The head of the Democratic National Committee is supposed to help unify the disparate parts of her party, but Debbie Wasserman Schultz doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo.
This week the Florida Democrat stirred the hornet’s nest—known as the progressive wing of the party—by charging millennial women with, basically, being lazy when it comes to women’s issues.
“A complacency among the generation of young women whose entire lives have been lived after Roe v. Wade was decided,” Wasserman Schultz told the New York Times Magazine, when asked about the contemporary abortion battle.
Talk about off message.
But that seems par for the course for Wasserman Schultz’s rocky reign as the head of the DNC since 2011.
Last month, Wasserman Schultz single handedly alienated a large, energetic segment of Bernie Sanders’ base, caused one of her chief lieutenants to rip on the DNC on live television and now has numerous petitions calling for her ouster. #YOLO
The White House (and others) even attempted to peer-pressure her out in 2014 after accusing her of putting her own ambitions over the party.
In response to the latest flood of criticism, Wasserman Schultz has attempted to walk her comment back, but the damage may already be done. The progressive group CREDO Action jumped at the anti-millennial-feminist charge and circulated a petition to its 3.9 million strong liberal army calling on Wasserman Schultz to step down. Within a couple days the online petition garnered more than 10,000 outraged signatures.
“We thought that statement was in the latest string of actions where she put herself in positions by her statements that [were] directly in conflict with the progressive base, which is the core of the Democratic Party, and essentially the core of the constituency which is the DNC,” CREDO Action’s Deputy Political Director Murshed Zaheed told The Daily Beast.
This isn’t the first time progressives have tried to force Wasserman Schultz out. Bernie Sanders’ supporters started a petition at Change.org after the DNC cut off his campaign’s access to its own voter files when Sanders staffers were caught pillaging Hillary Clinton’s voter data. That petition has received more than 46,000 online signatures.
In some ways, Wasserman Schultz may be the greatest gift the Democratic Party has given the GOP in this Trump-era. She enjoys a national perch where she’s charged with keeping the White House in Democratic hands, but she’s alienated—or alienating—the most energetic wing of her party.
Sanders supporters (and Martin O’Malley’s…supporter?) have been criticizing Wasserman Schultz and the DNC this cycle because they’ve drastically limited the number of Democratic primary debates and buried a couple debates on weekends when no one—so the charge goes—watched Hillary Clinton get challenged in prime time.
That criticism exploded into a full fledge family feud for all to see when Wasserman Schultz got into a public spat with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard—a colleague in the House and one of five vice chairs at the DNC. The long and short: Gabbard watched the Vegas debate from her district in Hawaii (#winning?).
When I caught up with Wasserman Schultz Thursday afternoon, she was initially reticent about even discussing this latest petition. After walking away and casting a vote on the House floor, she came back and we had a good chat where she defended herself from all the charges.
As for the (second, or third, but who’s counting?) petition for her to move aside?
“I haven’t thought anything at all about it,” she calmly told me. “The national party chair—of both parties, frankly—are going to make decisions that people like, some decisions people don’t like. I’m going to say things that some people agree with; say things that some people don’t agree with. I just have to stay laser focused on doing everything I can to elect a Democratic president.”
Wasserman Schultz compared her tumulous reign to that of former Vermont governor Howard Dean went through when he was DNC chair back in 2008. That’s when her home state of Florida and Michigan tried their hands at power politics and—over protests from the party establishment—moved their primary dates from February to January.
Dean and the DNC later voted to strip the states of all their delegates at the party convention.
“That controversy was far more intense than this one is,” Wasserman Schultz said. “ It is the nature of being a party chair. You’re going to get bumped and bruised. It’s just the way it is. I just have to stay focused. I know what my role is; I know what my job is. I’m working my tail off to do it. Just like with any job, whether it’s my role in Congress or my role as party chair, you’re not going to please everyone all the time.”
But Bernie Sanders and the populist masses who flock to his events have ushered in a new day for the Democratic Party. That leaves Wasserman Schultz and the DNC with a choice: Embrace the new or cling to the old, according to Sanders’ supporters.
“Bernie runs against: ‘The system is rigged,’ and I think Democrats and the DNC can’t give the appearance that they’re part of the rig,” Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) told The Daily Beast, one of two Sanders’ supporters in Congress.
“What was isn’t no more, and I think DNC has to catch up with that real quick,” Grijalva said. “Absent a gesture on the part of leadership at the top, those calls are going to intensify,” he added. “I think you need to come forward and say, ‘We need to talk. We need to fix this.’”
Wasserman Schultz maintains the support of the Democratic establishment—even if she’s a thorn in their sides every once in awhile. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has criticized the DNC for sanctioning such a miniscule amount of debates, but she doesn’t blame Schultz.
“I don’t share the concerns that others have put forth,” Pelosi told The Daily Beast. “She has all the stamina and enthusiasm for the job that she has, and I believe she has the confidence of the president and of the nominee of our party.”
Just to be clear, Democratic voters have yet to weigh in for the 2016 primary, so there’s actually no Democratic nominee. But it seems Pelosi was alluding to Hillary Clinton.
Asked about the whole ‘Bernie Sanders suing the DNC’ thing Pelosi claimed—on camera—the lawsuit was news to her.
“I’m not aware of that. I’m not aware of that,” Pelosi hastily responded. “I’m just not paying that much attention to that.”
Really? And that sentiment—not paying attention—from the Democratic Party elite is exactly what Wasserman Schultz and the DNC’s critics from their leftward flank are worried about. And they’re not going away.