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A Busy Week Ahead For The GOP, On The Campaign Trail And Beyond

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we want to look ahead to the week in politics in this country. Joining us is NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Hi, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: So could you just give us one more word about the Jefferson Jackson Dinner last night in Des Moines? Big political event, always interesting - what's the takeaway from that?

ELVING: Hillary Clinton has been officially restored as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in 2016. Bernie Sanders was there. Bernie Sanders went after her in a way that suggested he realizes he needs to get more aggressive about the contrasts between them, show himself to have been the long-term true-blue liberal. But from Katy Perry to the appearance of Bill Clinton to the reaction of the crowd, this was Hillary's night.

MARTIN: All right, so let's turn to the Republicans. They have another debate coming up this week. And we see that Ben Carson is now leading Donald Trump in Iowa. What do you think that's going to do? Is that going to change the dynamic between them and the other candidates?

ELVING: It already has, Michel. You already see Donald Trump going after Ben Carson. Now he says that Ben Carson is even less of a high-energy candidate than Jeb Bush. So he has begun to criticize Ben Carson. He made sort of a sideswipe at Seventh-day Adventism, which is Ben Carson's particular denomination. There's already a tension between them that we certainly expect to see on Wednesday night, a little bit like we saw last time around between Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina.

MARTIN: Well, tell me what else we should be looking at, at this debate this week. There are some other things that we should be thinking about as we watch it?

ELVING: Well, while we mention Carly Fiorina, she really needs to get back on a debate stage because this has been the finest aspect of her campaign thus far - highly-sharp performances in the debates. She probably will not want to get into the fray with Ben Carson, but she's going to face questions and she will get some kind of a challenge with respect to the Planned Parenthood video representation that she made in the last debate that has caused her a lot of problems.

MARTIN: So let's get back to Washington. Let's finish up there. If things go as planned - it could be a big if given the way things have gone so far - Paul Ryan's expected to take the next steps to become speaker of the House this week. He wasn't the first choice for many conservative Republicans. So has that all been smoothed over, and is it smooth sailing for him from now on?

ELVING: The conflicts have been smoothed over, but it's not smooth sailing from here on by any means. They have sort of agreed to disagree. Paul Ryan has said he would accept some of the changes to the House rules and procedures in the power-sharing that the most-conservative group wants to see. They want to be empowered within the House Republicans. And he said he liked that idea and he would do everything he could. But he also wanted something changed. He wanted them to disarm with respect to challenging his speakership the way they did with John Boehner and pretty much drove him out. They, of course, are hesitant to disarm. They don't want to give up on that and give him some sort of a no-cut contract. So exactly what's been understood between the two sides is probably a matter of some debate at this juncture. But they're going to go ahead and make Paul Ryan the leader because they don't have an option. The most conservative group in the House does not have its own horse. You can't win a horse race without one, so they're going to go along with Paul Ryan. And then we'll see what happens on the substance, like raising the debt limit and keeping the government functioning past December.

MARTIN: I was going to ask you about that. You know, we've been talking politics, but what about the important business facing Congress? You mentioned the vote on raising the debt limit. Is that this week?

ELVING: John Boehner, the exiting speaker who's on his way out at the end of the week, would very much like to finish one piece of business before he goes. He would like to raise the debt limit. To do that, he would need to send a clean bill to the Senate so they can send one to the president. Otherwise, it would be rejected by the Senate if it has a lot of amendments on it, a lot of riders on it, a lot of hostage-taking, such as Planned Parenthood or what have you. And certainly, the president would veto it under those circumstances. So John Boehner would like to one more time raise the debt limit, and he would probably have to use Democratic votes to do that. And we could see some roiling of the waters over that this very week.

MARTIN: That was NPR's Ron Elving. Thanks, Ron.

ELVING: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.