Q&A: Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro

Photo by Tessa Marie Images

Josh Shapiro has taken on pedophile priests, President Trump and, now, COVID-19. What’s next for the state’s attorney general? We find out.

Since he took office in January 2017, Josh Shapiro has proven that he doesn’t shy away from legal battles—or the media spotlight. He orchestrated the publication of the Pennsylvania Diocese Victims Report on pedophile priests. It made headlines and sparked reform around the world. Pennsylvania’s attorney general has come a long way from his roots in Montgomery County and the 153rd district he represented for four terms in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Up for reelection in November, the 47-year-old Democrat is rumored to have aspirations for higher public office. For now, Shapiro and his wife, Lori—who were students together at Bryn Mawr’s Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy—live in Abington with their four young children.

MLT: Consumer protection has been a priority for your office. Did fraud get worse during the COVID-19 crisis?

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Shapiro: Since I took office, we’ve recovered $67 million for Pennsylvania consumers and resolved close to 70,000 consumer complaints. By August, we’ll have more than 5,000 complaints relating to COVID-19 fraud. It’s everything from personal protective equipment to cleaning supplies and paper products. From March through May, we issued 456 cease-and-desist orders.

You also got consumer protection for people suffering economic hardship related to the pandemic.

I’m proud of our involvement in creating the PA CARE Package. Among other things, almost 20 banks gave customers 90-day grace periods on car loans and mortgages without late fees. We did that by collaborating with banks—most notably PNC, Pennsylvania’s largest bank. I called the CEO and asked him to join me in this effort. I knew his involvement would spur other banks to act. And it did.

How did these protections evolve?

The day the governor issued the shutdown, we put forth our price-gouging hotline because we knew it would be an issue. Some issues evolved as the crisis unfolded, like protecting gig workers who didn’t have adequate PPE. I can’t mandate that CEOs provide PPE. But I called the CEO of DoorDash, and our staffs established new guidelines that got enacted through the whole country.

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You fought President Trump’s travel ban, and you went to the Supreme Court contesting his decision to allow employers to deny healthcare coverage for contraception. Why did you wage those battles?

I look at the law and whether it’s being violated. I look at what Pennsylvanians need or is rightfully theirs. Every day, folks get screwed in this society. It’s my job to fight like hell for the people who can’t fight for themselves.

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Are you fighting a political war against President Trump?

If I went to court every time I disagreed with the president, I’d be there a lot more often. It’s not about politics—it’s about a president who violates the rule of law and the rights of Pennsylvanians.

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Has Trump targeted you on Twitter or elsewhere?

No. I’ve met President Trump several times in small meetings with other attorneys general. But I’m not sure if he knows who I am.

What went into your decision to pursue the Pennsylvania Diocese Victims Report about pedophile priests and the Catholic Church’s involvement in concealing their crimes?

I was so deeply wrapped up in the stories of the victims. I was focused entirely on wanting the truth to finally be known so the survivors would have their stories told.

Was there any backlash against you?

Yes. But we’re proud that it has led to a reckoning within the church. The Pope himself pledged reform. More than 20 attorneys general launched investigations, and predator priests are being locked up and put behind bars.

Was some of the backlash because you’re Jewish?

Yes. But I don’t want to get into threats and security issues. I’m a person of deep faith. The idea that someone could weaponize their faith and use it as a tool to abuse boys and girls is horrific. I was offended as a person of faith and the chief law officer of Pennsylvania. I thank the brave souls who shared their truths.

What are your goals for your next term?

I’ll continue to be the people’s attorney general, take on big fights, and put people before powerful institutions. COVID-19 laid bare how uncertain things are for people every day. People need an attorney general who will fight for them every day.

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