Wasserman Schultz previously served in the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate, and was a national campaign co-chair for Hillary Clinton's unsuccessful 2008 run for president. She is the first Jewish congresswoman elected from Florida. Her district covers parts of Broward and Miami-Dade Counties, including parts of Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and Miami Beach.
Wasserman Schultz was elected chairperson of the Democratic National Committee in May 2011, replacing Virginia Senator Tim Kaine. On July 24, 2016, Wasserman Schultz announced her resignation from her position after Wikileaks released a collection of hacked emails indicating that Wasserman Schultz and other members of the DNC staff showed bias against the presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders in favor of Hillary Clinton's campaign. Her resignation was finalized on July 28 following the 2016 Democratic National Convention. She was subsequently appointed honorary chair of the Clinton campaign's "50 state program".
Born Deborah Wasserman in Forest Hills, Queens, New York, she is the daughter of Ann and Larry Wasserman. Her father is a CPA, and her brother Steven Wasserman is Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia.
From 1968 to 1978 the family lived in Lido Beach on Long Island. In 1978, her family moved to Melville, also on Long Island, where Wasserman graduated from Half Hollow Hills High School East in 1984. She received a Bachelor of Arts in 1988 and a Master of Arts with a certificate in political campaigning in 1990, both in Political Science, from the University of Florida in Gainesville.
At the University of Florida, Wasserman Schultz was active in student government, serving as president of the Student Senate and the founder and president of the Rawlings Area Council Government. She was also a member of the Omicron Delta Kappa honor society, the James C. Grimm chapter of the National Residence Hall Honorary, and the union Graduate Assistants United. She served as president of the Graduate Student Council and vice president of the UF College Democrats. She has credited her experience in student politics with developing her "love for politics and the political process".
Wasserman Schultz lives in Weston, near Fort Lauderdale. She is a mother of three and is married to Steve Schultz. She is an active member of the National Jewish Democratic Council, Planned Parenthood, and Hadassah.
In March 2009, she revealed that she had undergone seven surgeries related to breast cancer in 2008, while maintaining her responsibilities as a member of the House. That year, she promoted efforts for early screening for breast cancer.
In 1988, Wasserman Schultz became an aide to Peter Deutsch at the beginning of his state legislative career. In 1992, Deutsch made a successful run for United States House of Representatives for Florida's 20th District and suggested to Wasserman Schultz to make a run for his seat in the Florida House of Representatives. Wasserman Schultz won 53 percent of the vote in a six-way Democratic primary and avoided a runoff. She went on to win the general election. At age 26, she became the youngest female legislator in the state's history.
She served in the Florida State House of Representatives for eight years, and had to leave office due to state term limits. She became an adjunct instructor of political science at Broward Community College, as well as a public policy curriculum specialist at Nova Southeastern University. With her experience in the Florida House, she ran successfully for the Florida State Senate in 2000. She supported several bills including the Florida Residential Swimming Pool Safety Act and one creating a Children's Services Council for Broward County. She received an award from the Save The Manatee Club for her commitment in the 2002 legislative session to manatee protection as a member of the Florida State Senate.United States House Committee on Appropriations
United States House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies (Ranking Member)
United States House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development
Chief Deputy Whip
Wasserman Schultz is a member of the New Democrat Coalition. She was appointed to the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee in her first term. During the 2006 elections, she raised over seventeen million dollars in campaign contributions for her Democratic colleagues (third-most after Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emanuel), she was chosen as Chief Deputy Whip and appointed to the Appropriations Committee, a plum assignment for a sophomore congresswoman.
She currently chairs the Committee's Legislative Branch subcommittee, which Pelosi returned to the Committee after it was dissolved by Republican leadership in 2005. Shortly after acquiring her spot on the Appropriations Committee, Wasserman Schultz received the waiver necessary to sit on an additional committee (Appropriations is typically an exclusive committee), and she is currently a member of the Judiciary Committee. Aside from her committee and leadership roles, she is a member of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's "30 Something" Working Group, which consists of congressional Democrats mostly under age 40. The group concentrates on issues affecting young people, including Social Security. She joined the bipartisan Congressional Cuba Democracy Caucus. According to the Congress.org 2008 Power Rankings, she was the 24th-most powerful member of the House and 22nd most powerful Democratic representative (also most powerful Florida representative).
Wasserman Schultz is pro-choice on some issues, supports gun control legislation, and is a supporter of the LGBT community. She initiated the 2007 Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. In 2011, Wasserman Schultz was one of the 23 co-sponsors of H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).
In December 2015, Wasserman Schultz was one of 24 co-sponsors of H.R. 4018, authored by GOP Congressman Dennis A. Ross, which would delay the implementation of CFPB regulations. "Wasserman Schultz is among a dozen Florida representatives who have cosponsored bipartisan legislation that would delay the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s payday lending rules by two years and void a “deferred presentment transaction” in states with laws similar to Florida’s. She has drawn criticism for trying to delay those regulations.
The CFPB's creation was authorized by the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, whose passage in 2010 was a legislative response to the financial crisis of 2007–08 and the subsequent Great Recession.
During the Terri Schiavo case, she was one of the strongest opponents of congressional intervention. She publicly accused President George W. Bush of hypocrisy for signing a 1999 bill as Governor of Texas that allows health care workers to remove life support for terminally ill patients if the patient or family is unable to pay the medical bills. During the debate Wasserman Schultz pointed out that a Texas law signed by then Gov. Bush allowed caregivers to withhold treatment "at the point that futility has been reached and there is no longer any hope of survival or of additional health care measures being used to sustain life. ... [this] seems to conflict with his position today." Cox News Service reported that "The Texas law was intended to control in cases in which medical teams and patients' representatives disagree on treatment. In the Schiavo case, the medical team and Schiavo's husband agreed that there was no hope of improvement in her condition, determined by lower courts to be a 'persistent vegetative state'." Wasserman Schultz also cited the case of a six-month-old Texas baby whose life support had been removed.
While her predecessor and mentor Peter Deutsch was "among the most hawkish congressional Democrats on Middle East issues", Wasserman Schultz, who took over his seat for Florida's 20th district, "a heavily Jewish swath of Broward County", has taken a more centrist approach. During 2005 she spoke in approval of President George W. Bush's proposals to give financial aid to the Palestinian Authority in both the proposed supplemental and in the 2006 budgets. She said "We want to continue to focus on making sure that ... the policy coming from Washington continues to encourage and support and nurture the peace process. In [Bush's] first four years, there was a lack of leadership coming from the administration. I know many people in the Jewish community were happy with the president's position on Israel, but the way I thought, there was an absence of leadership. ... So I'm glad to see there's a little more engagement and involvement from the administration."
Wasserman Schultz is a supporter of Israel. She defended her party against suggestions that the Democrats are anti-Israel, saying "I would stack up the Democratic caucus's position on the support for Israel against the Republican caucus's any day of the week and be much more confident—and the Jewish community should be much more confident—in the Democrats' stewardship of Israel than the Republicans, especially if you compare the underlying reasons for both groups' support for Israel. The very far right group of Republicans' interest in Israel is not because they are so supportive of there being a Jewish state and making sure that Jews have a place that we can call home. It has references to Armageddon and biblical references that are more their interest. So I would encourage members of the Jewish community to put their faith in Democrats, because our support for Israel is generally for the right reasons."
Wasserman Schultz supports the use of appropriations for future control of presidential signing statements as developed as part of questions during the House Judiciary Committee hearing on the constitutional limits of executive power July 26, 2008.
Wasserman Schultz is the first Jewish female congressperson from the state of Florida.
She and Senator Arlen Specter were the driving forces behind the resolution that declared every May Jewish American Heritage Month. The annual observance was created to recognize "the accomplishments of American Jews and the important role that members of the Jewish community have played in the development of American culture". The observance is modeled after Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month and Women's History Month. Wasserman Schultz envisioned "classroom instruction, public ceremonies and broadcast announcements", stating "There's a generation of children growing up with a fading memory of what happened during World War II or even an understanding of anyone who is Jewish or their culture and traditions. Through education comes tolerance." The bill introducing the observance passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate and signed by President George W. Bush. Wasserman Schultz said of the proclamation "This is an historic occasion. Generations to come will have the chance to live without anti-Semitism through greater understanding and awareness of the significant role that American Jews have played in U.S. history. Jewish American Heritage Month is a reality because of the people gathered today in this room."
The measure was criticized by Gary Cass, executive director of the now-defunct Center for Reclaiming America for Christ, a conservative Christian organization based in Fort Lauderdale, who objected to "teaching Jewish history without talk of religious practices and values", saying "We cannot seem to have an honest discussion about the Christian roots of America". He wondered "How much tolerance would [Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz] have for a Christian Heritage month?" She replied that the situation is different, that "Judaism is unique, because it is both a culture and a religion," and that she was not in favor of "teaching any religion in public schools." The congresswoman's father, Larry Wasserman, said that while his daughter had not been particularly active in the Jewish community before entering politics, she has "forged ties with Jewish groups as a lawmaker. She helped to form the National Jewish Democratic Council and served on the regional board of the American Jewish Congress."
Wasserman Schultz voted on September 29, 2008, supporting the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, and on October 3, 2008, supporting the revised version of that act.
During an April 2009 House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, fellow Floridian Tom Rooney, a former active duty U.S. Army JAG Corps officer, introduced an amendment that would make attacks against military veterans a hate crime. Wasserman Schultz remarked on the amendment:
I'm from a state, as Mr. Rooney is, that includes and represents the districts that include real victims. I represent a very large – one of the largest – gay populations in the United States of America. One of the largest Jewish populations in the United States of America. My region – our region – has a very large African-American population. It really is belittling of the respect that we should have for these groups to suggest that members of the armed services have somehow systematically been the victims of hate crimes.
Wasserman Schultz became a vocal advocate for the family of Daniel Wultz, constituents of her congressional district engaged in legal action against the Bank of China for its alleged role in financing the terrorist attack that killed the 16-year-old teenager from Weston, Florida, in 2006.
In August 2013, Wasserman Schultz told the Miami Herald: "In South Florida, we all know too well of the tragic circumstances surrounding the cowardly terrorist attack that took Daniel Wultz's innocent life. I have been working, hand in hand with the Wultz family and the state of Israel to ensure any and all of those involved in this terrorist activity, including the Bank of China, pay for their crimes so that justice can be served."
On May 1, 2014, together with then-House Majority Leader, Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA), Wasserman Schultz hosted the Wultz family at the U.S. Capitol in a National Prayer Day event.
On February 15, 2013, Wasserman Schultz introduced the Stopping Tax Offenders and Prosecuting Identity Theft Act of 2013 (H.R. 744; 113th Congress) into the House. The bill would increase the penalties on identity thieves in the United States and change the definition of identity theft to include businesses and organizations instead of just individuals.
Wasserman Schultz vigorously opposed a 2014 medical marijuana amendment in Florida that narrowly failed to reach the 60% of votes in favor needed to amend the Constitution of Florida. She angered medical marijuana activists and major Democratic donors over this and her comparisons of medical marijuana dispensaries to "pill mills", which over-prescribe and over-dispense painkillers to patients with dubious symptoms. After Wasserman Schultz expressed interest in running for the United States Senate in the 2016 elections, medical marijuana activists vowed to thwart her ambitions. Attorney and donor John Morgan said that her position on medical marijuana "disqualifies her from the [Democratic Senate] nomination... Her position denies terminally ill and chronically ill people compassion."
In response, in February 2015, Wasserman Schultz's staff emailed Morgan, offering to change her position on medical marijuana if Morgan would stop criticizing her. Morgan declined her offer and released the emails to Politico, calling her a "bully". Wasserman Schultz at first declined to comment, then denied that her office had even sent the emails. Morgan responded: "What Debbie leaves out in her pushback was the crystal clear message that her potential support of the new amendment [that has been proposed for the ballot in 2016] was predicated upon me withdrawing my comments to Politico. I don't know how to view that as anything but an offer of a quid pro quo."
In 2004, Wasserman Schultz's mentor Peter Deutsch resigned his Congressional seat to make an unsuccessful run for the Senate seat of fellow Democrat Bob Graham. Wasserman Schultz was unopposed in the Democratic primary election held to fill Deutsch's seat. Her Republican opponent was Margaret Hostetter, a realtor who had never held public office. The 20th is so heavily Democratic that Hostetter faced nearly impossible odds in November. However, she gained notoriety for her attacks on Wasserman Schultz. For example, Hostetter's campaign site criticized Wasserman Schultz for protesting an American flag photograph with a Christian cross on it that was on display in the workstation of a secretary in a government building. Hostetter wrote, "Elect Margaret Hostetter to Congress November 2 and send the clear message that Americans respect and support... the foundational role Christianity has had in the formation of our great nation. Our rights come from God, not the state."
Wasserman Schultz won, taking 70.2% to Hostetter's 29.8%. However, Hostetter had only spent about $30,000 to get 30% of the vote (compared to Wasserman Schultz's $1.2 million). When Wasserman Schultz was sworn in on January 4, 2005, she chose to use the Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh. Because Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert only had a Christian Bible, a copy of the Tanakh was borrowed by Hastert's staff from Congressman Gary Ackerman for this purpose. (This was brought up two years later during the Qur'an oath controversy of the 110th United States Congress.)
Wasserman Schultz was unopposed for reelection in 2006.
In 2008 Wasserman Schultz won her reelection bid by defeating Independent Margaret Hostetter and Socialist write-in candidate Marc Luzietti.
She announced her support of Hillary Clinton for her party's 2008 presidential nomination, and in June 2007 was named one of Clinton's national campaign co-chairs. Once Senator Barack Obama became the presumptive Democratic nominee, she endorsed him and joined Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado and Representative Artur Davis of Alabama to second his nomination at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
On CBS's Face the Nation, she declared Sarah Palin to be unready for the Vice Presidency. "She knows nothing...Quite honestly, the interview I saw and that Americans saw on Thursday and Friday was similar to when I didn't read a book in high school and had to read the CliffsNotes and phone in my report", Wasserman Schultz said of Palin's interview with ABC's Charlie Gibson last week. "She's Cliff-noted her performance so far." Wasserman Schultz was also named a co-chair of the Democratic Party's Red to Blue congressional campaign group. Controversy arose in March 2008 when she announced that she would be unable to campaign against South Florida Republican representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart, and the now-retired Lincoln Diaz-Balart, because of her good friendship with them. Wasserman Schultz and Ros-Lehtinen (R–FL) are both on the LGBT Equality Caucus of which Wasserman Schultz was a Vice Chair. Ros-Lehtinen has been the sole Republican on the 112-member caucus since 2013.
Wasserman Schultz was challenged by Republican nominee Karen Harrington and Independents Stanley Blumenthal and Bob Kunst. Florida Whig Party candidate Clayton Schock ran as a write-in. Wasserman Schultz won over Harrington, 60.1% to 38.1%.
After the 2010 census, Wasserman Schultz' district was renumbered as the 23rd District and pushed further into Miami-Dade County, taking in most of Miami Beach and a portion of Miami itself. She again faced Republican businesswoman Karen Harrington Wasserman Schultz won with 63.2% percent of the vote, to 35.6% for Harrington. When she was sworn in for her fourth term, she became the first white Democrat to represent a significant portion of Miami since 1993.
In the general election, Wasserman Schultz defeated Republican Joe Kaufman, the Republican candidate, 62.7% to 37.3%.
Economist and law professor Tim Canova challenged Wasserman Schultz in the August 30, 2016, Florida Democratic Party's primary election. He was endorsed by Senator Bernie Sanders, 2016 Democratic primary candidate for President. Wasserman Schultz won the primary election with 57 percent of the vote.
On August 8, 2016, in the wake of the WikiLeaks Democratic National Committee email disclosures, Canova filed a Federal Election Commission (FEC) violations of regulations complaint against Wasserman Schultz, alleging "interference" with his campaign, contending that on her behalf "...the DNC paid a team of national, senior communications and political professionals significant sums of money for their consulting services and the Wasserman Schultz for Congress Campaign utilized these services free of charge." A spokesman for Wasserman Schultz said that the complaint was without merit and that it was "based on stolen, cherry-picked information".
In the general election, Wasserman Schultz defeated Republican candidate Joe Kaufman with 56.7% to 40.5% of the vote.
On April 5, 2011, Vice President Joe Biden announced that Wasserman Schultz was President Barack Obama's choice to succeed Tim Kaine as the 52nd Chair of the Democratic National Committee. Until she assumed office, current DNC Vice-Chair Donna Brazile served as the interim Chair of the Democratic National Committee. Wasserman Schultz was confirmed at the meeting of the DNC held on May 4, 2011, in Washington, D.C.
During an appearance on Face the Nation, Wasserman Schultz said, "The Republicans have a plan to end Medicare as we know it. What they would do is they would take the people who are younger than 55 years old today and tell them, 'You know what? You're on your own. Go and find private health insurance in the health-care insurance market.'". Four non-partisan fact-checkers called her claim false. She then came under criticism for her comments on Washington Watch with Roland Martin, in which she said, "You have the Republicans, who want to literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws and literally—and very transparently—block access to the polls to voters who are more likely to vote for Democratic candidates than Republican candidates". The next day, she stated that "Jim Crow was the wrong analogy to use".
In 2012, many of Obama's advisers questioned the move to select Wasserman Schultz as his DNC chairwoman, who they felt came across as too partisan on television. An internal focus study of the popularity of top Obama campaign surrogates ranked Wasserman Schultz at the bottom. In February 2015, Politico, citing unnamed sources, reported that Wasserman Schultz had lined up supporters in 2013 to portray any decision by Barack Obama to replace her as DNC chair as "anti-woman and anti-Semitic".
Wasserman Schultz has also been criticized for what has been termed her "frequent absences" from Congress. In 2011, she missed 62 votes of Congress, placing her 45th of 535 in missing Congressional votes. She has been criticized for her frequent appearances on MSNBC. Dylan Ratigan accused her of coming on his show and just "doing talking points". He later apologized for his "very rude" conduct.
Clinton's opponents, Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders, separately criticized the decision by Wasserman Schultz to schedule only six debates in the 2016 Presidential Primary, fewer than in previous election cycles, as well as the timing of the debates.
Some of Wasserman Schultz's actions that the news covered during the primaries were: having reduced the debate schedule, disinvited former DNC Vice Chair Tulsi Gabbard to the first primary Democratic debate, in an altercation shut down Sanders' campaign's access to the DNC server and thus halting their campaign until immense backslash led to her to rescind it, defended the system of superdelegates that were used to signal to the support base that Clinton would be nominee, quietly rescinded Obama's 2008 ban on donations to the DNC from corporate lobbyists and PACs and thus paving way for the Hillary Victory Fund that was later reported by Politico to have laundered money to their campaign and DNC having hid the details of its agreement with the Clinton campaign and falsely accused Sanders supporters of violence at the Nevada Convention..
In May, MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski called on Schultz to step down over the DNC's bias against the Bernie Sanders campaign. The 2016 Democratic National Committee email leak revealed that Schultz was furious at the negative coverage of her actions in the media, and she emailed Chuck Todd that such coverage of her "must stop". Describing the coverage as the "LAST straw", she ordered the DNC's communications director to call MSNBC president Phil Griffin to demand an apology from Brzezinski.
After WikiLeaks published Democratic National Committee emails which suggested that DNC staffers and partly Wasserman Schultz herself had inappropriately backed Hillary Clinton in the primary campaigns while criticizing the Bernie Sanders campaign, Wasserman Schultz tendered her resignation as the head of the DNC, to become effective as of the close of the nominating convention in Philadelphia. According to reports in The Washington Post, Wasserman Schultz strongly resisted suggestions she resign, requiring a phone call from President Barack Obama to finally force her resignation.
Following a speech at the convention before the Florida delegation where Wasserman Schultz was "booed off stage" the DNC announced she would not gavel open the convention. She was subsequently appointed honorary chair of the Clinton campaign's "50 state program".Crime Fighter of the Year Award, Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), 2008.
Giraffe Award, Women's Advocacy Majority Minority (WAMM), 1993
Outstanding Family Advocacy award, Dade County Psychol. Assn., 1993
Rosemary Barkett award, Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers, 1995
Woman of the Year, AMIT, 1994
Outstanding Legislator of the year, Florida Federation of Business & Professional Women, 1994
Quality Floridian, Florida League of Cities, 1994
Woman of Vision, Weizmann Institute of Science
One of Six Most Unstoppable Women, South Florida Magazine, 1994.
The Young Turks Jerk of The Year, 2016