Wasserman Schultz fights to keep her job

Wasserman Schultz fights to keep her job
© Greg Nash

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) is fighting to stay on as head of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) amid a roiling debate within her party about whether she should step aside before the Democratic National Convention in July.

Wasserman Schultz’s future as DNC chairwoman was called into question late Tuesday after The Hill reported that senators have privately discussed whether she should resign. Some argue such a move could mollify supporters of Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden lead shrinks, Sanders and Warren close gap: poll Biden allies: Warren is taking a bite out of his electability argument Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi set to unveil drug price plan | Abortion rate in US hits lowest level since Roe v. Wade | Dems threaten to subpoena Juul MORE after a bitter primary fight against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonQueer Marine veteran launches House bid after incumbent California Rep. Susan Davis announces retirement Poll: Trump neck and neck with top 2020 Democrats in Florida Former immigration judge fined, temporarily banned from federal service for promoting Clinton policies MORE.

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The issue reverberated across the Capitol on Wednesday, as Democrats in the House and Senate were bombarded with questions about whether a change in leadership is needed.

Perhaps the strongest show of support for Wasserman Schultz came in the House, where leading Democrats rushed to her defense.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the DNC chairwoman has “the respect of her colleagues”; Rep. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOvernight Energy: Trump tweets he's revoking California's tailpipe waiver | Move comes as Trump visits state | California prepares for court fight | Climate activist Greta Thunberg urges lawmakers to listen to scientists California prepares court action against Trump's move on tailpipe emissions Trump to revoke California's tailpipe waiver MORE (Calif.), head of the House Democratic Caucus, said she has “done phenomenal work”; and Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), head of the Congressional Black Caucus’s campaign arm, praised her as having “done a great job in a difficult scenario.”

But the mood in the Senate was different; talk of replacing Wasserman Schultz received little pushback from Senate leaders.

When asked whether a new DNC chairman should be appointed, Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBarr fails to persuade Cruz on expanded background checks Harry Reid warns Trump 'can be reelected' Homeland Security Republican accuses Navy of withholding UFO info MORE (Nev.) told Politico, “That’s not up to me.”

Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall MORE (N.Y.), who is set to take over as Democratic leader next year, said tersely, “not commenting” when asked about Wasserman Schultz.

And Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocratic senators quietly hope Biden wins over rivals GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson to resign at end of year Native American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment MORE (Mont.) said he’s staying out of it.

“I just don’t have an opinion because I don’t pay any attention to the DNC stuff other than Hillary and Bernie are going at it. I couldn’t even tell you what her role is in the overall scheme of things,” he said.

In The Hill’s report on Tuesday, a lawmaker said there was a huddle on the Senate floor last week to talk about the DNC chief’s future. The member estimated that about a dozen senators had weighed in on the matter during private conversations.

“There have been a lot of meetings over the past 48 hours about what color plate do we deliver Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s head on,” said the senator, who supports Clinton.

The Sanders campaign has feuded publicly with Wasserman Schultz, accusing her of taking actions favoring the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, such as initially scheduling only six debates and setting up a joint fundraising committee with the Clinton campaign. The DNC later added four more debates.

Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver last week accused Wasserman Schultz of working against the Vermont senator “for personal reasons,” and strongly signaled Wednesday that he agrees she should step aside.

“Someone else could play a more positive role,” Weaver said on CNN in response to a question about whether Wasserman Schultz should resign.

Told that his answer sounded like a yes, Weaver replied, “I’m trying to be diplomatic.”

The Clinton campaign, meanwhile, offered a strong defense of the DNC chairwoman.

“From our viewpoint, Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a very dedicated leader for our party,” said Brian Fallon, the press secretary of Clinton’s campaign. “There is nobody ... more committed than her to making sure that Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump conversation with foreign leader part of complaint that led to standoff between intel chief, Congress: report Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Trump to withdraw FEMA chief nominee: report MORE is not the president in 2016 in November when we have the general election.”

Wasserman Schultz and her allies say she’s served as an impartial umpire in the Clinton-Sanders race, and have pushed back hard on the talk of forcing her out.

Before The Hill’s story was published Tuesday, members of the House Democratic leadership and even Vice President Biden provided statements of support for Wasserman Schultz, flooding The Hill with phone calls. 

“I talked to her on the floor and she said a story is being written,” House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), a close friend of Wasserman Schultz’s, told The Hill in an interview Wednesday.

“I wanted to weigh in because I’ve been around a long time and think shooting at Debbie — if you want to shoot, you ought to shoot at either one of the candidates because they’re the ones who are going to set the policy, the direction and set the tone. It’s not going to be Debbie,” Hoyer said.

But even some lawmakers who support Clinton think Wasserman Schultz has shown favoritism. They say that has made it more difficult to unify the party, with Sanders supporters spoiling for a fight on the convention floor in Philadelphia.

“She’s been unhelpful,” said one Democratic senator who requested anonymity. “If you’re going to be helpful [to the Clinton campaign], don’t be so obvious about it.”

“If she gavels in the convention, it would be bananas,” the senator added.

Even critics of the chairwoman say she would likely have to agree to step down of her own accord, given her support in House Democratic leadership.

Several lawmakers predicted she would not give up her job at the DNC — a post she’s held since 2011 — unless the pressure were overwhelming. Wasserman Schultz battled breast cancer several years ago and underwent a double mastectomy, all the while keeping her medical ordeal private. 

“She’s not a quitter. She’s someone who gets knocked down — as we all get knocked down from time to time — gets up and moves ahead, faster and stronger,” Hoyer told The Hill.

Wasserman Schultz’s allies say the focus of the party needs to be on the campaign and the effort to defeat presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.

“Debbie may be a bit caustic to a lot of people but the fact of the matter is I would much rather the focus be on who and what she is in putting together this convention rather than how any one campaign may feel about her,” said Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the House assistant Democratic leader, who contacted The Hill after speaking to Wasserman Schultz.

On Wednesday, she told Bloomberg News, “I am focused on doing my job.”

“We are 60 days from the Democratic National Convention and we are singularly focused on putting on the best political convention America has ever seen, that will launch our eventual nominee to the White House,” she said.

But some Democrats wonder how easy it will be to get the spotlight off Wasserman Schultz at the convention if Sanders backers are still riled up by late July.

“The role of the DNC chair is always a supportive role, not a starring role, and I think that, because of what has occurred, it’s hard for her to avoid a starring role,” Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillEx-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Ocasio-Cortez blasts NYT editor for suggesting Tlaib, Omar aren't representative of Midwest Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (D-Mo.) told CNN. 

Mike Lillis and Ben Kamisar contributed.