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2020 Democratic Candidates Weigh In On Supreme Court Size, Electoral College


It seems like every time you turn around, a Democrat running for president is on cable news or here on NPR staking out a pretty radical position. Last night on CNN, it was Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.


ELIZABETH WARREN: We can have national voting, and that means get rid of the Electoral College and everybody...


KELLY: Get rid of the Electoral College. Well, electing a president based on the national popular vote is one of several aggressive positions Warren and other Democrats have been backing lately. Other items on the list include increasing the size of the U.S. Supreme Court, some sort of reparations for slavery and the Green New Deal. Many progressive voters are cheering the trend even as some party leaders worry Democrats are limiting their appeal to voters in a general election. Well, NPR's Scott Detrow is covering the 2020 campaign, and he is here in the studio now. Hey, Scott.


KELLY: So getting rid of the Electoral College, bumping up the Supreme Court to 15 justices - what is driving all this?

DETROW: You know, the interesting thing it's not just one or two candidates. It's a lot of them. Several of the high-profile senators running have said they're open to the idea of expanding the size of the court, which hasn't always been nine. You may recall this is something Franklin Roosevelt tried to do and was stopped from doing by his own party. As for the Electoral College, Mayor Pete Buttigieg proposed doing this a couple months ago, and Warren is now backing it. Their argument is that it's just undemocratic. Of course, they come from a party that has twice in a two-decade span won the popular vote and lost the White House.

KELLY: Well, one thing that unites all the Democratic contenders is that they would like to defeat the current occupant of the White House. How is President Trump responding to all this?

DETROW: At this point, his re-election strategy is pretty clear. He is trying to make the race about the Democrats and not him. And he's painting the party as extreme, veering to the extreme left and socialism with things like the Green New Deal, "Medicare for All." And Trump and his advisers are framing these proposals in the same way. He was asked today at the White House about this idea of expanding the size of the Supreme Court.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The only reason is - that they're doing that is they want to try and catch up. So if they can't catch up through the ballot box by winning an election, they want to try doing it in a different way now.

KELLY: All right. So that's the Republican response. What about Democrats, Scott? How is the party responding to all of these proposals from all of its presidential candidates?

DETROW: In a lot of these areas, you see one candidate stake something out, and then a lot of the rest of the field comes and agrees. And all the sudden, you have most of the field on one side, and that's really excited a lot of voters. A lot of donors and organizers are viewing these as one-by-one litmus tests. But, you know, the election is a long way off, but at this point, I think it's fair to say this race is most likely going to be all about Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, the states that Trump flipped in order to become president.

And several Democratic leaders in these states have started to worry about these trends. I talked to former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. He said he agrees with the goals of a lot of these proposals. He's just worried that independent and moderate voters could be turned off as they start to pile up. I talked to Pete Buttigieg earlier today and asked him about this. And he says he just...

KELLY: One of the candidates, we should mention, yeah.

DETROW: One of the candidates. He's the mayor of South Bend, Ind. And here's what he had to say. He disagrees with the premise there.

PETE BUTTIGIEG: If we remain willing to entertain reforms, some of them quite bold, some of them maybe things that have been talked about a long time, we just haven't been able to deliver, I actually think that makes us more convincing to independents than if we always appear to be imitating the folks on the other side.

DETROW: He was talking about the Electoral College change on the first day of his campaign. His argument is that constitutional amendments and big changes shouldn't be seen as alien or extreme, that there should be options on the table, especially if you think the problems are that big.

KELLY: Thank you, Scott.

DETROW: Thank you.

KELLY: NPR's Scott Detrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.