When Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida was tapped last year to lead the Democratic National Committee, it seemed like the latest ascension for a fast-rising star destined for even higher positions. Some stumbles and an apparent falling out of favor with the White House had changed that calculus. Now it looks like it could be changing again.
Talk is that Wasserman Schultz will not be asked to serve another term at the DNC, regardless of whether she helps President Obama win a second term. Yet the native New Yorker could use that to her advantage, as she reportedly now has her eye on a House leadership post—perhaps even the highest.
If Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California decides to relinquish House Democrats’ top spot after November—a possibility oft-discussed in the cloakroom, hallways, and Capitol subway—the similarly polarizing Wasserman Schultz may make a play for her post.
The 72-year-old Pelosi has not revealed any plans to step down from leadership or to retire outright, but that has not stopped one of Washington’s favorite parlor games—who’s next in line?—from getting under way.
Leading the DNC has undoubtedly raised Wasserman Schultz’s national profile, but she insists that her focus is on “serving my South Florida constituents and my own reelection, and on helping President Obama and Democrats up and down the ticket get elected in November.”
House members, staffers, and party strategists who discussed Wasserman Schultz and internal party machinations did so on the condition of anonymity. That’s because they publicly must stick to the party message that Democrats have a majority to win back and, in doing so, return the speaker’s gavel to the only woman ever to hold it—Pelosi.
One House Democrat who admires Wasserman Schultz says that if Pelosi does call it quits, the 45-year-old mother of three should “naturally” be considered for leadership. Calling her rise “meteoric,” the lawmaker said that Wasserman Schultz’s standing among fellow House Democrats has only been strengthened because of her hard work. Since assuming the remainder of Tim Kaine’s chairmanship, she has attended 540 events in 33 states and 103 cities. Wasserman Schultz has made fundraising appearances for House and Senate campaigns, placed robo-calls, and sent out e-mail messages. Those are chits she can call in, if needed.
The member also noted that she has clout with both the sizable New York and Florida delegations and with female colleagues. Additionally, she previously led the New Democrat Coalition, a group of more than 40 House Democrats with moderate and pro-business stances.
When asked about up-and-comers, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, whom Wasserman Schultz very well may try to leap over in the event of a Pelosi departure, includes her on his list.
This speculation comes amid confirmation from a top party strategist of a series of events that has left the breast-cancer survivor out of favor with the Obama team. Those run from annoyance over misstatements that turn into Republican talking points, to her sometimes too-heavy-handed tone, to perceptions that she is self-focused.
“She looks out for No. 1—herself,” complained the strategist.
At the Capitol, however, some say that her tensions with the White House do not necessarily undercut any possible candidacy for a caucus leadership spot. One House Democrat said that certain members might even prefer aggressive leaders with a degree of independence from the other end of Pennsylvania Ave.
This article appears in the June 21, 2012, edition of NJ Daily.