By Bob Cusack and Jared Allen - 07/02/10 12:13 AM EDT
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz considers Nancy Pelosi a mentor and role model and, in many ways, is following in the Speaker’s footsteps.
While it remains to be seen if the Florida Democrat will ever be calling the shots in the lower chamber, there is little doubt she could handle the job.
In an interview with The Hill, the 43-year-old lawmaker said she took a page from Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) playbook by “rolling up her sleeves” and “being a give-me-the-ball kind of person.”
Asked if she views Pelosi as a mentor, Wasserman Schultz said, “Oh, definitely. And a role model. We share the same agenda. We come from similar districts. And she blazed a trail that established a model for activism and a model for legislative leadership internally within the caucus that I felt like I wanted to mirror.
“It wasn’t a hard choice for me who I wanted to model myself after,” she added.
Like Pelosi, Wasserman Schultz enjoys counting votes. Recalling her whipping on the healthcare bill earlier this year, Wasserman Schultz said, “I love trying to figure out how to get someone who thinks they don’t want to do what I want them to do and getting them to do it.”
Over the last couple of years, there has been a lot of speculation that Pelosi will tap Wasserman Schultz as the head of the DCCC after the midterm elections.
Wasserman Schultz, an outspoken three-term lawmaker who was born in Queens and raised on Long Island, N.Y., knows when to dodge a question: “That’s up to her. I’m not thinking about that now.”
But pressed on whether running the DCCC would be too much for a mother of three, Wasserman Schultz suggests she would not turn down the offer, noting she is already heavily involved at the campaign committee.
She then repeated the line about how she is a “give-me-the-ball” member.
Pelosi has previously rewarded Wasserman Schultz for her hard work, giving her a prized seat on the House Appropriations Committee in only her second term.
“That’s a little unusual,” a smiling Wasserman Schultz said.
Pelosi, in a statement to The Hill, said, “Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz came to Washington with an impressive résumé and quickly distinguished herself. She works exceptionally hard, is politically astute and savvy, and she thoroughly understands the intricacies of policy. As a working mother, she is helping to create the future she wants for her children, and indeed all Americans.”
One key difference between the two powerful women is that Pelosi came to Congress after raising her family and Wasserman Schultz is bringing up her kids while in the House.
As Wasserman Schultz worked to round up votes last month on a campaign finance reform bill, Rebecca and Shelby — Wasserman Schultz’s daughters — zipped around the House floor, joking with and entertaining a number of Democrats who were clearly used to having them around.
With mom off doing her own thing, the girls caught up with Reps. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Alan GraysonAlan GraysonTrump campaign's taco truck gaffe underscores Latinos' political power Dem polling shows Rubio in a dead heat Canova refuses to congratulate Wasserman Schultz on victory MORE (D-Fla.) for a bit before eyeing Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and nearly smothering her with hugs.
Rebecca can’t let a vote go by without getting at least a few quality minutes in with Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), who said the kids know 20 to 30 members extremely well.
“I’ve just always incorporated my children into my public life,” Wasserman Schultz said as her 11-year-old son, Jake, played computer games a few feet away.
“And I always leave it to them. They can come with me to as much as they’d like to, or they don’t have to.”
On Saturday, the congresswoman, her husband, Steve, and their three children will pile into their SUV with three dogs and a cat and drive from Florida to New Hampshire, with a few stops along the way.
The vacation will be a rare break for Wasserman Schultz, a breast cancer survivor whose profile has extended far beyond Broward County.
The first Jewish congresswoman from the Sunshine State has already been on the Sunday political shows four times this year, most among female members in the House.
“Someone had to be out there,” she said, adding that Republicans would have used the vacuum to say it was the beginning of the end of the Democratic majority.
“I was asked to go out and do it, and I did it,” she said.
Wasserman Schultz attracted some controversy during the 2008 cycle when she did not vigorously campaign for the Democratic candidates running against Florida GOP Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
But that does not mean Wasserman Schultz doesn’t like to mix it up. She has publicly ripped former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) and gone toe to toe on TV with House Minority Whip Eric CantorEric CantorVA Dems jockey for Kaine's seat High anxiety for GOP Webb: Broken trust, broken party MORE (R-Va.), Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Senate GOP hopeful Carly Fiorina of California.
She also has taken on Democrats, opposing Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.) in 2007 in his effort to lift the travel ban to Cuba and confronting Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) a year later when he defied leaders on immigration.
The affable Wasserman Schultz is well-regarded by her colleagues, allowing her to toe the line of gaining power in the House without triggering jealousy.
“If you look out onto the House floor, she is in perpetual motion,” said fellow DCCC Co-Chairman Bruce BraleyBruce BraleyCriminal sentencing bill tests McConnell-Grassley relationship Trump's VP list shrinks Vernon wins Iowa House Dem primary MORE (Iowa), portraying Wasserman Schultz in the same way that many in Washington describe Pelosi.
Wasserman Schultz backed Hillary Rodham Clinton over Barack ObamaBarack ObamaObama reads round two of ‘mean tweets’ on Kimmel Trump links WikiLeaks to media ‘voter suppression’ What will be in Obama’s Presidential Library MORE in the 2008 presidential primary, but that has not hampered her political career.
In a lengthy statement, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim KaineTim KainePresidential election is a choice between the bully and the ballot The Hill's 12:30 Report Clinton, Kaine concerned over AT&T, Time Warner merger MORE praised her, saying in part, “Debbie is an incredible asset to our team in D.C. and the entire Democratic Party.”
One of the most rewarding experiences of Wasserman Schultz’s political career came a few years before she got to Congress.
A Florida resident named Rixys Alfonso turned to Wasserman Schultz when her son’s life was on the line.
Alfonso’s son Devin, then 3 years old, had a rare and life-threatening case of scoliosis, and Medicaid mistakenly refused to pick up the tab for a procedure that would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Wasserman Schultz, a state senator at the time, quickly cut through the bureaucratic red tape, and Devin subsequently got the care he needed.
Alfonso told The Hill that without Wasserman Schultz’s help, “My son would have died,” adding other children who needed a similar procedure were also saved by her actions.
Wasserman Schultz’s face lights up when discussing Devin, now 13.
“That’s an example of why it’s so incredible to be a legislator. There are so many ways you can help people … By changing the law, being an advocate in the community, I can share a personal experience and make a difference that way.”