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Press Conference with House Republicans - the Census

Press Conference with House Republicans - the Census


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REP. BOEHNER: Yesterday our leadership, along with a group of members from the House Administration Committee and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to the president urging him to reconsider his plan to hand over control of the 2010 census to political operatives in the White House.

This unprecedented move by the president, I think, would undermine the goal of having a fair and accurate census count. My goodness, this is the census. What we're trying to do here is to count the number of Americans that we have.

And I think it would also open the door to massive amounts of possible waste and fraud in terms of the $300 billion that's distributed around our country based on the census data that we've picked up every 10 years. And I think the American people think that the census ought to be fair, impartial, and certainly free of politics.

And I think they expect us to make sure that the money that we're distributing to the states is done fairly and does not involve a lot of waste and fraud in terms of how this money is spent.

And I think if this process continues to be controlled by the White House, we're opening the door to politicize the census and to shift billions of dollars -- tens of billions of dollars around to states based on inaccurate data. I believe that really would lead to a giant waste of taxpayer funds.

Who was next?

REP. : Darrell.

REP. ISSA: Thank you, Leader.

I joined in that letter yesterday, because I was shocked when I learned that Rahm Emanuel was going to, in fact, direct what is otherwise an independent agency underneath a confirmed independent or semi-independent agency.

As most of you know, Article I of the Constitution are the powers of Congress. Included in that is the requirement to conduct a census. Therefore, by definition, we want to make it clear we give to the executive branch and the Commerce Department the requirement to administer this constitutional duty belonging to the Congress. By no means is there any basis -- any legal or constitutional basis for the president to direct the census. We've had previous census directors make it very clear that although they briefed presidents back to Reagan they never, in fact, reported to the president nor thought they did.

Briefly, for the past four censuses, we've had an independent, confirmed director who has been administratively underneath the Department of Commerce. Commerce has shown that it can do its job of overseeing and providing the support to that effort. As you know, it's an incredibly important one, but it's also an expensive one. It's one in which we hire huge amounts of people to enumerate, not estimate, how many people are in America in 2010. So I would hope that as you look at this, you realize how unprecedented this is and how important it is.

As the leader said, we, in fact, were shocked to find out that government money was going to be spent at the direction of the president for something which, by definition, must be fair, accurate and above politics.

So I hope that all of you will recognize that.

I also would ask you to take note, after we clear out, of Rahm Emanuel's own quote, because I think it casts real doubt on how in the world, of all the people, an unconfirmed appointee of the president could have in fact been selected to be the direct report (sic) after this statement, which was widely published.

With that, we'll be -- we'll -- others will speak, and then we'll take your questions.

REP. LUNGREN: I'm Dan Lungren. I'm the ranking Republican on House Administration, also serve on Judiciary, two of the committees that have responsibility for this subject area.

When the American people cast their vote last November, this was not the change they were waiting for. There has been no suggestion whatsoever and the census was going to be politicized, and that was the basis of Barack Obama's election or selection.

You look at this quote. It is obvious that Rahm Emanuel understands the potential for corrupting the process. And it is unfortunate that he has now been put in charge, essentially, of the census, particularly when he articulated his position so well. Someone said, "Is Rahm Emanuel a political animal?" I said that was a redundant question.

This is serious business. I represent Republicans and Democrats, independents, people who are not registered, men, women and children. They have every right to be considered as honestly and as fairly as anybody who lives in any other district. This doesn't go to the question, essentially, of Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives or the United States Senate. It goes to the honest integrity, the delivery of governmental programs to people fairly, and it goes to the essence of democracy. Will they have fair representation? This is not something to be trifled with.

The Constitution ought to mean something to all of us, Democrat, Republican, independent alike. This is an extraordinarily poor decision. We would call upon the president to reconsider and in this spirit of bipartisanship recognize that if you made a mistake, own up to that mistake and return us to constitutional law.

REP. : Lamar.

REP. SMITH: Bill, thank you.

I'm Lamar Smith. I'm the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.

Let me say at the outset that I have a special interest in the situation involving the census, and that's simply because I consider the Judiciary Committee to be the guardian of the Constitution.

I said recently for the first time -- I don't know -- very personal -- but I have an autograph on my wall in my personal office.

It's an autograph of James Madison, considered to be the father of the Constitution. And every day, numerous times, I see that autograph. And I'm reminded of our responsibility to be the guardian of the Constitution.

In this case, the Constitution specifically mentions the census. The jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committee involves the Voting Rights Act and therefore apportionment. And we take that very, very seriously. It may have already been mentioned today, but what the administration has proposed is absolutely unprecedented. The director of the census always answers to the secretary of Commerce.

It does not or he or she does not answer to the White House. And to split up that responsibility and to have the director of the census now have liaison to the White House is an unprecedented politicization of what should be a very non-partisan process. We checked with the Congressional Research Service. And there is no precedent for this, despite what the administration might say.

The danger here of course is that the temptation is great in the White House. Last time I looked, nothing wrong with it, but they were politicians there. The census is supposed to be non-partisan. And therefore we ought to keep politicians out of the equation.

Now, also disturbing is the fact that this change obviously came about because of the pressure of special interest. And it is not a good sign, when you see an administration being buffeted and changing course just because of the threats of special interest.

Lastly from the perspective of the Judiciary Committee, in the last two years, the committee, the full committee and all the subcommittees have held 70 hearing, 70 hearings, on the alleged politicization of the Department of Justice by the Bush administration. And this is just because a handful of attorneys -- I think it really comes down to two or three attorneys -- were fired.

But what the Obama administration is proposing and implementing is far worse, because we're not just talking about the alleged politicization of the Department of Justice, because of two or three attorneys. We're talking about a real threat to democracy. And that's what's as disturbing as anything else.

It's a threat to democracy, because we're talking about how many congressional districts in a state. We're talking about the configuration of those congressional districts. And we're also talking about the allocation of federal funds. All that goes to the essence of democracy. And that's why this is so serious.

Lastly I would just say that what I'm also bothered by is what I see as an emerging pattern, an assault on democracy. We have the politicization of the census department.

We have, in regard to card check, an effort to eliminate secret ballot. Clearly that is the essence of democracy. And we also have a number of friends, on the other side of the aisle, who are talking about the Fairness Doctrine. And that's clearly an assault on the First Amendment.

So this pattern, this assault on democracy, is worrisome to a lot of us, particularly those of us who feel that we ought to be guardians of the Constitution.

(Cross talk.)

REP. MCHENRY: Patrick McHenry, North Carolina. I'm the ranking member on the Census Subcommittee.

You may be asking yourself, what's the point here? Why is the president doing this? What's the president's motivation? Well, in the end, this is about the battle between counting and adjusting.

Adjusting is statistical abstraction or extrapolation that gives a select few the ability to go in after the count is done in the census and adjust the numbers and adjust the numbers in ways they see and deem fit. This is a battle that happened in the 2000 census. It was rejected under federal law. And the Supreme Court ruled on it and ruled it unconstitutional under that federal law.

So the issue here is about the political manipulation of the end results of the census. Those that want a fair and accurate census want to simply count all Americans, as the Constitution mandates and federal law mandates. Those that want to use it for political gamesmanship, they want to adjust the census or use statistical sampling to change the end results of the census. This is the battle here.

And so in the end, what we're asking for is a fair and honest account -- honest count of all Americans. And in the end, that's what federal law mandates. That's what the Supreme Court has ruled upon. But that is not the motivation of this move. The motivation of this move is to take hold of this policy and use adjustment to fit their political games.

And what we're standing here asking for is to let the census be apolitical. I want to work across party lines with the chairman of the subcommittee, William Lacy Clay, to ensure that we have a fully funded fair and accurate census. And that requires all Americans to know that they need to respond when the census bureau asks for information. It also means that we have to spend the appropriate funds and have the appropriate outreach to ensure all Americans are counted. We don't need to simply use statistics to guess where Americans are. We need to do an honest, full count like we've done for the last 200 years.

And once we have a fair and accurate count, then the battle can rage about what to do with these results. But we must have a fair and accurate count. And I think we can work together to ensure the funding's there and the policies are there to ensure that all Americans are counted. And that's why we're here.

REP. PENCE: Mike Pence, from Indiana. I'm the House Republican Conference chairman.

I want to commend the ranking member of the Government Reform Committee, Darrell Issa, for his extraordinary leadership on behalf of the right of every American to a fair and accurate count in the decennial census.

I also want to commend the ranking member of the subcommittee, who just spoke, Congressman Patrick McHenry, for his bold and aggressive leadership on behalf of the American people.

House Republican leadership and all members of this conference are united in this cause, but we are not here on behalf of Republicans. We are here on behalf of the American people that under the Constitution of the United States of America is entitled to an apolitical count every ten years.

Commanding the census director to report directly to the White House is a naked political power grab, and transparently partisan. The need for an independent Census Bureau is recognized by Republicans and Democrats alike around this country.

A quote from a former Census Bureau director, Bruce Chapman, says it all. Quote, "The Obama administration is threatening a reckless politicization of the Census Bureau, and that in turn threatens to pull into unnecessary dispute the fundamental data that sustain almost the entire statistical system of the United States. It is the image of Chicago-style, partisan power play," close-quote. So said former Census Bureau Director Bruce Chapman.

The 2010 census is a huge undertaking. It's the largest peace- time mobilization the country has ever seen, and its results will not simply determine congressional district allocation and lines. The 2010 census determines how federal money gets spent. And with the trillions of dollars that are being obligated by this new administration, now more than ever the American people are entitled to a fair and honest and accurate census.

One last thought. If President Obama doesn't trust Senator Judd Gregg to oversee a fair and accurate census, he should withdraw the nomination.

REP. WESTMORELAND: I'm Lynn Westmoreland, from Georgia's Third Congressional District. I've been asked by Leader Boehner and Ranking Member Issa to head up a task force that will include Congressman Smith from Judiciary, along with Congressman Sensenbrenner, Congressman McHenry from Government Reform, Congressman Lungren and Congressman Harper from House Administration.

And what it -- they've asked us to do is to make sure that this is not a political accounting, that it's an accurate accounting that the American people deserve.

And so what we want to do is to make sure that we all come together, that it's a coordinated effort, that Judiciary looks at the -- that the Constitution is carried out; House Administration looks to make sure that this is normal procedures that this House has a history of doing, that it's a regular-order-type business. And of course, from the Government Reform, we want to make sure that the Census is absolutely accurate.

When the leader heard, I guess, that Rahm Emanuel and the White House had asked that this be run out of the White House, I think that's when he felt it necessary to form a task force of these three committees to work together to make sure that the American people got an accurate accounting that they deserve and that the Constitution calls for.

We don't want the Census to be run out of the White House by the D-triple-C -- the Democratic Congressional Census Committee. And so therefore, this task force was put together to make sure that we hold them accountable for how this Census is conducted for the American people.

Thank you.

REP. MCCOTTER: First, thanks for coming. I know there's a lot going on. And I think that also helps to explain why this is being done now.

You have to ask yourself, with the effort to have a new bipartisanship to solve important issues before the American people, such as how to get our economy rejuvenated -- that this would become an issue. The fact of the matter is because so many people are paying attention to the economy and the struggles of working people, that very little attention would be paid to an effort to take the Census Bureau and put it under the control of the White House. That's why I thank you for coming, for helping to bring attention to this.

We had an instance in my district where we had a community that was earlier told by the Census Bureau that they did not need to see their new maps from the last Census to help make their determination.

I want you to compare that with sampling. The political decisions that are necessarily inherent in many ways within the Census process need someone to determine them. It was hoped that the apolitical director of the Census would do it in conjunction with Commerce and be free from political interference.

If you had an instance where people who were actual citizens of the United States living in homes were not counted, and yet a sampling took an estimate of persons in the United States whether they actually be there or not, you would be in violation of the Constitution to have an accurate assessment and numeration of the people in the United States.

We are all sworn to uphold the Constitution, which is why we are here today. We are not putting forward a Republican position; we are not putting forward an ideological position; we are putting forward the constitutional proposition that the best way to uphold the Constitution itself is to obey it. And that is all we are asking for from this administration.

REP. HARPER: I'm Gregg Harper. When we came here, and I came in just a few weeks ago, we were promised this spirit of bipartisanship, and apparently it doesn't exist in many areas and it's just a pipe dream. If I were standing here today and there was a Republican president, and a Republican president tried to make this move, I would be opposing that.

And I hope that all of our citizens in America will look at this and think, well, how would you feel if this was Karl Rove and the Bush White House that was handling this census? It's the same thing. And in fairness, I would oppose that, and I oppose this. It's a bad move. And I hope we'll get back to constitutional government.

REP. ISSA: We'll be happy to take your questions. Yes, sir? Oh, I'm sorry. Hey, wait a second. I didn't -- we're almost ready to take your questions.

REP. : Come on -- (off mike).

REP. : You got to say something now. (Laughter.)

REP. ISSA: He's shy, so --

REP. : (Off mike) -- the census. (Laughter.)

REP. : Exactly. Got to be counted.

REP. : Everyone must be counted.

REP. TURNER: Thanks. Thanks. Well, I was the former chair of the Subcommittee on the Census and then former ranking member. And the one issue that I noted that hasn't been mentioned yet is that the census also affects the Electoral College, so that it goes right to the issue of the White House taking control of Electoral College allocation under which they will be seeking reelection also. So it's another issue that people need to be concerned about in looking for fairness on this.

Thank you.

REP. ISSA: Congressman Turner will take your question now. (Laughter.)

Q Okay. Well, for Congressman Turner and everyone else, do you guys feel this is an attempt to keep the Republican Party in permanent minority, to kind of prevent change from happening in the future?

REP. ISSA: You know, a lot of people said that Karl Rove and President Bush ran sort of an imperial presidency.

I think you have to ask whether or not this is the first sign of an imperial presidency, a presidency in which they want to run things from the Office of the President.

They've gone from about 80 people to 180 people, previous administration to this administration, in the West Wing. So I think a lot of the questions have to be, why is this micro-managing, Carteresque micro-managing necessary?

When you look at Rahm Emanuel's quote, you certainly would believe that Rahm has a political reason to do this. And this is the political payback for something he promised.

But I think you also have to just sort of ask, why in the world is the simple but accurate counting of everyone in America, in 2010, something that needs the personal attention of the president, rather than the proper funding and independence, which is all that Congress historically has done?

REP. LUNGREN: Can I answer your question? Yes. (Laughter.)

REP. ISSA: I forgot to say that.

REP. MCCOTTER: This is a historic moment: Lungren held to one word. (Laughter.)

I remember there was a time when Republicans talked about a permanent majority. I would cringe. I would cringe, because when people use the phrase permanent majority, they are overlooking the fact that we are serving for the sovereign American people who can and do change their mind, as evidenced by our newfound discussion of the Republican permanent minority.

We also saw the stories about how redistricting had to be changed, because Republicans are drawing districts that no Democrat could ever win, and that the Democrats would never get a majority in this decade because of it.

Again we have seen that disproven. But that will not stop people from endeavoring to try to repeat the mistakes of others. So I trust they will find themselves as equally disappointed in the results to come.

REP. ISSA: Yes, sir.

Q If the census is an -- is enumerated in Article I, and the administration taking this over, is this unconstitutional? None of you have mentioned possible legal action to prevent this.

REP. ISSA: Well, I said yesterday and even before that that if the president doesn't acquiesce to our letter, and we suspect Speaker Pelosi will not insist on that, then we would seek the court, because ultimately I don't think there's any question among the federal court, about whether or not this is a personal power of the presidency, or in fact whether or not executive privilege would be waived if he starts doing functions like this.

Understand that Karl Rove has been asked for by Henry Waxman for the previous two years to tell about everything that went on in the White House, and of course they claimed executive privilege. Rahm Emanuel now would be saying: Well, yeah, I was handling the census, but you can't ask about it, because of executive privilege.

That's the whole question here, is, we have great oversight and a number of people who have to come and answer House and Senate people's questions related to the census -- and did, by the way, in the last Congress. We lose that if it goes directly to the White House.

Q This may tie in directly with what Mr. McCotter was saying here, but I mean, we're talking about the census here today, that there have been efforts by both parties historically -- and I know what Mr. McHenry said and what Mr. Harper said -- but as you know, there were efforts by Tom DeLay -- and he was your party's leader -- in Texas to craft a very specific plan --


Q -- to inoculate against some Democratic challenges in Texas. And that was widely reported on, and widely criticized here. This might be a different method, but again the theme seems to be the same.

REP. MCHENRY: Well, the term "gerrymander" was established 200 years ago. What we're talking about today is the -- politicizing the census, which has been apolitical for 200 years. What we want as Americans, whether it's the allocation of districts for state house, state senate, city council, county commission, or the allocation of federal dollars to those same groups, it's based off of the census, and a -- an accurate and fair and complete count. That's what's at stake today.

You're going to step three of the whole process, which is certainly political. It is certainly political. We know where Rahm Emanuel stands on that issue. The issue we have today is ensuring that the count -- that all can agree as Americans that the count is correct, fair and unbiased.

When you go to step three, it will certainly become political, but we should not politicize the bureaucracy in the Bureau of the Census.

Q But if I can follow up, your state in the last census was given an additional congressional seat, and folks from Utah cried bloody murder, saying they were the ones who they thought they got the seat there, and no one argued about that being a politicized census. There's always a dispute about what's being counted and who's being counted and --


REP. : (Off mike) -- in Utah.

REP. MCHENRY: Well, that's certainly --

REP. : We'll work with Utah. (Laughter.)

Q With the D.C. seat?

REP. MCHENRY: The point here is ensuring that it's a true and accurate count.

What they're saying at the very beginning of this process -- a 10- year-long process -- is that in year eight and nine they're going to turn it into a political -- a political affairs of the White House shop so that when they go in they can work harder in certain communities; they can use sampling and extrapolation and adjustment to change the end results of a fair and accurate census.

In the end, when you put it in the hands of political people, you're going to have manipulation of the data which will change the makeup of how districts are drawn and money is allocated in this country.

They're saying at the beginning of this process they're going to politicize it and run it out of the White House. That's what we completely object to. Let the politics stand for another day, but let's have a fair and accurate census.

REP. PENCE: Can I just analogize that to a court case? In a court case, you have facts and then you have the law. And in some cases, you stipulate to the facts. The Constitution stipulates that the facts will be determined in a nonpolitical environment. That's what the Constitution says. That's not just what we're saying.

And what the suggestion here is is that somehow you can interfere with the mandate of the Constitution, which says the facts will be stipulated to by a -- by a simple count done by a census bureau that is -- the Congress determines that under its authority. That's what we're talking about. So you are distorting what has been from the beginning of this republic the process. Facts are accepted when determined by the Census. The suggestion here -- the very implicit suggestion by Mr. Emanuel's quote is that he now is going to see oversee something that he sees as political, not as a determination of fact.

REP. ISSA: Perhaps a Texan could answer the question you ask best. (Laughter.)

REP. SMITH: I thought we were on our way beyond that.

There is a big difference between the census and redistricting, and they shouldn't be confused. Yes, redistricting occurs on the state level. And whatever party is in power gets to draw the lines. That's been part of the historical process ever since -- (inaudible) -- gerrymander of New York came up with that mythical figure -- with a district that looked like a mythical figure.

The census is supposed to be nonpartisan. It has traditionally been nonpartisan. Frankly, tampering with the census is a violation of federal law and there are many of us on the Judiciary Committee who would be very quick to the courts if we saw any tampering with the census. But let's hope we don't get there.

Let's hope the president changes his mind and doesn't take an unprecedented step to politicize something that should not be politicized. And as I say, I see it as nothing less than an attack on democracy.

Yes, sir?

Q Mr. Issa, in the last session, we sat in on countless oversight hearings in the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. We've talked about this before: all the mismanagement of contracts regarding the hand-held computer, all of the problems that have resulted in, you know, basically, you know, dress rehearsals not happening on time, all these other things. These were the purview of the Commerce Department under the Bush administration for the last four years.

There's an argument here, or there's perhaps an argument, that what they're doing now is an effort to try to move this thing to maybe a management level where, you know, the president's top-level manager is trying to keep his eye on the ball and make sure that nothing goes wrong, and maybe the --

REP. ISSA: Well, first of all, the chief of staff is the hack at the gate of the White House. He's not a political -- he's not a manager of anything. Rahm Emanuel is in fact a political animal who decides who gets time with the president for political reasons. So let's -- let's be real honest that Rahm Emanuel does not have a record of running businesses or knowing how to manage things.

I agree with you. Our committee held numerous hearings on the failure of the procurement process and the setting of standards for these new hand-held devices. As a result, we will be doing a very conventional count much -- almost identical to what we did 10 years earlier. That count will be more expensive.

To the extent that our committee, or the president, wants to be more involved with funding and in ensuring that an appointment of a sound manager to make sure that there is the maximum efficiency of these thousands of people that will be hired to participate in this -- you know, every-10-year, historic event, we agree with that. We totally agree with that. But the idea that the president of the United States, or his unconfirmed operative, is going to personally direct an individual flies in the face of the whole question.

The president can name the head of the census. The president can name the secretary and deputy secretary -- and there's one more in that chain of command -- all of whom are confirmed by the Senate. So there is a lot of management, that I would commend the president to look at the record of failures of both the Clinton and Bush administration over that last decade and fix it. Absolutely. You're right.

There's nobody on the House Administration Committee that isn't very aware that we're going to conduct a Census that's no better than 10 years ago because technology was not properly applied in a timely fashion. That's actually why my committee has asked for more staff, to physically look into those kinds of things because government is beginning to fail the American people.

Q Can I ask about the lawsuit?

REP. ISSA: You can, after this lady right back here.

Q Just wanted to ask, because the White House is --

REP. ISSA: Actually, the other lady back there. (Laughter.)

Q Oh, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. (Laughter.)

The White House is now saying that they don't intend to remove the Census Bureau from the Commerce Department, and that White House officials will work closely but not directly control them. If true, is that an answer that -- is that a response that's satisfactory to you?

REP. ISSA: No. (Laughter.)

Q Yay!

REP. ISSA: No. Look, once you've -- once you've said you're going to politicize something, we have a -- we have a task force that's been formed to monitor that for the remainder of the next four years to ensure that they're as good as their word. The fact is that we would like to see the proper chain used in every aspect.

And most importantly, although this commission is under Commerce, it is independent. And it has to be considered independent. It has to be able to operate independent. I have no problem with people briefing the White House, but the White House has absolutely no right behind closed doors to direct this activity. And that's what's important to us and we want to see maintained.

Yes, ma'am?

Q Mr. Issa, you mentioned funding for the Census. Do you believe that a lot more funds are needed, and would you consider the economic stimulus package an appropriate vehicle for that funding?

REP. ISSA: Yeah, the economic stimulus package would have been an appropriate place for it. It certainly would fit within the two years. We will be hiring people.

Having said that, there's going to be so much, if you will, room left in our regular appropriation, because the economic stimulus package, as all of you know, is mostly spending that would otherwise be appropriated. So there should be plenty of room to expand in regular order to meet the need of the census, which is in the low, you know, tens of billions of dollars. It is, by definition, a relatively small amount. And it's mostly for hiring people in 2010.

Last question.

Q Yes, sir. Thank you.

On this potential lawsuit, what exactly would you be suing over? There's no executive order; there's no actual policy statement we've seen from the White House; especially her question kind of points that out.

Secondly, who would have standing? Would you sue, Congressman Issa?

Or --

REP. ISSA: You know, the ranking member of the judiciary would best answer that.

(Off-mike comments, laughter.)

REP. SMITH: I would think that almost any citizen would have standing, because they could argue that they'd been disadvantaged by the politicization of the census department, certainly individuals in states that may or may not have gotten an additional seat, certainly individuals that might have been gerrymandered out of a district, individuals who might have gotten more federal funds. I think there's a large number of individuals who would have standing to sue.

As I say, I hope we don't get there, and we should not get there, but it is a violation of federal law to tamper with the census process. So we can be monitoring that.

But the problem is there's no accountability here. There's no inspector general of the White House. There's no one to double check to see what they're doing wrong or right. And that's the real problem. There's no oversight of the White House and the politicization that goes in the White House. As Darrell Issa mentioned a while ago, they'll claim executive privilege, as all presidents have rightfully done in many, many instances. But there's no accountability. There's no transparency. There's no oversight. So it would be very easy for them to politicize the process.

And why tempt them? Why not leave it as it has always been, where you'd had the director of the Census Bureau answering only to the secretary of Commerce? The fact that they're even talking about anything else or the fact that they're trying now to take a step back and say, well, we'll just consult. All that is a red flag to those of us who want an accurate count and want to leave the politics out of the whole equation.

Q Thanks.


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