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Week In Politics


They sparred. They spun. And then afterwards, there was some cleanup. I'm talking about the 20 Democratic presidential hopefuls who debated this week, 10 each on two nights. And this morning, we're continuing to hash out what the debates say about the 2020 campaign so far. NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us now. Good morning, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: So among the candidates were one former vice president, seven current senators, two mayors and a self-help author, among others. Much has been said about this field of Democrats. It's big. It's diverse in terms of background and experience. But, Ron, was it really that diverse in terms of policy?

ELVING: Not on the direction of policy - they all agreed they wanted to do the opposite of President Trump. They wanted to go as far away from him as they could. The differences were more about how and how fast. Some of the candidates wanted to go after Wall Street in a big way. Others were willing to see some good in corporate capitalism. And some wanted single-payer health care. Now, others were willing to move in that direction in stages, keeping private health insurance for a time.

MCCAMMON: Right - and also on display were some generational differences that have become a focal point of this Democratic primary campaign. Tell us about those tensions.

ELVING: It used to make you a young candidate if you were under 50. But this week, there were four candidates on stage in their 40s and three in their 30s. Still, the three candidates who have been on top in the polls up to now are 77, 76 and 70. And one of the youngest candidates on stage in Miami recalled John F. Kennedy's famous quote about passing the torch to a new generation. And Joe Biden said he'd like to keep his grip on that torch for a while, thank you very much. And here's something else to think about. Democrats have won over the last 60 years when they went with relatively young outsiders - Kennedy, Carter, Clinton and Obama. They have lost with older, establishment figures such as Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Walter Mondale.

MCCAMMON: And when it comes to policy, Democrats are always eager to talk about health care. We'll talk about that later in the program. But what about the border crisis? This is a really fraught issue for both parties. Did we hear anything specific from the candidates on how to address that?

ELVING: Julian Castro, the only Latino on stage, said he would get rid of the selection or that section of law that makes the crossing of the border undocumented a crime. He said it would be a lot easier to deal with migrants and asylum-seekers if the law didn't make you lock them up as criminals. And all the candidates wanted to spend more money on housing the detainees who are seeking asylum, especially after the pictures everyone saw last week of a father and daughter who drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande.

MCCAMMON: And before I let you go, Ron, late yesterday, a federal judge issued a final ruling against the use of military funds by the Trump administration for barrier construction at the U.S.-Mexico border. These were funds intended for anti-drug activities - about $1 billion. How big of a setback is that for the administration?

ELVING: You can't build much of a wall with just a billion dollars. That would be a drop in the bucket for the overall project. But the principle here is crucial. Can the president actually do an end run when Congress has explicitly refused to spend money on something? That's a fundamental test of the separation of powers.

MCCAMMON: And is this ruling - is the administration likely to appeal it?

ELVING: Oh, yes, and probably all the way to the Supreme Court and all the way to the tie-breaking vote of John Roberts.

MCCAMMON: All right. Well, that's NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Thank you, Ron.

ELVING: Thank you, Sarah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for