STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A Democratic presidential debate last night offered a chance to move beyond slogans that are short enough to fit on a hat. You know, Donald Trump had "Make America Great Again." Before that, Barack Obama had a single word on a poster - "Hope."
The slogans matter. Any winning candidate will have one. But governing is done by details, which candidates discussed on some issues last night. You would need a rather large poster or hat if you wanted to include a key phrase from last night's debate - Section 1325 of the United States code regarding improper entry into the United States.
NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow is here to tell us what that means and what it's about.
Hi there, Scott.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.
INSKEEP: I guess there's a real substantive difference here - right? - that arguably affects a lot of people's lives at the border. What is it?
DETROW: Absolutely. This is something that Julian Castro has been talking about since the early days of his presidential campaign. You've had other candidates start to talk about it lately, as well, and it is what to do with people who cross the border illegally. Do you treat it as a criminal penalty, or do you treat it as a civil penalty? Castro and his fellow Texan Beto O'Rourke got way into this last night in a lengthy exchange.
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JULIAN CASTRO: Let's be very clear. The reason that they're separating these little children from their families is that they're using Section 1325 of that act, which criminalizes coming across the border, to incarcerate the parents and then separate them. Some of us on this stage have called to end that section, to terminate it. Some, like Congressman O'Rourke, have not. And I want to challenge all of the candidates to do that.
BETO O'ROURKE: In fact...
CASTRO: I just think it's a mistake, Beto. I think it's a mistake. And I think that if you truly want to change the system, then we got to repeal that section. If not...
JOSE DIAZ-BALART: Thank you.
CASTRO: ...Then it might as well be the same policy.
O'ROURKE: Let me respond to this very briefly. Actually, as a member of Congress, I helped to introduce legislation that would ensure that we don't criminalize those who are seeking asylum and refuge in this country.
CASTRO: I'm not talking about...
O'ROURKE: If you're fleeing...
CASTRO: I'm not talking about the ones that are seeking asylum.
O'ROURKE: If you're fleeing desperation, then I want to make sure...
CASTRO: I'm talking about everybody else.
O'ROURKE: ...That you're treated with respect.
CASTRO: I'm still talking about everybody else.
O'ROURKE: But you're looking at just one small part of this. I'm talking about a comprehensive rewrite of our immigration laws.
CASTRO: That's not true.
O'ROURKE: And if we do that, I don't think it's asking too much for...
CASTRO: That's not - that's actually not true.
INSKEEP: OK. So Julian Castro, Beto O'Rourke among the candidates onstage last night. And - so criminal versus civil - this is, like, effectively, jail time versus a traffic ticket. That's the question here, right?
DETROW: Yeah, and that obviously makes a big difference to somebody in that position. It makes a big difference to how the United States treats large-scale people coming across the country illegally. For the most part, you know, Castro has talked about this. Like I said, Elizabeth Warren has come out with a plan. But for the most part, a lot of the Democrats in the field have struggled to define a comprehensive immigration policy, other than to say they vehemently disagree with everything the Trump administration is doing right now with families trying to come to the United States.
INSKEEP: OK, so we don't know all the answers, but we do have that one difference of views among the candidates. Let's hear another one now. The Democrats were asked about health care, Scott Detrow. What was revealed?
DETROW: Yeah, this was really interesting. You know, Elizabeth Warren has really staked out the progressive edge, the progressive lane on so many issues. Health care has not been one of those. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has led the call for a "Medicare for All" single-payer health care system. A lot of candidates have joined him with the same general idea of that, but Bernie Sanders has said he wants no role for private health insurance in the system he wants to create, other than, you know, supplemental plans for things like plastic surgery - is the example he gives a lot.
Elizabeth Warren has said she is on board with the idea of Medicare for All, but when asked, what about private health insurance, she hasn't really given a clear answer up until this point. You can do this over time. You can have an opt-in for Medicare for All. People can keep their plans at first that they want it. And over time, it would be a gradual shift.
So last night, one of the moderators said, raise your hand if you want to get rid of your private health insurance as part of your health care plan. Elizabeth Warren's hand went up. Here's what she said.
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ELIZABETH WARREN: Medicare for All solves that problem. And I understand. There are a lot of politicians who say, oh, it's just not possible. We just can't do it. It's - have a lot of political reasons for this. What they're really telling you is they just won't fight for it.
INSKEEP: OK. So she changed her position or added to it, modified it.
DETROW: Yeah, I think she changed the way that she frames her argument. And I think that does really matter politically because this is something that really gets Democratic base voters excited. Progressives feel like there is an appetite for this, even if it would be a big dismantling of the current health care system. I mean, think back to the fights over Obamacare and how big of a drastic change that was and how long it took for voters to warm to it. This would be so much bigger.
But to come out clearly and say, yeah, I'm in favor of getting rid of private health insurance - I think that's important because President Trump and Republicans are going to define the nominee's health care plan as a government takeover - you know, like, you're going to have to go to the DMV to get your health care-type framing of this issue. So the fact that Warren has no problem with that, I think, says a lot about the political climate of the Democratic Party right now.
INSKEEP: Yeah, and so we have these two big-ish differences on issues that affect real people - immigration and health care. And also, the larger question for Democratic voters - do they want more of a centrist or more of a progressive to challenge the president in the fall?
DETROW: Yeah, and they will get that contrast tonight in the second night of this debate, with Vice President Joe Biden in that centrist role and Bernie Sanders in that progressive role. We expect them to air their differences on policy tonight.
INSKEEP: Scott, thanks so much.
DETROW: Thank you.
INSKEEP: NPR's Scott Detrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.