ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
It's night two for the Democrats, and a whole new cast of candidates will be onstage at their debate in Detroit. Last night was very much a battle of ideas. Progressives Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were calling for sweeping policy changes on health care as more centrist candidates accused them of making impossible promises that will deliver Donald Trump a reelection victory. Here's how Warren responded to that.
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ELIZABETH WARREN: You know, I don't understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can't do and shouldn't fight for.
SHAPIRO: Tonight, the arguments may be very different. And to explain why, we are joined from Detroit by NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro and NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hey there.
SHAPIRO: Let's start by taking stock of what happened last night, the first night of this debate. Domenico, what was your main takeaway?
MONTANARO: Well, a real debate broke out. You know, we had a debate over health care and on immigration to maybe a lesser extent between this moderate wing of the Democratic Party and the more progressive wing. I mean, you had Senator Elizabeth Warren, who we heard there, center stage with Bernie Sanders. And coming into the debate, a lot of people wondered if maybe there'd be some distinctions drawn between the two of them. Guess what - not so much. They were both allies. And what they said after the debate - at least people within Sanders' campaign said that - don't expect them to criticize each other. There's six more months left of voting. And if the two of them are left standing, then maybe we'll see Sanders go after Elizabeth Warren.
We also saw Steve Bullock, the governor of Montana, really be able to distinguish himself on the moderate wing. And it was the first time for him in the debate lineup, so that was key.
SHAPIRO: OK, so let's turn to tonight because last month, the first night of the debate was practically forgotten after, on the second night, Senator Kamala Harris sparred with former Vice President Joe Biden over his civil rights record. They are next to each other once again at center stage tonight. So, Asma, what are you watching for?
KHALID: I am looking for the degree to which Joe Biden can defend himself this time. You know, part of this - we should give the backstory - is because Joe Biden enjoys considerable support among African American voters. There is a sense from both California Senator Kamala Harris as well as New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who will be on the other side of Biden, that they need to peel away some of that support from black voters in order to do well in this primary season. That is why they've been attacking Joe Biden.
You know, I will say that over the last week or so, we've seen a real kind of public spat, particularly between Biden and Booker. Booker has been criticizing Biden for his record on criminal justice reform, saying that he was an architect of mass incarceration because of his support for the 1994 crime bill. Biden, of course, and his advisers disagree with this, and they've been going after Joe Biden's record. And I presume we'll hear more about criminal justice reform and racial justice issues tonight.
SHAPIRO: So if Biden goes into this debate with a target on his back, how is he preparing to defend himself?
MONTANARO: Well, what senior advisers said this afternoon was that he's going to go after Donald Trump. That's his first and principal thing that he's going to do. But he is prepared to attack back on other people's records. They said, look; if you're going to attack Vice President Biden's record, then guess what; the rest of the people on this stage - they have records, too, and be prepared to defend those things.
And, as Asma pointed out, when it comes to black voters, Vice President Biden is still doing very well with African Americans. And what one adviser said is that if - that the reason that these other candidates are going after him is because he's got 51% of African American voters in a lot of polls, and they want it.
KHALID: And, you know, one of the other things I think that's worth pointing out is that overall, you know, there will be a conversation tonight on health care because Joe Biden has been very critical of a "Medicare for All" system. Kamala Harris released a plan recently that is kind of a hybrid between Biden and Sanders; it's a Medicare for All plan with a limited role for insurance. But Joe Biden is already criticizing that. Here's what he had to say.
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JOE BIDEN: Well, I find that people will say they're for Medicare for All but they're not going to tax the middle class because you don't need to do that. Come on. What is this? Is this a fantasy world here?
SHAPIRO: That is the voice of Joe Biden, one of 10 candidates onstage tonight at the second night of the Democratic presidential debate in Detroit. NPR's Asma Khalid and Domenico Montanaro speaking with us from Detroit there.
Thanks to both of you.
KHALID: You're welcome.
MONTANARO: Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.