By Mike Lillis and Alicia M. Cohn - 07/20/11 11:45 PM EDT
Both parties are hoping to cash in on Rep. Allen West’s (R-Fla.) broadside this week against fellow Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D).
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched a fundraising drive Wednesday tapping what it called West’s “hate-filled screed” against the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
Not to be outdone, West’s campaign office distributed a fundraising email of its own, asking supporters to push back against the Democrats’ efforts to unseat him.
“It’s not a coincidence that she is the chairwoman of the DNC and that the Democrats are making me target #1 for defeat,” West wrote. “She’s an attack dog for the liberal, progressive wing of the Democratic Party — plain and simple.
“It’s in times like these that I need friends with me,” West added, asking for $25.
West, who lives in Wasserman Schultz’s district, hammered her on Tuesday with a biting email calling her “the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the U.S. House of Representatives.”
The attack was a response to Wasserman Schultz’s earlier criticism of West for supporting the GOP’s “Cut, Cap and Balance” proposal, which Democrats say will lead to sharp cuts in Medicare and Social Security benefits.
“The gentleman from Florida, who represents thousands of Medicare beneficiaries, as do I, is supportive of this plan that would increase costs for Medicare beneficiaries — unbelievable from a member from south Florida,” Wasserman Schultz charged Tuesday on the House floor, without mentioning West’s name.
In his response, West did not mince words.
“If you have something to say to me, stop being a coward and say it to my face,” he said in his email. “Otherwise, shut the heck up. Focus on your own congressional district!
“From this time forward, understand that I shall defend myself forthright against your heinous characterless behavior,” he added. “You have proven repeatedly that you are not a Lady, therefore, shall not be afforded due respect from me!”
Wasserman Schultz’s office was quick to dismiss West’s tongue-lashing as political bluster, not a hatchet job on the congresswoman.
“I don’t think that Congressman West is upset at the congresswoman, but rather with the fact that she highlighted that he and other Republicans are once again trying to balance the budget on the backs of seniors, children and the middle class,” Jonathan Beeton, a spokesman for Wasserman Schultz, said in an email.
West, Beeton argued, was simply trying to shift the focus of the debate away from the GOP’s plans to slash benefits to seniors — a significant demographic in his district.
“As someone who lives in Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz’s congressional district, Congressman West knows that we have hundreds of thousands of seniors in south Florida who have paid into Medicare throughout their lives and now rely on this program to keep them healthy and active,” Beeton said. “The truth hurts.”
West, for his part, was unapologetic Wednesday about the personal attack, saying it was a response to “a pattern” of similar attacks against him by Wasserman Schultz.
He said he spoke with GOP leadership about the episode and “all is fine.”
The offices of Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — both of whom received West’s initial email — did not respond to requests for comment.
Meanwhile, a number of House Democratic women called on West to apologize to Wasserman Schultz for what they labeled sexist comments.
“Once again, we have been told that in order to be a lady, that we need to just stay in our places,” Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) said Wednesday at a press conference in the Capitol. “We’re underrepresented in politics, and it’s because it’s hard for us to be taken seriously.”
The Democrats also are asking GOP leaders “to rebuke” West if he doesn’t apologize on his own.
“For his own good they ought to take him into the woodshed,” Moore said. “If you want to survive in this environment, you’ve got to keep your word, you’ve got to be cordial and congenial and civil, even when you’re disagreeing.
“It makes for a very hard career otherwise.”