from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
  • In Congress, Sestak had a record of getting bills passed. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer named Sestak as the most productive Democratic freshman in 2007 for getting 19 bipartisan bills passed in his first term. Sestak was also an early supporter of bills to repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy banning openly gay people from serving.
  • In recent years, Sestak has led a nonprofit that promotes science education. In 2017, Sestak became president of FIRST Global, which organizes annual robotics competition for students from around the globe. Sestak’s organization became the center of a national news story in 2017 when President Donald Trump intervened to help approve visas for the all-girls team representing Afghanistan in the competition. Sestak praised the State Department for helping secure visa approvals for the competitors.