Debbie Wasserman Schultz (born September 27, 1966) is an American politician. She is the U.S. Representative for Florida's 23rd congressional district, a member of the Democratic Party and the Chair of the Democratic National Committee. She previously served in the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate. She is the first Jewish congresswoman elected from Florida. The district covers parts of Broward and Miami-Dade Counties, including the densely populated coastal cities of Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach.
Early life, education, and career
Born Deborah Wasserman in Forest Hills, Queens, New York, she is the daughter of Ann and Larry Wasserman. Her father is a CPA. She has a younger brother, Steve. From 1968 to 1978 the family lived in Lido Beach, Nassau County, New York. In 1978, her family moved to Melville, Suffolk County, New York where Wasserman graduated from high school in 1984. She received a Bachelor of Arts in 1988 and a Master of Arts with certificate in political campaigning in 1990, both in Political Science, from the University of Florida in Gainesville.
At the University of Florida, Wasserman Schultz was active in student government, serving as President of the Student Senate and the founder and president of the Rawlings Area Council Government. She was also a member of the Omicron Delta Kappa honor society, the James C. Grimm chapter of the National Residence Hall Honorary, and the union Graduate Assistants United, and she served as President of the Graduate Student Council and Vice President of the UF College Democrats. She had credited her experience in student politics with developing her "love for politics and the political process".
Florida State Legislature
In 1988, Wasserman Schultz became an aide to Peter Deutsch at the beginning of his state legislative career. In 1992, Deutsch made a successful run for United States House of Representatives for Florida's 20th District. Wasserman Schultz recalled getting a call from Deutsch at the time: "It was really amazing. He called me at home one day in the middle of the legislative session and he said, You could run in my race, your house is in my district." Wasserman Schultz won 53 percent of the vote in a six-way Democratic primary and avoided a runoff. She went on to win the general election and succeeded Deutsch in Florida's House of Representatives. At age 26, she became the youngest female legislator in the state's history.
She served in the Florida State House of Representatives for eight years, and had to leave office due to state term limits. She became an adjunct instructor of political science at Broward Community College, as well as a public policy curriculum specialist at Nova Southeastern University. With her experience in the Florida House, she ran successfully for the Florida State Senate in 2000. She supported legislation requiring gender-price parity for dry cleaning and an equal number of men and women were appointed to state boards. She supported several bills including the Florida Residential Swimming Pool Safety Act and one creating a Children's Services Council for Broward County. She received an award from the Save The Manatee Club for her commitment to manatee protection.
U.S. House of Representatives
- United States House Committee on Appropriations
- Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch
- Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
- Chief Deputy Whip
Wasserman Schultz is a member of the New Democrat Coalition. She was appointed to the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee in her first term. During the 2006 elections, she raised over seventeen million dollars in campaign contributions for her Democratic colleagues (third most after Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emanuel), she was chosen as Chief Deputy Whip and appointed to the Appropriations Committee, a plum assignment for a sophomore congresswoman.
She currently chairs the Committee's Legislative Branch subcommittee, which Pelosi returned to the Committee after it was dissolved by Republican leadership in 2005. Shortly after acquiring her spot on the Appropriations Committee, Wasserman Schultz received the waiver necessary to sit on an additional committee (Appropriations is typically an exclusive committee), and she is currently a member of the Judiciary Committee. Aside from her committee and leadership roles, she is a member of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's "30 Something" Working Group, which consists of congressional Democrats under age 40. The group concentrates on issues affecting young people, including Social Security. She also has joined the bipartisan Congressional Cuba Democracy Caucus. According to the Congress.org 2008 Power Rankings, she was the 24th most powerful member of the House and 22nd most powerful Democratic representative (also most powerful Florida representative).
Wasserman Schultz is pro-choice, pro-firearm restriction legislation, and a supporter of the LGBT community. She initiated the 2007 Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. In 2011, Wasserman Schultz was one of the 23 co-sponsors of H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).
Terri Schiavo case
During the Terri Schiavo case, she was one of the strongest opponents of congressional intervention. She publicly accused President George W. Bush of hypocrisy for signing a 1999 bill as governor of Texas that allows health care workers to remove life support for terminally ill patients if the patient or family is unable to pay the medical bills. During the debate Wasserman Schultz pointed out that a Texas law signed into law by then Gov. George W. Bush allowed caregivers to withhold treatment "at the point that futility has been reached and there is no longer any hope of survival or of additional health care measures being used to sustain life.Â ... [this] seems to conflict with his position today." Cox News Service reported that "The Texas law was intended to control in cases in which medical teams and patients' representatives disagree on treatment. In the Schiavo case, the medical team and Schiavo's husband agreed that there was no hope of improvement in her condition, determined by lower courts to be a 'persistent vegetative state'." Wasserman Schultz also cited the case of a six-month-old Texas baby whose life support had been removed in accord with this law and over the objections of his family while the Schiavo controversy was ongoing.
After the controversy Wasserman Schultz issued a statement that said, "The Congress is not an objective body. It is a partisan, political body. Our Members are not doctors or bioethicists. We are elected officials. The Congress is not the appropriate venue to decide end-of-life or any private, personal family dispute. That is why there are court reviews which allow for an objective evaluation of both sides of a dispute. The Congress was never designed for, and our Founding Fathers never intended, the body to make these kinds of decisions. What was lost in the midst of this debate was that this was not about pro-life interest groups, or about the parents or the husband. It wasn't about the President, or the Governor, or the Republican or Democratic party. It was about a personal family tragedy. I am worried about the direction our country is moving in. I am worried when members of Congress and the President try to overstep over twenty court rulings on a case that had gone on for years. I am worried when special interest groups exploit a family tragedy for political and financial gain. I am worried when the federal government attempts to step between a husband and a wife because members of Congress believe they know better."
Middle East crisis
While her predecessor and mentor Peter Deutsch was "among the most hawkish congressional Democrats on Middle East issues", Wasserman Schultz, who took over his seat for Florida's 20th district, "a heavily Jewish swath of Broward County", has taken a more centrist approach. During 2005 she spoke in approval of President George W. Bush's proposals to give financial aid to the Palestinian Authority in both the proposed supplemental and in the 2006 budgets. She said "We want to continue to focus on making sure thatÂ ... the policy coming from Washington continues to encourage and support and nurture the peace process. In [Bush's] first four years, there was a lack of leadership coming from the administration. I know many people in the Jewish community were happy with the president's position on Israel, but the way I thought, there was an absence of leadership.Â ... So I'm glad to see there's a little more engagement and involvement from the administration."
She defended her party against suggestions that the Democrats are anti-Israel, saying "I would stack up the Democratic caucus's position on the support for Israel against the Republican caucus's any day of the week and be much more confident â" and the Jewish community should be much more confident â" in the Democrats' stewardship of Israel than the Republicans, especially if you compare the underlying reasons for both groups' support for Israel. The very far right group of Republicans' interest in Israel is not because they are so supportive of there being a Jewish state and making sure that Jews have a place that we can call home. It has references to Armageddon and biblical references that are more their interest. So I would encourage members of the Jewish community to put their faith in Democrats, because our support for Israel is generally for the right reasons."
Presidential signing statements
Wasserman Schultz supports the use of appropriations for future control of presidential signing statements as developed as part of questions during the House Judiciary Committee hearing on the constitutional limits of executive power July 26, 2008.
Jewish American Heritage Month
Wasserman Schultz is the first Jewish female congressperson from the state of Florida.
She and Senator Arlen Specter were the driving forces behind the resolution that declared every May "Jewish American Heritage Month". The annual observance was created to recognize "the accomplishments of American Jews and the important role that members of the Jewish community have played in the development of American culture". The observance is modeled after Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month and Women's History Month. Wasserman Schultz envisioned "classroom instruction, public ceremonies and broadcast announcements", stating "There's a generation of children growing up with a fading memory of what happened during World War II or even an understanding of anyone who is Jewish or their culture and traditions. Through education comes tolerance." The bill introducing the observance passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate and signed by President George W. Bush. Wasserman Schultz said of the proclamation "This is an historic occasion. Generations to come will have the chance to live without anti-Semitism through greater understanding and awareness of the significant role that American Jews have played in U.S. history. Jewish American Heritage Month is a reality because of the people gathered today in this room."
The measure was criticized by Gary Cass, executive director of the now-defunct Center for Reclaiming America for Christ, a conservative Christian organization based in Fort Lauderdale, who objected to "teaching Jewish history without talk of religious practices and values", saying "We cannot seem to have an honest discussion about the Christian roots of America." He wondered "How much tolerance would [Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz] have for a Christian Heritage month?" She replied that the situation is different, that "Judaism is unique, because it is both a culture and a religion," and that she was not in favor of "teaching any religion in public schools." The congresswoman's father, Larry Wasserman, said that while his daughter had not been particularly active in the Jewish community before entering politics, she has "forged ties with Jewish groups as a lawmaker. She helped to form the National Jewish Democratic Council and served on the regional board of the American Jewish Congress."
2008 financial crisis
Wasserman Schultz voted on September 29, 2008, for the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, and on October 3, 2008, for the revised version of that act.
During an April 2009 House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, fellow Floridian Tom Rooney, a former active duty U.S. Army JAG Corps officer, introduced an amendment that would make attacks against military veterans a hate crime. Wasserman Schultz remarked on the amendment:
I'm from a state, as Mr. Rooney is, that includes and represents the districts that include real victims. I represent a very large â" one of the largest - gay populations in the United States of America. One of the largest Jewish populations in the United States of America. My region â" our region - has a very large African-American population. It really is belittling of the respect that we should have for these groups to suggest that members of the armed services have somehow systematically been the victims of hate crimes.
Death of Daniel Wultz
Wasserman Schultz has been a vocal advocate for the family of Daniel Wultz, constituents of her congressional district engaged in legal action against the Bank of China for its alleged role in financing the terrorist attack that killed the 16-year-old teenager from Weston, Florida in 2006.
In August 2013, Wasserman Schultz told the Miami Herald: âIn South Florida, we all know too well of the tragic circumstances surrounding the cowardly terrorist attack that took Daniel Wultzâs innocent life. I have been working, hand in hand with the Wultz family and the state of Israel to ensure any and all of those involved in this terrorist activity, including the Bank of China, pay for their crimes so that justice can be served.
On May 1, 2014, together with the House Majority Leader, Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA), Wasserman Schultz hosted the Wultz family at the U.S. Capitol in a National Prayer Day event.
On February 15, 2013, Wasserman Schultz introduced the Stopping Tax Offenders and Prosecuting Identity Theft Act of 2013 (H.R. 744; 113th Congress) into the House. The bill would increase the penalties on identity thieves in the United States and change the definition of identity theft to include businesses and organizations instead of just individuals.
Wasserman Schultz vigorously opposed a 2014 medical marijuana amendment in Florida that narrowly failed to reach the 60% of votes in favour needed to amend the Constitution of Florida. She angered medical marijuana activists and major Democratic donors over this and her comparisons of medical marijuana dispensaries to "pill mills", which over-prescribe and over-dispense painkillers to patients with dubious symptoms. After Wasserman Schultz expressed interest in running for the United States Senate in the 2016 elections, medical marijuana activists vowed to thwart her ambitions. Attorney and donor John Morgan said that her position on medical marijuana "disqualifies her from the [Democratic Senate] nomination... Her position denies terminally ill and chronically ill people compassion."
In response, in February 2015, Wasserman Schultz's staff emailed Morgan, offering for to change her position on medical marijuana if Morgan would stop criticising her. Morgan declined her offer and released the emails to Politico, calling her a "bully". Wasserman Schultz at first declined to comment, then denied that her office had even sent the emails. Morgan responded: "What Debbie leaves out in her pushback was the crystal clear message that her potential support of the new amendment [that has been proposed for the ballot in 2016] was predicated upon me withdrawing my comments to Politico. I don't know how to view that as anything but an offer of a quid pro quo."
In 2004, Wasserman Schultz's mentor Peter Deutsch gave up his Congressional seat to make an unsuccessful run for the Senate seat of fellow Democrat Bob Graham. Wasserman Schultz was unopposed in the Democratic primary election held to fill Deutsch's seat. Her Republican opponent was Margaret Hostetter, a realtor who had never held public office. The 20th is so heavily Democratic that Hostetter faced nearly impossible odds in November. However, she gained notoriety for her attacks on Wasserman Schultz. For example, Hostetter's campaign site criticized Wasserman Schultz for protesting an American flag photograph with a Christian cross on it that was on display in the workstation of a secretary in a government building. Hostetter wrote, "Elect Margaret Hostetter to Congress November 2 and send the clear message that Americans respect and support... the foundational role Christianity has had in the formation of our great nation. Our rights come from God, not the state." The voters rejected this viewpoint.
As expected, Wasserman Schultz won, taking 70.2% to Hostetter's 29.8%. However, Hostetter had only spent about $30,000 to get 30% of the vote (compared to Wasserman Schultz's $1.2 million). When Wasserman Schultz was sworn in on January 4, 2005, she chose to use the Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh. Because Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert only had a Christian Bible, a copy of the Tanakh was borrowed by Hastert's staff from Congressman Gary Ackerman for this purpose. (This fact was brought up two years later during the Qur'an oath controversy of the 110th United States Congress.)
She was unopposed for reelection in 2006.
Wasserman Schultz won against Independent Margaret Hostetter and Socialist write-in candidate Marc Luzietti.
Wasserman Schultz announced her support of Hillary Clinton for her party's 2008 presidential nomination, and in June 2007 was named one of Clinton's national campaign co-chairs. Once Senator Barack Obama became the presumptive Democratic nominee, she endorsed him and joined Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado and Representative Artur Davis of Alabama to second his nomination at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
On CBS's Face the Nation, she declared Sarah Palin to be unready for the Vice Presidency. "She knows nothing...Quite honestly, the interview I saw and that Americans saw on Thursday and Friday was similar to when I didn't read a book in high school and had to read the Cliff's Notes and phone in my report", Wasserman Schultz said of Palin's interview with ABC's Charlie Gibson last week. "She's Cliff-noted her performance so far." Wasserman Schultz was also named a co-chair of the Democratic Party's Red to Blue congressional campaign group. Controversy arose in March 2008 when she announced that she would be unable to campaign against South Florida Republican representatives Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen because of her good friendship with them. Wasserman Schultz and Ros-Lehtinen (Râ"FL) are both on the LGBT Equality Caucus of which Wasserman Schultz is the Vice Chair.
Wasserman Schultz was challenged by Republican nominee Karen Harrington and Independents Stanley Blumenthal and Bob Kunst. Florida Whig Party candidate Clayton Schock ran as a write-in.
Chair of the Democratic National Committee
On April 5, 2011, Vice President Joe Biden announced that Wasserman Schultz was President Barack Obama's choice to succeed Tim Kaine as the 52nd Chair of the Democratic National Committee. Once confirmed by the Democratic National Committee, she became the third female DNC chief in history and the first in over 15 years. Until she assumed office, current DNC Vice-Chair Donna Brazile served as the interim Chair of the Democratic National Committee. Wasserman Schultz was confirmed at the meeting of the DNC held on May 4, 2011, in Washington, D.C.
Wasserman Schultz got off to a controversial start as DNC Chair. During an appearance on Face the Nation, Wasserman Schultz said, "The Republicans have a plan to end Medicare as we know it. What they would do is they would take the people who are younger than 55 years old today and tell them, 'You know what? You're on your own. Go and find private health insurance in the health-care insurance market. We're going to throw you to the wolves and allow insurance companies to deny you coverage and drop you for pre-existing conditions. We're going to give you X amount of dollars and you figure it out'". Four non-partisan fact-checkers called her claim false. She then came under criticism for her comments on Washington Watch with Roland Martin, in which she said, "You have the Republicans, who want to literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws and literallyâ"and very transparentlyâ"block access to the polls to voters who are more likely to vote for Democratic candidates than Republican candidates". The next day, she stated that "Jim Crow was the wrong analogy to use".
Congresswoman Schultz has also been criticized for what has been termed her "frequent absences" from Congress. In 2011 she missed 62 votes of Congress, placing her 45th of 535 in missing Congressional votes. The bulk of those who missed votes did so due to family circumstances, illness, or the Presidential campaign. She has been criticized further for her frequent appearances on MSNBC. Particularly, Dylan Ratigan accused her of coming on his show and just "doing talking points". Many of Obamaâs advisers have questioned the move to select Wasserman Schultz as his DNC chairwoman, who they feel comes across as too partisan on television. An internal focus study of the popularity of top Obama campaign surrogates ranked Wasserman Schultz at the bottom.
As chairwoman of the DNC, Wasserman Schultz appointed Amy Dacey to the position of CEO of the DNC in October 2013.
In 2012, Wasserman Schultz attempted to get the DNC to pay for her clothing at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.
The Washington Times revealed that Wasserman Schultz had a backup plan of revenge in 2013, in case President Obama did move to replace her from her party positionâ"and that was to paint him as "anti-woman" and "anti-Semitic", various media outlets reported.
Wasserman Schultz lives in Weston, outside Fort Lauderdale. She is a mother of three and is married to Steve Schultz. She is an active member of the National Jewish Democratic Council, Planned Parenthood, and Hadassah.
In March 2009, she revealed that she underwent seven surgeries related to breast cancer in 2008, while maintaining her responsibilities as a member of the House. That year, she promoted efforts for early screening for breast cancer.
- Crime Fighter of the Year Award, Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), 2008 and 2013
- Giraffe award, Women's Advocacy Majority Minority (WAMM), 1993
- Outstanding Family Advocacy award, Dade County Psychol. Assn., 1993
- Rosemary Barkett award, Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers, 1995
- Woman of the Year, AMIT, 1994
- Outstanding Legislator of the year, Florida Federation of Business & Professional Women, 1994
- Quality Floridian, Florida League of Cities, 1994
- Woman of Vision, Weizmann Institute of Science
- One of Six Most Unstoppable Women, South Florida Magazine, 1994.
- Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz official U.S. House site
- Debbie Wasserman Schultz for Congress
- Debbie Wasserman Schultz at DMOZ
- Biography at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- Profile at Project Vote Smart
- Financial information (federal office) at the Federal Election Commission
- Legislation sponsored at The Library of Congress