Preparing for the next generation

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Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) credits her early bid for public office for giving her more opportunities in her political life.

She first ran for the Florida state legislature at the age of 25 and was elected at 26. [WATCH VIDEO] 

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She came to Washington in January 2005 and has racked up an impressive resume in her four terms in the House: vice chairwoman of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee; a national chairperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; Hillary Clinton campaign surrogate in 2008; and chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. She has also campaigned for Democratic candidates across the country.

The high profile has stirred the perception of Wasserman Schultz, 47, as someone who could take over for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) one day. There’s also been speculation she could move over to the upper chamber.

Wasserman Schultz sat down with The Hill Tuesday to discuss her new book, For the Next Generation, a policy-oriented work that is described as a “call to action” for lawmakers and the public to “adopt a parent’s perspective for doing right by kids.”

In the interview, Wasserman Schultz declined to talk about future political ambitions or opportunities. The congresswoman insisted she is focused on the job at hand: running for reelection to her House seat and leading the Democratic Party through the 2014 midterms.

“What’s in front of me right now is doing the best job I can representing my constituents, running for reelection and making sure we can expand the map for Democrats.”

She acknowledges the future career possibilities, however, and didn’t ruling anything out.

“Without being specific about anything except for what is right in front of me, because I ran for office at 25 and got elected at 26, it’s given me more opportunity to run the ramp,” she said.

In early October, a Public Policy Polling survey showed if Wasserman Schultz ran for Senate in 2016 (the next time a Florida seat is available), she would be just 3 points behind incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Asked about the poll, Wasserman Schultz smiled and said, “Yeah, somebody showed me that.”

In the 30-minute interview, conducted in her mauve-colored office in the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters, Wasserman Schultz discussed her book, the government shutdown and relationships between Democrats and Republicans.

She said the inspiration for her book came when she realized every decision she makes “is done through the lens of being a mom.”

And that is what the book focuses on.

At slightly more 300 pages, it is broken down by policy issue, touching on subjects such as the economy, healthcare, infrastructure, education and women’s rights.

Most of the policies tow the Democratic line, which is unsurprising given Wasserman Schultz’s role in the party.

She does, however, decry the partisanship and division in government, and told The Hill that social media sites, such as Twitter, have made it worse.

“There are staffers who feel empowered to say whatever they want. Members — the same thing,” she said of Twitter.

“We have pushed the envelope so far that we’ve crossed into willingness to be painful and spiteful and hateful.”

Wasserman Schultz has had her own critics, particularly after she took over at the DNC in May 2011. There were reports Democrats were worried she had a tendency to put her foot in her mouth.

She displayed that bluntness in her interview with The Hill, offering her own criticism of the GOP, particularly over its opposition to ObamaCare and its position on reproductive rights.

Republicans, she said, “haven’t come to terms with the fact that the Affordable Care Act is settled law.”

And, in her book, she charges that “we need something we don’t have yet: a champion for women’s rights in the Republican Party.”

Women in the Republican Party don’t have the freedom to be  strong voices on women’s rights, she told The Hill.

“Right now, you can’t be for reproductive freedom and get elected in this Republican Party.”

But she said there are voices for reproductive rights within the GOP waiting to be heard. Wasserman Schultz noted that both Anita Perry, the wife of outgoing Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and former first lady Laura Bush have indicated their support for reproductive rights.

“I wish the Republican Party had more tolerance,” she said. “They have such a rigid appearance to their Tea Party dogma you risk drawing an opponent if you step out of line.”

She acknowledged that the government shutdown — as disruptive as it has been —has been good for the DNC’s bottom line.

“Fundraising is up,” she said.

The committee raised almost $850,000 from 30,000 donors in the 24-hour period leading into the shutdown Oct. 1, a DNC official told The Hill.

The DNC has trailed the Republican National Committee this year in fundraising, and its last financial report showed the committee was a little more than $18 million in debt.

Wasserman Schultz brushed aside any money worries.

“This is not a race with them on fundraising. We are focusing on raising the money we need to raise to implement our voter registration project,” she said.

She said the shutdown “has been a very significant motivator.”

“We have had quite a few of our supporters who were sitting on the sidelines, taking a breather in an off-year, get off the sidelines.”