MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The race in the 27th Congressional District is a rematch between Democratic Congresswoman Donna Shalala and Republican Maria Elvira Salazar.
Shalala won that race in 2018. Before that she served as Health and Human Services secretary during Bill Clinton’s Presidency and was the former president of the University of Miami.
Salazar is a longtime journalist who has covered Latin America and has hosted her own program on Spanish language television.
The debate started with health care.
There are more people signed up for Obamacare in that district than any other in the country. Twenty million Americans rely on Obamacare, which guarantees you can’t be denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions, you can stay on your parents’ insurance until you’re 26 and you can’t lose your insurance because you get sick. Preventative care like mammograms are free and there are no more caps on the amount the treatment you receive.
But there are problems and that’s where the discussion began.
DEFEDE: So, the first question to Congressman Shalala, you know, why, what needs to be fixed within this system? And why do you believe the Democrats in Congress are better suited to make those fixes than the Republicans?
SHALALA: Well, first of all, we’ve already made those fixes. We passed a bill in the House of Representatives to deal with the subsidies, because we really do need to close those gaps. It’s not as affordable as we wanted to make it in the first place. Usually, when you do a big bill, what you do is make corrections after a year. But the Republicans wouldn’t allow us to do that until we took over the House of Representatives. So, getting the subsidies, right, is the first thing that we must deal with. But unfortunately, the president has gone to court with a bunch of attorney generals, Republicans, including the Florida people, to get rid of Obamacare completely. And that case is going to be heard in November. And that is more than unfortunate. It’s a disaster for people in our district.
DEFEDE: But I just want to be clear about something. You just said a second ago – did you say that the Democrats in Congress fixed it, but it just hasn’t been signed by the president? Or do you think there is still a problem right now, and you didn’t address the issue of deductibles? You know, how do we do that?
SHALALA: We actually passed a bill to deal with subsidies and deductibles in the House of Representatives. The Senate will not take it up. So that there’s no chance that the president will sign it, because he wants to get rid of Obamacare.
DEFEDE: All right, let me bring Salazar into the conversation. So again, focusing on the issue of the problems with Obamacare, I know you have said that, if you like your Obamacare, you can keep your Obamacare. I want to get to that a little bit more in a second. But what are the major fixes that you think needs to take place? Or do you scrap the entire system?
SALAZAR: Thank you for the opportunity of being here with you, Jim. When we hear Shalala, we are hearing just another career politician, a lot of words, and no action, a lot of words, and nothing that we can really understand. Health care in this country is a mess. She was the main person at the helm of the Department of Health for eight years. And what happened during her term? More people, the American worker, paid more money for their coverage and the services went down. So, if somebody in this country had the opportunity to fix health care with her. So, let’s go to what’s happening right now. Health care in this country, as I said, is not in a good shape. Obamacare, if you like it, is the only thing we have. So, you need to keep it until Congress offers something better, cheaper, and for everybody in this country.
DEFEDE: But what would that look like?
SALAZAR: Why they would like a competition. Because when you have good services that are cheap, and for everybody, is because the forces of competition are in the industry. We have a lot of big pharma that the Democrats never took on. We should be having those meds from Mexico and from Canada imported so the elderly can pay less. But Shalala had that opportunity during the Clinton administration and nothing really happened.
DEFEDE: So, the issue, what I’ve heard from Salazar in previous discussions as well, is she believes the answer is increased competition. Respond to also earlier claims that as HHS secretary, you did nothing to fix the problem as well as the issue of is competition the real recipe here.
SHALALA: Well, first of all, we have competition in the system. And it did not work in health care. That’s why we have Obamacare, because we needed a program that would help the middle class and, frankly, working people. That’s why Obamacare was put in place. As for what I did, as HHS secretary, we passed the Children’s Health Insurance Plan, which now covers almost 8 million children. And we passed what is now used heavily in Miami, and that is Medicare Advantage, in which 70% of the people in Medicare now get Medicare Advantage, which is a super program for senior citizens. So, we actually did a lot of things, including improving health care for the disabled, and we made, as for drugs, let me talk about the drug issue, Jim, because she raised the drug issue. We have passed a bill in the House of Representatives which says exactly what the president said during his last campaign. ‘I want to negotiate directly with Big Pharma.’ So, we passed a bill saying yes, the president of the United States, the secretary of HHS, must negotiate directly with Big Pharma to drive down health care costs.
DEFEDE: Let me bring Salazar in.
SALAZAR: Obamacare was modeled after the state of Massachusetts, not after Hillarycare that you were the author of with the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. We’re talking about that during your term the average American worker lost coverage and had to pay more money.
DEFEDE: Let’s go to right now, let’s go to right now.
SALAZAR: Obamacare right now is not perfect and I repeat it, but it’s the only thing we have. So, we got to keep it and I will never vote against it if we do not have something cheaper or better to offer the American worker.
DEFEDE: You’ve said numerous times that if you like your Obamacare, you can you should keep your Obamacare. You realize that may not be up to you because it’s in the Supreme Court. Do you disagree with what the Republicans have been have done, that the Republican president and Republican attorney generals across the country to try to strike down and repeal Obamacare? because Republicans haven’t offered a replacement option? And I still don’t know what that replacement option will be. Other than I know, you keep talking about LASIK surgery. How does that apply to this?
SALAZAR: Laser surgery is a fantastic example to what we’re talking about, Jim. LASIK at one point was $20,000. And right now, it’s 800. Because it’s highly regulated. And because it’s still within the norm. But there is competition. Career politicians like Shalala, who have been in Washington and enriching herself off us, the regular citizen, have not taken on Big Pharma because everybody is afraid of them. That’s why you need term limits. So, you can have people that will really do the job. Not what she’s done.
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DEFEDE: So Donna, the example that she cites of LASIK eye surgery coming down radically, why is that not a model that we could use for the broader health care system?
SHALALA: In fact, of value health care, initiated under the Obama administration, has all sorts of examples of once you get competition to the system. The Affordable Care Act is delivered by private companies who delivered on the basis of price and quality. The only difference is that we subsidized working families to be able to afford it. So, I believe in competition, too. But it has to have a framework that guarantees certain things, like basic health care within the framework. But this drug issue is very important because we passed the bill. And what did the administration do? They said we’re going to import drugs from Canada, let the Canadians negotiate for us as opposed to negotiating directly. They’re afraid of taking on Big Pharma.
DEFEDE: Maria, I just want to I want to come to you on the question of preexisting conditions, because that’s the hardest thing for insurance companies to cover. What is your plan? Would you for instance, favor as other Republicans do creating high-risk pools? And doesn’t that then run the risk of how do you subsidize those? How do you get insurance companies to take people with preexisting conditions, if they’re not being required to under the wall?
SALAZAR: That is the law right now. The law says Obamacare, and I repeat it, Obamacare says that you have to cover your kids until 26. I’m not going to go against my own kids. My kids are in my plan. They’re 20 and 21. And number two, the preexisting conditions need to stay because that’s the law. All I’m saying is that we got to improve whatever we offer. And we have to come together in Washington – people that really care about their district, not people that are divisive and Congress people that can put together a plan that is good for the American worker.
DEFEDE: I just want to see if I can get a yes or no answer to this question. The state of Florida, the Florida Republican legislature decided not to expand Medicaid under the Obamacare Act. They were one of only 12 states that did not do so. We’re going to start with you, Maria. Was that a mistake? Would you have encouraged Florida to expand Medicaid? Yes or no?
SALAZAR: I think everybody that needs Medicaid should have Medicaid. And if we would have a better plan than Obamacare, something that is more improved… It’s not a yes or no answer because it is it’s more complex than that. If you offer a better care with more competition people when they leave Obamacare…
DEFEDE: The expansion of Medicaid was a decision that the federal government would pay upwards of 90 or 100%, depending on the year, of the Medicaid coverage for those who qualify for Medicaid.
SALAZAR: You do not need to expand Medicaid if enough people are covered under Obamacare. That’s the answer. But then why would they be covered under Obamacare? Because enough people will have left Obamacare to the private companies on offering something cheaper and better.
DEFEDE: Was it a mistake for the state of Florida not to expand Medicaid?
SHALALA: Absolutely. Medicaid is part of Obamacare. The expansion of Medicaid is part of Obamacare. We’re talking about Obamacare. Eighty-thousand people in our district would be getting good health insurance today if the Republican legislature and the Republican governor had expanded Obamacare, the Medicaid part of Obamacare.
DEFEDE: OK, so let’s turn to the issue of the coronavirus and the pandemic. You know, Maria, I want to start with you. The president said recently that, you know, not only would he give himself an A, but when he was asked the question as to what he would do differently, if he could go back in time and do something differently, his response was “not much.” Do you agree with him? And what things would you do differently in terms of handling the pandemic right now in South Florida?
SALAZAR: The coronavirus doesn’t come with a manual. I have said it before. What we have to do right now is look at the economy. But now that we’re talking about coronavirus, the congresswoman that we have on the screen profited from coronavirus. Here we have 550 transactions that she did during her time, and most of them were doing the coronavirus, and that she did not report this as she needed to. She broke the law twice. And the second time, she broke the law because she did not report a company called Tegna. She sold her stocks when she learned that Tegna was coming down because of the coronavirus. The congresswoman broke the law.
DEFEDE: You’re saying that she timed her sale of Tegna stock to the coronavirus, a media company to the coronavirus. Why would a media company’s stock go down?
SALAZAR: Absolutely. Call Tegna and she did not report it for three months while the law says that she has to report it every 45 days. But even more than that, she did not record 550. You know, so she can hear the arguments and the people can hear, because the problem is that the news media does not report on this. We do not want to corrupt congresswoman representing District 27. Here is the proof I told you, it is right here.
DEFEDE: Maria, I don’t want to get into mute buttons and the rest of it. Go ahead, Donna.
SHALALA: My stock was sold in 2019. There’s no question about that. Unfortunately, I missed the deadlines for reporting stock that was sold in 2019. I apologized for it. I paid a small fine and I put it on my website. The Tegna stock, which is a television media stock, two small stocks, were inside a mutual fund. My audit found them, I reported them and put it on my website. My sales of stocks had nothing to do with coronavirus because they were sold in 2019.
DEFEDE: Maria, let’s just stay with this for a second. You keep flashing these records. I’ve seen him as well. Were the stocks not sold in 2019? Sure, the reporting may not have occurred until later. But did the overwhelming majority, if not all of those stocks, were sold in 2019. Is that correct?
SALAZAR: They were and they were not reported for 17 months.
DEFEDE: I’m going to ask you the question. The question is: if she sold the stock in 2019, why are you accusing her of profiting from the coronavirus? See, I see this also as I think she was absolutely wrong and violated the STOCK Act, and I think that there is a penalty for that. But is there not also something to be said for making a baseless allegation? You’re saying that she profited from the coronavirus when she sold it before the coronavirus hit.
SALAZAR: I will answer. Tegna is the name of the stock. She sold that right before the crisis started. She said her broker did not report because he had gotten the coronavirus. Then she said her attorney didn’t report it because he was a rookie. Then she did not report it three months after she had to. Those are the facts.
DEFEDE: Again, the fact is she did not actually profit from the coronavirus because the stock was sold before the coronavirus. Correct?
SALAZAR: She profited because the company called Tegna could not make a sale because of the coronavirus was hitting. She learned about it and then she dropped her stocks, so she did profit. Those are the facts and the name is Tegna.
DEFEDE: Go ahead, Donna.
SHALALA: The selling of Tegna stock had nothing to do with my lawyer, it had nothing to deal with by stockbroker. It wasn’t in my stock account. It was in a small retirement account when I retired from Gannett. Gannett became Tegna. And there were two little Tegna stocks that the mutual funds sold, I didn’t sell. But my audit found it. I took full responsibility. I didn’t blame my lawyer, I didn’t blame my stockbroker. It’s my responsibility.
DEFEDE: I’m going to end this portion here. My question was about the coronavirus, which has claimed thousands of lives in Miami-Dade County. And so I’m coming back to you, Maria, for the question I actually asked, which was, you know, the President Trump says that he would not have done much different looking back on it. I’m asking you, what would you do as a member of Congress to help folks who are in need here in South Florida during this time when businesses are shutting down and people are losing their lives?
SALAZAR: Well, what would I do as a congresswoman? I would help them. Since I am not a doctor, I can only help those who after getting medical help now need economic health. And that is why I’m concentrating on jobs. And which is something that she hasn’t done. What do I want to do? I have said it to you before. I am planning to do an employment division within my congressional office. Why? Because there are thousands of people in 27 that have lost their jobs, they have lost their hours, they want to do how to do something better, or learn how to do something better, because their industry closed down or their shop closed down. And that’s why, and I have it here, there are $550 billion available to people in my district. Here’s my plan, give people jobs and help the small business.
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DEFEDE: Donna, go ahead. What needs to be done for folks, and why hasn’t Congress been able to get the newest round of relief passed?
SHALALA: We haven’t been able to get the newest round of relief passed, because the senate majority leader said to the president: ‘Do not give us a bill because we will not put it on the floor and vote on it.’ That’s exactly what Mitch McConnell said to the president of the United States. We’re very close in that negotiation. We’ve already done three big bills. First, you must starve the virus, so that the economy can come back. The economy cannot come back if we have community spread. Our investments have been in both. First, we gave money to our hospitals, we guarantee that people could get free testing. Then we put money into unemployment. We put money into small businesses. We help some larger businesses at the same time if they would keep their employees. But first you have to do the health care part. And this president turned a crisis into a tragedy. We have 4% of the world’s population, and we have 25% of the coronavirus cases. That is a human tragedy that the president of the United States, enabled by our own governor, has caused this country.
DEFEDE: Maria, do you believe President Trump has done a good job of tackling the virus?
SALAZAR: Listen, let me just answer what she just said. There was $1.8 trillion on the table. And Nancy Pelosi said on CNN, in that very famous interview, that she did not want that $1,200 that it was going to get to the American worker, that they need help now, because she did not want, Nancy said it on CNN, she did not want the check to have to bear the name of Donald Trump. They are playing politics.
DEFEDE: Has Donald Trump done a good job with the virus in your opinion?
SALAZAR: Listen, the virus doesn’t come with a manual. I’m sure that there are many things that could have been done differently. Look at Europe, they locked down. Look at Italy, it’s spiking back up. I’m not saying that some things could have been done differently, but now we have a vaccine around the corner, we have more testing, we have more ventilators and the hospitals are available. Now let’s talk about the jobs.
DEFEDE: I want to turn to several other subjects that we haven’t had a chance to talk about. And I want to try to keep these moving as quickly as possible. So, Donna, I want to start with you. You’re 79 years old, you will turn 80 in February. How long do you envision running for Congress? How many more terms do you think you’ll have? And at what point do you think that it’s time to say, ‘No more?’
SHALALA: I think I’ll know then. But as long as I can continue to be effective for the people in our community, I will serve. And the people will decide whether I still have the skills and the energy to continue. My opponent is in favor of term limits. I’m not in favor of taking power away from the people. I want people to decide that question. So, I will continue to serve as long as I can be effective in Washington and serve the people in our career.
DEFEDE: Maria, I want to ask you a question.
SALAZAR: I love that answer. She doesn’t want people to take power away from her so she can continue enriching herself in the position.
DEFEDE: Let me ask the question. If you were elected, you will be a freshman member of Congress in the minority party, because there is no scenario in which anyone believes that the Republicans will take over the house. Is it not better to have a member of Congress who has the ear of Nancy Pelosi, then in your case, a freshman who would not have access to the senior Democratic leadership?
SALAZAR: Listen, I can work from my district, like Ms. Shalala has not. You could be very effective as a member of Congress. You can bring those federal dollars that are there. You just need to fight for them. You can be present like Shalala has not been. Come on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday and serve your community and be in Washington Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I will have great possibility of doing a lot of stuff because I care. Because I’m going to be here. Because I’m going to be opening that office Monday through Sunday.
DEFEDE: How influential will you be in passing legislation and getting things done through Congress as a member of the minority party in the House?
SALAZAR: Listen, I am going to be a lot more than she has because she has been in the majority and she has not originated any bills, because she has been training. She hasn’t been present.
DEFEDE: Donna, go ahead and respond.
SHALALA: I certainly have introduced bills, including that drug bill to lower the price of drugs by having the secretary of HHS negotiate directly with the companies. I passed bipartisan bills on Venezuela, including TPS for Venezuelans, which the president has refused to do. I passed a bill that the president signed. Mario Diaz Balart, a bipartisan bill to stop the evil Maduro regime from buying military equipment. And I have a series of bills that I pass. But let me answer the question about not being in the district. I’ve had 48 town meetings, more than any other congressional person. I come back every weekend. And just ask your Republican friends who’s on the plane with me. I’ve had 1,200 individual meetings with constituents. I’m all over the district all the time, and our voters go to make that decision.
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DEFEDE: Let me move on, because I want to move on to some other subjects. I want to turn to guns. Let me start with you, Donna. Would you support an assault weapons ban and closing some of the gun show loopholes?
SHALALA: First of all, we did pass a bill to close the gun show loopholes. We also passed a series of bills for gun safety. I absolutely would support a bill to end the assault weapons, an assault weapons ban. And I was part of the team that banned it in the 1990s when I worked in the Clinton administration.
SALAZAR: Listen, I just want to share with you a little anecdote. If Shalala, Donna, were so interested in really dealing with a gun problem, she would have paid attention to a lady by the name of Sheila Nunez, who has been calling me, somebody that I do not know, whose daughter was killed on I-95 by a stray bullet. And the lady has called her office repeatedly asking for Donna to help her find who killed her daughter and they have said repeatedly that she is ‘too busy.’
DEFEDE: Wait, are you saying that if you were elected to Congress, that you would find the killer of this incident?
SALAZAR: Listen, at least, first of all, I would sit with a mother who lost her daughter. I am not lying because you, and you are a very reputable journalist, should go and talk to this lady by the name of Sheila Nunez, whom I do not know. I will definitely do everything possible in order to find who killed your daughter, yes.
DEFEDE: Let me just ask this, and then I’m going to come to Donna respond. Would you support an assault weapons ban and closing the gun show loophole? Yes or no.
SALAZAR: I do not want to give a political talking point. I’m going to sit with both sides. I respect the Constitution. I do think that we should follow and implement most of the laws that are on the books that are not being followed.
DEFEDE: OK, let me bring in Donna because you made an accusation against her with regard to this with this.
SHALALA: I am shocked that you would not support sensible gun safety laws.
SALAZAR: I’m talking about Sheila Nunez.
SHALALA: She did call my office and my staff had extensive conversations with her.
SALAZAR: Not true.
SHALALA: Because we have records when someone calls, so you’re lying.
SALAZAR: I’m not. Then the mother is lying, because we saw the emails. It’s despicable that you do not have time to meet with somebody who lost her daughter by a stray bullet.
DEFEDE: Let’s move on. We’ll start with Maria on this one. Is there a systemic problem of racism in this country and in our law enforcement?
SALAZAR: I have suffered to discrimination, because I covered the war and I was a female. I was the first anchorwoman for an American network. So, I know exactly what discrimination looks like. And I believe that our brothers and sisters in our community deserve the same rights. But I don’t think that we should loot or destroy stores.
DEFEDE: Well, I didn’t ask about looting or destroying. So is that a yes? You believe there’s systemic racism in this country?
SALAZAR: I think that there are big problems for minorities. I believe that those they do not have the same opportunities. But I still believe that this is the best land we have. And that’s why I am a capitalist and not a socialist like Shalala.
DEFEDE: Maria, I got to bring in Donna. Go ahead, Donna. So, is there systemic racism in this country? And address the issue about whether or not you’re a socialist.
SHALALA: The answer is yes, of course there is. There’s extensive racism, sexism in our society, and we need to deal with it up front. I agree with Maria, that we should not tolerate looting of any kind. And I also insist that we should not defund the police. We need to fund mental health and health care, and education and housing, so that everybody has the same opportunities in this country. And I’m a capitalist, I don’t know how many times I have to repeat that.
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DEFEDE: I just want to bring it up, because there’s someone running for Congress in Florida, Laura Loomer, who’s running as a QAnon candidate, essentially. Donna, do you believe there’s any legitimacy to the theories that QAnon promotes?
SHALALA: Absolutely not.
DEFEDE: Maria, do you believe this any?
SALAZAR: I didn’t hear your question.
DEFEDE: Sorry, my question was, do you believe there’s any legitimacy to the theories espoused by QAnon?
SALAZAR: I don’t know what that means. I just know that what the threat we have in this country is socialism. And I believe, and I think, that if you are a journalist with integrity, you would ask Shalala, why she is a socialist and why one day she is one thing and the next day she’s another. You do not play with a word socialism. She said to Jackie Nespral in channel 6 that she was a pragmatic socialist. But then she tweeted after saying oh, no, that she had misspoken that she was not that that she was a pragmatic capitalist. You know, with socialism and capitalism, you simply do not play. She is whatever she needs to be at the time and that is why we don’t have respect for her or trust.
SHALALA: You know, this is the desperate language of a person that’s losing an election. I am not, I am a capitalist, through and through. I have created more jobs in this community than anyone running for office. I am clearly a capitalist. But I believe in Social Security, I believe in Medicare, I believe in Medicaid and I certainly believe in the Affordable Care Act. And I believe we should ban assault weapons.
SALAZAR: Actions, not words. She did not vote in February of 2020 against a resolution that was presented by Mario Diaz Balart to denounce socialism.
SHALALA: I have to answer this, Jim. Let me respond. I am the co-sponsor of that resolution. You cannot accuse me of that. My name is on that resolution. We haven’t voted on that resolution yet.
SALAZAR: Yes, you have.
SHALALA: It was a procedural vote. You don’t understand Congress.
SALAZAR: Everybody voted except you and Debbie [Mucarsel-Powell].
SHALALA: I am the co-sponsor. Debbie is a co-sponsor of that resoluation.
SALAZAR: You didn’t vote.
SHALALA: It was on a procedural, not on the resolution. We haven’t voted on the resolution yet. How dare you?
DEFEDE: So let’s so let’s stay with this foThe race in the 27th Congressional District is a rematch between Democratic Congresswoman Donna Shalala and Republican Maria Elvira Salazar.r a second, Maria. So you so this issue of socialism. So, you know, you said it’s a very serious issue, and I agree with you. But is it not also serious to sort of… How would you address the critics who would say that what you’re doing is, you’re exploiting the pain of those who experienced authoritarianism and repression in Latin America, who come here who see that word and are triggered by it? And yet at the same time, you’re exploiting it, to try to make political points, when Shalala at previous events has said, ‘I’m a pragmatic capitalist.’
SALAZAR: Listen Jim, it’s not what you say, it’s what you do. I am not exploiting anything; I’m just going by her actions. And there are three examples that I can give you. Number one, she has never denounced AOC and democratic socialism. Never. She has never denounced when, like she said, that it was a resolution, but she did not vote. She walked away, and then she came back in February of 2020. The resolution was presented by Mario Diaz Balart. Why? Because didn’t know at the time if Bernie Sanders was going to be the nominee, so she was hedging her bets. And number three, she votes with Bernie Sanders 90% of the time. If she denounces Bernie Sanders and AOC, or she would have done it, then we would believe that she is not. She is whatever she needs to be.
DEFEDE: Donna, go ahead.
SHALALA: Maria, Bernie Sanders is a senator. I don’t vote with him. I vote with the members of the House of Representatives. I did not walk away from a vote on a resolution that I am one of the lead co-sponsors of. So let’s get this straight. But let’s, let’s talk about the pain of our community. While I was standing on the border of Colombia, talking to people who were crossing the border from Venezuela – poor, sick, terrified people – you were interviewing Maduro and giving him good publicity. I was standing there with the people of Venezuela. I have fought for the people of Venezuela. I helped to pass… I was the lead sponsor to pass TPS for Venezuelans. I have denounced Bernie Sanders long before that resolution ever came in. But to lie about my position on that resolution is unacceptable. Get your facts straight, and I hope you know the difference between the House of Representatives and the Senate.
SALAZAR: Actions speak louder than words. You did not vote and it was presented by Mario Diaz Balart. Everybody in Congress voted except you and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, period. That’s the empirical evidence. Now you can have political posture all you want because it’s convenient. You are the problem; we are the solution. Politicians like you, people that just want to amass power and money and stay and not serve their constituents.
DEFEDE: The last 30 seconds and then we’re done.
SHALALA: No, I’m not going to bother. That’s, that’s just pure politics of a desperate politician.
SALAZAR: I am a public servant. I’ve never been a politician.
SHALALA: You’ve never been a public servant.
DEFEDE: I want to thank you both for this time. All right. Thank you very much.