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How 2020 Democrats are challenging each other’s policy records

Issues of criminal justice reform and systemic racism dominated the 2020 Democratic campaign conversation over the past week. Candidates appeared at the NAACP convention in Detroit to pitch related policy proposals -- and several demonstrated an increasing willingness to go after each other’s political records. But they were united in criticizing President Trump. Lisa Desjardins reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The two dozen 2020 presidential candidates are turning up the heat, taking aim at their opponents before they face off on the debate stage next week.

    Lisa Desjardins is back with our report.

  • Woman:

    Vice President Joe Biden.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The fight this week is being waged over policy and plans. At the NAACP Convention in Detroit Wednesday, the focus was on key issues to blacks and minorities.

  • Julian Castro:

    My police reform plan would create more accountability and transparency by setting a national use of force standard.

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    I also invite you to watch me talk about systemic racism, not only when I am speaking to mostly black audiences, but when I'm speaking to mostly white audiences.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    New Jersey Senator Cory Booker said he wants broad-based criminal justice reform.

  • Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.:

    We have gotten to a distraught present. We now have more African-Americans under criminal supervision than all the slaves in 1850. We have a system that is deeply biased along racial lines.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This after former Vice President Joe Biden rolled out his own criminal justice plan. It aims to shift the focus from incarceration to rehabilitation by diverting drug users to treatment programs and drug courts, instead of prison.

    It would eliminate the death penalty, as well as cash bail and mandatory minimum sentences.

    For his opponents, Biden's new proposal stands in stark contrast to the tough-on-crime bill he spearheaded in 1994 as a senator. Advocates for reform now link that bill to mass incarceration. Booker has been especially critical of Biden's record.

    In a statement Tuesday, he said: "The proud architect of a failed system is not the person to fix it."

    Biden hit back.

  • Joseph Biden:

    Cory knows that's not true.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Criticizing Booker's record on policing when he was mayor of Newark, New Jersey.

  • Joseph Biden:

    His police department was stopping and frisking people, mostly African-American men. We took action against them.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Biden also took a shot this week at California Senator Kamala Harris. Without naming her, he dismissed her claim to pay for a Medicare for all plan without taxing the middle class, calling it a fantasy.

    Harris, for her part, stayed focused on her message.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.:

    We're not going back. We're not going back. And, in fact, I will tell you all where we're going. We're going to the White House.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    As differences emerge, the field still is connected by their common adversary, President Trump.

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.:

    A country that elects a man like Donald Trump has serious problems.

    And we need to make big structural change.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.:

    We have a president who thinks that he can win reelection by fomenting hatred and divisiveness, and our job is to do exactly the opposite.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Add to his staunch critics the president's only Republican challenger, Bill Weld.

  • Bill Weld:

    Donald Trump is a raging racist, OK?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The White House has called such accusations overt political attacks and untrue.

    Next week, the focus remains on the Democrats and two nights of debates in Detroit, with Booker and Harris standing on either side of Biden on stage.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Lisa Desjardins.

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