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Week In Politics


And on now to the week's news. While many of you may have been enjoying your Fourth of July - I certainly was - certain lawyers at the Department of Justice did not. Instead, they were working, trying to figure out how to get the citizenship question on the 2020 census in a way that would satisfy the Supreme Court and President Trump. Plus, in Iowa this week, following her strong performance at the first Democratic debates, Senator Kamala Harris did a little backtracking.

Joining me now to talk about the week's news is NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Welcome.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: First, that citizenship question. In just a matter of days, it's been on, it's been off. Now the president says he wants it on again. What's going on there?

ELVING: The Supreme Court said last month, you could have it but only with good justification. And the Supreme Court has ruled before that the census is supposed to count everyone and not just citizens, as it has always. Then, the president said yesterday he had four or five ways that he could get this question back on. But executive orders, which were one of the ways he mentioned, do not supersede court orders. So the president is still going to have to have something that pleases the court.

And yesterday, a federal judge in Maryland ordered further discovery in this case, meaning people from Commerce and the Justice Department are going to have to answer questions about this question, where it came from. And yesterday, in court, the lawyers for the administration admitted that, at this point, they don't know what to say.

MONTAGNE: The president has also been tweeting about another big story, the conditions at Border Patrol detention centers. Yesterday, he said many of the migrants held there were - and I'm quoting - "living far better now than they were where they came from and in safer conditions." I mean, that's not what a report from the Department of Homeland Security's own Office of the Inspector General said this week. It - that report warned about dangerous overcrowding and prolonged detention without proper food or hygiene or laundry facilities - very big difference.

ELVING: That's right. And in this informal conversation that the president had with reporters as he was leaving for his golf club, he said that he had personally seen detention centers and that they were beautifully run, clean and so forth. He may have seen some centers, and he has been down to the region, but he has not seen the ones that were described by that inspector general report that you mentioned. And this looks like another case of the president essentially telling people to believe what he says and not the evidence of their own eyes.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's switch now to the 2020 presidential race. Senator Kamala Harris has been trying to keep her momentum going after she confronted Vice President Joe Biden over his opposition back in the 1970s to mandatory school busing. But then, just a couple of days ago, she answered a question about her support for mandatory school busing, and it sounded a lot like Biden's position, the very one she'd criticized him for.

ELVING: You know, Renee, this was the week Kamala Harris found out what happens when a candidate breaks out in a debate and gets in the face of the frontrunner. You get a bump in the polls, but it comes with a lot of attention, much of it critical. And people take a longer look at your own positions on, say, busing and other issues as well. And we also saw headlines about how she and her husband made their money. We see folks on Twitter questioning her racial origins, which, by the way, caused her rival candidates to rally around in her defense, including Joe Biden.

MONTAGNE: And what about Joe Biden? He's trying to recover ground lost in those debates.

ELVING: He's been doing television interviews and trying to talk about his sort of multipart position on busing over the years, and talk about his endorsements from African Americans who are local and state officials in key states. It's very early. The field is shifting. And if Biden can ride his ship in time for the debates at the end of this month, he'll still be the one the other candidates are coming after.

MONTAGNE: NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving, thanks for joining us.

ELVING: Thank you, Renee. 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