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Debbie Wasserman Schultz says we should measure our success as a nation by how well our children are doing. The congresswoman from Florida and chair of the Democratic National Committee believes that goal can bring both parties together. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Washington, D.C. right now. While many Americans fault Republicans for the current federal government shutdown, Democrats don’t escape blame either. But the DNC chair believes the shutdown fight is, in part, a personal vendetta against President Barack Obama by the Tea Party. Debbie Wasserman Schultz talks with Diane about the leadership crisis in Washington and how she believes we can overcome political gridlock.
- Debbie Wasserman Schultz U.S. Representative from Florida and chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee and a Florida congresswoman, talks about how she got started in the electoral process and why she says electing more women to Congress would improve political consensus. “My way of giving back was to make public service a career and to make the world a better place,” she said.
Read An Excerpt
Excerpted from “For The Next Generation: A Wake-Up Call To Solving Our Nation’s Problems” by Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Copyright © 2013 by Debbie Wasserman Schultz. With permission of St. Martin’s Press.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The US government taps out its credit at midnight tomorrow, and Congress, still, has not come to an agreement on ending the shutdown and raising the debt limit. Joining me in this studio, the Chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. We talk about her new book, titled, "For the Next Generation," and her ideas for moving beyond the political gridlock paralyzing our federal government.
MS. DIANE REHMI know you'll want to be part of the conversation. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Welcome to you, Congresswoman.
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZThank you so much.
REHMI'm so glad to have you here, finally. We've been trying to talk with you for a while, so it's good to have you here on this day when we seems closer than ever to a deal.
SCHULTZWell, last night, I was starting to get a little despondent that it wouldn't happen, when they pulled the bill off the House floor. This morning I woke up and was glad to hear from my staff that the deal that the Senate has been working on is in its final stages, I think, and it's actually about to be announced by Leader McConnell and Leader Reid. And, actually, that the House will go first.
SCHULTZWhich really makes sense. Because we need to make sure that we can remove as many procedural obstacles in the Senate, and having the House pass the bill, send it over to the Senate, is a way to do that. It still leaves some uncertainty, but assuming Speaker Boehner is prepared to have the whole House pass the bill, rather than rely on the majority of only the Republicans, then we should be able to send it over to the Senate.
REHMWhat is the indication from Leader Boehner that he wants the House to go first?
SCHULTZWell, the signals have gone very clearly to our leadership, as well as our staff, that that's what they're preparing to do. Because if it starts in the Senate, there are too many procedural obstacles...
SCHULTZThat allow for a 60 vote insistence in the Senate. If it starts in the House, then that obstacle -- there's only one opportunity in the Senate for them, procedurally, to slow this down or block it. And, obviously, given that tomorrow is the day that Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew has said we would default if we don't resolve this, then we're really up against the clock.
REHMWhat about Ted Cruz and his ability, even at the last moment, to put in a blocking limit?
SCHULTZWell, we're really sort of at first things first. We have to make sure we get 217 votes in the House...
REHMIn the House.
SCHULTZTo pass the bill. I expect that the overwhelming majority of House Democrats will support it, and then it just depends on -- we don't know how many absences we have today, and we might lose a couple, but we should have almost unanimity in the House Democratic Caucus. And, presumably, there are 20 or so Republicans that Speaker Boehner can deliver. In the Senate, with Ted Cruz, my understanding is he's not yet said that he would not use his procedural tactics that are available to him as a Senator to, you know, employ the 60 vote rule.
SCHULTZBut there'll only be one opportunity to do that. Clearly then, if he does that, or any Senator that does that, at that point, if the bill has passed the House, when the House has really been the most dug in, the blame for defaulting would go directly on the shoulders of that individual, so this would be Ted Cruz's default, and the Tea Party's default, at that point.
REHMWhat would be the ideal resolution here from your perspective, as far as length of time for lifting the limit and opening the federal government?
SCHULTZWell, there's the ideal, and then there's what we're -- the expression goes, the possible. In politics, we know, is the art of the possible. I think the ideal result that we're able to pass now is the negotiation that's been -- that's resulted where we will set up a conference committee, a budget conference committee that will report back by December 13th. I sit on the Appropriations Committee, so, as an Appropriator, that's really good news that we're gonna be able to sit down and hash out the spending levels that we will ultimately agree to when we go beyond the Continuing Spending Resolution, whose deadline would be January 15.
SCHULTZAnd then, February 17, I believe, would be the deadline for the next debt ceiling.
REHMDo you really think we're gonna go through this whole thing again?
SCHULTZI think the mechanisms that we're establishing in this proposed compromise, because there is gonna be a budget negotiation conference committee, gives us more of an opportunity to avoid the brinksmanship. But, you know, I don't wanna be a pessimist, but obviously, the super committee, which this isn't like that, but the super committee from 2011 when we almost breached the debt ceiling the last time, was not able to reach a resolution. Hopefully, I think because we need to have both sides be committed to stopping the brinksmanship, and stop living from crisis to crisis, that we have an opportunity.
SCHULTZI'm gonna be an eternal optimist.
REHMByron York spoke earlier about not touching the hot stove. Do you think that that might be in place here? That having gone through this whole exercise, having come out losers, The Tea Party. Do you think they really wanna do it again?
SCHULTZWell, I would tell you that there's not a lot that surprises me about the Tea Party and their subscribers. So, I can't say that they would fear the hot stove. I would have thought they would fear a government shutdown and the ramifications of that. I would have thought they would fear risking the full faith and credit of the United States. I mean, yesterday, Fitch, the credit rating agency, put us on a -- the United States on warning for not keeping our triple A rating, simply because of the possibility of this default.
SCHULTZAnd we've come right up against it again. So, you know, when you have members of Congress who associate with the Tea Party who have said that they think default would actually provide stability to the markets, you know, unfortunately, I think a lot of them are separated from reality. And so, a hot stove may not matter.
REHMCongressman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Her new book is titled, "For the Next Generation: A Wake-Up Call to Solving Our Nation's Problems." And if you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. Send your email, send your tweets, join us on Facebook. What do you think this whole exercise, if you can call it that, has done to the way people look at our government and how it functions?
SCHULTZYou know, it really worries me that we have, and I say we, because regardless of who's fault it is, and I clearly think the fault here, and the overwhelming public opinion is that the fault lies at the feet of the Republican Party, and Tea Party Republicans, in particular. But, regardless of default, I think we've gone through this process and undermined Americans' confidence in their government and in our ability to get things done. Important things. What's happened, and I talk about this in the book, and I hope people read it, because I want them to think about that we're blocking out the sun on so many pressing issues.
SCHULTZBecause we are living crisis to crisis, and Diane, I'm someone, obviously, as the Chair of the Democratic National Committee, I obviously care deeply about the Democratic Party's agenda, and I believe in it, and I subscribe to it, but I'm also a pragmatic legislator who understands that it can't always be my way. You know, I mean, this is my 21st year in office. And, look, 13 of those 21 years, I've been in the minority. You know, in order to be effective and get things done, I've had to build relationships across the aisle.
SCHULTZAnd find common ground and set aside strongly held views to try to move the ball down the field. You know, because we've got people who have come to their role in Congress for a different reason and through different motivations, really to dismantle government, it's undermined peoples' confidence.
REHMYou made a statement to the Huffington Post that the Tea Party's motives were, in part, personal against Barack Obama. Here's the quote. "I think plenty of the Tea Party-ers are hell bent on doing everything they can to block President Obama from being successful, and they're willing to even harm the economy in order to do that, so some of it is personal."
SCHULTZI mean, I've seen it. It's -- there are...
REHMIs it racial?
SCHULTZYou know, I'm not gonna make any accusations of racism, but it is clear that there is a hard core of Republican Tea Party members of Congress who don't accept President Obama's legitimacy. The legitimacy of his election, the finality -- in a sense, a lot of them don't accept the Democratic process if they don't like the outcome. I mean, look at, even Al Gore, who clearly didn't like the Supreme Court's decision, and, I think, won the election in 2000, realized that it would shake the core of our democracy if he continued to contest it.
SCHULTZAnd he asked everybody to move on and accept the result. We are in a situation, where, with the Affordable Care Act, which is legislation, that the Tea Party has not accepted, and has closed the government down, even after the Congress has passed the bill, the President has signed it, the Supreme Court has upheld it, and we had a Presidential election where the people affirmed, in re-electing President Obama, that they wanted to move forward.
SCHULTZAnd, if we -- we cannot, and I talk about this in the book, we cannot go through this kind of brinksmanship on every disagreement, major or minor, when one side doesn't agree.
REHMAnd the book is called, "For the Next Generation: A Wake-Up Call to Solving Our Nation's Problems." We'll talk more about that with Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She is the youngest woman ever elected to the Florida State Legislature. She is now the first Jewish woman elected from Florida. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd we've had lots of questions during the break about whether the deadline for raising the debt limit, paying the U.S. bills is actually tonight at midnight or tomorrow, the 17th at midnight. Congressman Schultz, what do you think?
SCHULTZRegardless of whether it's the beginning of tomorrow or the end of tomorrow, that isn't the point. We shouldn't be right up against the clock and allowing the potential risk of default whether -- over a difference of 12 hours.
REHMYou have said you needed to write this book for the next generation. Why?
SCHULTZBecause I really -- I started writing it three years ago. And, you know, I'm a mom. I have twin 14-year-olds and a ten-year-old. They are the loves of my life obviously. And so many -- you know, politicians always talk about how, you know, we have to make the tough decisions for the next generation. And, you know, for me that's not an abstract concept. For me I've got -- this is very personal. When I turn around in the backseat of my car, the next generation is up close and personal.
SCHULTZAnd every decision -- since I became a mom every decision I make is done through that lens. And every decision I make is impactful on what their life is going to be like, and the lives of, you know, families that I represent. So for me I needed to sound an alarm bell. I needed to lay out, not for Washington insiders because if you read this book and you're a Washington insider, you're going to think you know all this backwards and forwards.
SCHULTZBut regular folks, moms and dads who must be tearing their hair out at what we're going through here in Washington and can't believe -- because they know they couldn't live their lives this way. They know they couldn't keep messing up deadlines and stop doing their job at work. So I wanted to make sure that not only did I lay out my view of the major problems, education and health care and the environment and the economy and so many others, but also to give parents and readers tools that they can use on how to follow up and get engaged in the thing that makes them -- that drives them the most.
SCHULTZWell, if you care -- if you're frustrated with your child's education and you're sick of the No Child Left Behind Act and you don't understand why your child's teacher has to teach to the test because of the high stakes exam requirements then you can get engaged in the PTA. You can lobby your state legislators and push them to make sure that when it comes to the president's-race-to-the-top funds that they are drawing those funds down and focusing on shifting from a high-stakes exam that only measures how that child did on that one test to a broader representation of that child's success.
SCHULTZAnd we have to make sure that we're pushing for our children to succeed on the path they choose in life.
REHMYou used a word there. You said lobby. Very, very few individuals think they can get either into your office or into even their state legislator's office. Money is playing such a huge role here.
SCHULTZBut that's another reason that I wrote this and that I hope regular people read it because, yes, the word lobby, you know, has all kinds of connotations to it. But there's a chapter in the book that's called What Happens Next is Up to Us. And I talk about how, you know, when I lectured at the university level before I was elected to congress, I used to lecture public policy professionals. You know, you had real, you know, medical professionals and other kinds of people whose job was affected by public policy.
SCHULTZAnd I would always ask them to raise their hands if they'd ever signed a petition. And all the hands would go up. And then I'd ask them had they ever sat down and written a handwritten letter to an elected official explaining to them what their view was? And, you know, almost no one's hand went up.
SCHULTZAnd so what I told them and what I tell readers in this book is, look stop signing petitions because you're likely to have an elected official spend about as much time paying attention to your -- the message of the petition you've signed as the time it took you to sign it. Because, you know, we know you're running out of the supermarket and that someone shoves the clipboard in your hand, tells you what the petition says. You probably don't read and you put your name on it.
SCHULTZBut we know that the most important resource is a constituent's time. So if you've taken the time to write a letter, even type an email in your own words, not sign a form letter, not just fill out your name at the bottom of some organization's email, or even better, come down to a town hall meeting that an elected official has. So few people do that. And the opportunity that you have even afterwards -- after the meeting's over to go up to the member of congress or the legislator or elected official and just have a few words with them, chat with them for a little bit. The impact of that is immeasurable but they have to make an effort. It's hard but they have to make an effort.
REHMYou know, people around the country see you folks in congress as sort of being above it all.
SCHULTZI know, and...
REHMHow is your life similar to or different from the way ordinary Americans live?
SCHULTZOh, it's so -- my life as a member of congress is so similar. I mean, I have twin 14-year-olds and a ten-year-old and I'm balancing work and family with my husband all the time. When I'm -- I mean, my job happens to be out of town so I commute back and forth every week to my district. But I am the school parent in my family. So -- in fact, yesterday I was on the phone with my son's guidance counselor and with my daughter's debate teacher and had to ask them questions.
SCHULTZI keep -- you know, I'm constantly keeping track of, you know, what's going on in my children's life at school and sports. And we have to -- I have to mop my floor and pick up after my dog. And, you know, it's a pretty normal regular life. But that's why with the House of Representatives, it's so important that people be able to interact with us and that they make an effort because we're a representative body.
REHMBut what does it take to get into your door, Congresswoman?
SCHULTZWell, it's a little more challenging to get into any member's door so I want to -- we should manage constituents' expectations. You don't need to get a specific appointment to sit down across our desk from us. You can go to a town hall or you can dial into a telephone town hall and, you know, ask a question. You can sit down and write an email that's personal. If you write an email to your elected official, you should make it personal because you're much more likely to get a specific response back than...
REHMBut isn't the front desk officer likely to toss that out or into a bin or whatever?
SCHULTZNo. No, no. The good legislators -- and, you know, there are varying degrees of responsiveness certainly, but the overwhelming majority of legislators, Republican and Democrat are responsive to their constituents, do want to give them specific answers. And -- but, you know, there's -- it's a two-way street. And what I talk about in the book is you can't just sit back, cross your arms and expect your elected officials to get it all done by themselves. Democracy is a two-way street and it's a participatory activity.
REHMGive us an idea of how you got started in the electoral process.
SCHULTZSo I worked for my predecessor, Peter Deutsch, when he was in the Florida legislature and I always knew I wanted to run for office. I wanted to make a difference. I was raised, you know, around my very Jewish family dinner table to believe in the idea that because we were fortunate, we should give back. And my way of giving back was to make public service a career and to make the world a better place.
SCHULTZAnd I knew I wanted to run for office one day because my parents always taught me you should reach for the stars, shoot for the top of whatever you do. And I thought I would have that opportunity maybe down the road when the path that most women take, which is get married and have kids, wait until they're older and are more independent. But then Representative Deutsch told me one day that he thought I could run for his seat right then.
REHMIn the state legislature.
SCHULTZIn the state legislature in the Florida House. I was 25. I had just gotten married. Steve and I had been married for a year. We'd just bought our first house. We didn't have kids yet but the last thing I thought I could do then was up and run for office. But, you know, it was a no-time-like-the-present opportunity. And I ended up getting told by all the good old boys in my community it was not my turn. I needed to get online and they would get to me when they thought it was my turn.
SCHULTZAnd I said, you know, I have a lot of good ideas. And there were no young women in the legislature. And I thought my voice and the voice of my generation was significantly underrepresented. And so I said, I'm going to run and I'd love to have your support. And I walked eight hours a day, seven days a week for six months. I had no money. I scraped together $21,000.
SCHULTZMy husband would actually -- and I tell this story in the book -- my husband would actually send me out the door every day with a chocolate milkshake because I was losing so much weight -- because it's 95 degrees in the middle of the summer in Florida -- that he was a little worried that I wasn't going to come back at the end of the day. And I got 53 percent of the vote in a six-way primary and I won.
SCHULTZAnd I've been in office ever since. I served eight years in the Florida House and four in the Senate. And then I succeeded Congressman Deutsch which -- because he ran for congress in '92 -- in 2004 and was elected to his seat in the House of Representatives.
REHMSo your life from early adulthood has been legislating.
SCHULTZ...has been legislating and public service. And it was something that I just made a decision that -- you know, I grew up in the me generation in the '80s. I graduated from high school in 1984. And all of my friends then, you know, they were going the corporate ladder route. I knew that what would make me happy was going to work every day and being able to do something to make other people's lives better.
REHMTell me what your reaction is to the headline in the New York Times yesterday that it is the women in the Senate who are leading this effort towards some kind of resolution.
SCHULTZI couldn't agree with that more. The -- women are consensus builders. And there's a chapter in the book on women's opportunity and equality and rights, and the need for us to elect more women and to push more women to reach for the stars like I had the opportunity to. Because women so often, I've found -- and are my colleagues on the House side, we love the Senate but we think the House is pretty good too -- and the women members have said, we need more of us.
SCHULTZBecause we know that if they put us -- if we had more authority and power in the House of Representatives as women we know if they put us in a room for a few hours we could solve a whole lot of problems. Because women are so often wanting to get to yes and they don't want to destroy the other person on the other side of the negotiating table. They want to find a way to give everybody a win. And you can see that playing out with the women senators in this debt ceiling and government shutdown fight.
REHMOne email quick from Tom in Michigan. "Please ask the congresswoman why she refused to have her pay cut during the government shutdown."
SCHULTZWell, I don't think the government should've been shut down. I don't think anyone's, you know, pay should've been -- no one should've been furloughed. It wasn't necessary. What we needed to do was pass a clean debt ceiling. We needed to pass a clean continuing spending resolution and not shut the government down and use whether or not people have access to quality affordable health care as ransom.
REHMCongressman (sic) Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Her new book is titled "For the Next Generation: A Wakeup Call to Solving our Nation's Problems." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's a Tweet from Nicholas. "Don't you bear some responsibility for the hyper partisan tone on the shutdown?"
SCHULTZWell, actually, that's part of -- that's one of the things I mention and discuss in the book as well, that we have to tone things down in general. And, you know, I tell some stories in the book about different examples on -- from my party as well as from Republicans. You know, these days I think, especially with the advent of the rise of the Tea Party, there are quite a bit more examples of extremism and extreme rhetoric and inflammatory rhetoric coming from the Tea Party.
SCHULTZBut there's no question that we all bear some responsibility. And there are examples that I share in the book of even times that I felt I should've chosen my words more carefully. And I really try hard, especially since when the president asked me to chair the Democratic National Committee, you know, now that I'm one of the political voices for the president, it's important for me to make sure that I choose words more carefully because I'm not only speaking for myself. You know, I mean, I'm certainly an elected representative but I represent the president as well.
SCHULTZBut, you know, look when you're an elected official and you're trying to attract attention to your message and to advance an agenda, you know, the way people pay attention is you're going to say some things that are designed to draw attention. But we do have to be careful so that we don't fan the flames unnecessarily.
REHMOne issue that an awful lot of Democrats raise is, was there a failure on the president's part, on the Democrats part to better explain and sell Obamacare?
SCHULTZThe president, when he was elected, inherited the largest set of problems at once of any president since FDR. I mean, he was clearly drinking from the biggest fire hose that was ever created. And so it's remarkable -- and in part remarkable because Nancy Pelosi is a force of nature -- and it's remarkable that we passed the most significant health care reform legislation in history. And that now we're on the brink of making sure that everybody has access to that health care.
SCHULTZBut I think in trying to make sure that we could stop the bleeding with the economy, you know, he had the Recovery Act that he passed, he had -- we had to save the automobile industry, we had so many different issues, so many balls in the air, that I think they've acknowledged that they could've done a better job explaining the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. But, you know, in a sense it's understandable because I think they were so focused on -- they didn't want to toot their own horn. There wasn't a lot of patting themselves on the back. They got something done and they moved on because there were a lot of challenges in front of them.
REHMAnd do you think they simply did not anticipate this extraordinary move against Obamacare?
SCHULTZI mean, I think the reaction on the part of the Tea Party to anything that President Obama proposed was unprecedented and unexpected. And so the activity that occurred in the summer of 2009 with all of the -- in August we went out and did town hall meetings. And the venom that was driven by, you know, large amounts of right wing money to fan flames in communities across the country was a huge driver in the animas.
REHMBut now you've got these millions of people trying to get into the system. And what's happened? The computer system, the telephone system, all of it seems to be botched up.
SCHULTZWell, there were definitely some kinks. There's definitely...
SCHULTZAnd there still are. And those kinks are being sorted out and ironed out. But look, there's a six-month open enrollment period for a reason, so that you give people, you know, time for those kinks to be ironed through but also time for people to take the opportunity to comparison shop, look at the plans that are available to them side by side and sign up for coverage. And the opportunity to insure 31 million Americans is absolutely unprecedented and essential.
SCHULTZBut look, for me, in my perspective as a breast cancer survivor -- and I share this a little bit in the book as well -- you know, January 1, breast cancer survivors like me will have the peace of mind to know that we can never again be dropped or denied coverage for a pre-existing condition. The other shoe will not drop if, God forbid, we ever face a recurrence. And what the Republicans have been trying to do is deny us that peace of mind.
SCHULTZI have talked to women who have told me that because of the co-pay and the deductible who are living through breast cancer that they had to choose between the radiation or the chemo because they couldn't afford both. I mean, that is what they're trying to do.
REHMDebbie Wasserman Schultz. She is the representative from Florida. Her new book is titled "For the Next Generation: A Wakeup Call to Solving our Nation's Problems." Short break, we'll take your calls when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd if you've just joined us, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is my guest. She's written a new book not only about her own career, her own ideas. It's a book for the next generation. That's the title -- subtitle, "The Wake-Up Call to Solving Our Nation's Problems." And if you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. First, let's go to Dan in Avon, N.Y. Hi. You're on the air.
DANThank you for taking my call.
DANI have a question, and I don't think there's an answer that's obvious. But why hasn't Congress, both the House and the Senate, when they decided they want to start cutting back the budget, which -- okay, it's a good idea. But why are they doing it so stupidly where they're just doing cut and burn instead of getting a committee in both the House and Senate together to go through line by line and program by program to see what actually -- if it's now outdated and the reason why that particular thing was put into law...
DAN...it's now, you know, not doing what it's supposed to...
DAN...and do things, you know, intelligently. I...
REHMWhat do you think?
SCHULTZWell, that's a really good question. And he's right. The short answer is because the Republicans in the House of Representatives have refused to appoint conferees, that after the House and the Senate have passed their budget and we've been going through the process as in the appropriations committee, taking up the appropriations bills, we've not been able to get the House and Senate together for a conference committee.
SCHULTZThis proposed compromise to reopen the government and pay the bills will give us an opportunity to have a conference committee that will negotiate replacing the sequester which is the automatic across-the-board spending cuts from the Budget Control Act of 2011 and try to make sure we can do this in a little bit more of a targeted way. I don't want to overstate, you know, that we're going to have any big huge solutions. But we do need to stop dealing with this in a short term way and come up with a way to have broader agreements on appropriate spending levels.
REHMDo you believe that what's happening the last few months is going to lead to greater cooperation or both sides further digging in?
SCHULTZI think the jury is still out. I know that Democrats are very willing. And President Obama has consistently said how willing he is to talk about anything the Republicans are interested in talking about and negotiating on those things, but not with a gun to our heads, not where you're holding the economy hostage in exchange for the ransom of whatever issue they have fought and lost and then, you know, hold the government and our economy hostage.
REHMTo Andy in Norman, Okla. Hi. You're on the air.
ANDYHello, Diane. I was curious if the representative could comment on the discrepancy in representatives when they're representing their constituency, the people they feel elected them into power versus the actual district, the people that they're representing that didn't elect them but still need the benefits of their leadership.
SCHULTZThat is a good question. Well, once you're elected, regardless of whether you're a Democrat or Republican, I mean, hopefully you understand that you represent all of your constituents. And we all, I think, most of us believe that that's who we should be listening to. Unfortunately, I don't think Tea Party members of Congress have been listening to anyone other than their Tea Party constituency.
SCHULTZBut, you know, there is always the rub throughout American history of whether we're supposed to exclusively reflect the people that we represent, you know, the majority of the people that we represent in our single-member individual district or, you know, are we supposed to make sure that, as a representative, we're sent to Washington to gather information -- and we obviously have more information than our constituents possibly can -- and make the best decision.
SCHULTZAnd then we have to go home and defend that decision. And you stand for election, and your constituents decide whether they think you've consistently made the right one or one they agree with. And that's always a rub. You know, hopefully on balance, most members of Congress are doing, you know, a combination of both.
REHMAnd yet we have a caller in Plantation, Fla. who raises yet another issue.
SCHULTZOh, my corner...
REHMGerald, you're on the air.
GERALDGood morning, Debbie. I thank you many a time.
SCHULTZHow are you?
GERALDI'm doing just fine here in glorious, beautiful south Florida.
SCHULTZI can't wait to come home.
GERALDMy question or comment is is that I think a lot of this problem is causing in the House is because gerrymandering of the district. These intransient representatives come from such safe districts, and they've been gerrymandering that they really don't care about what, you know, what's going on 'cause they know they have no problem when they go home if they're going to be reelected.
REHMWhat do you think about that issue? Where is it taking us as a country?
SCHULTZGerrymandering is a huge problem. You have the overwhelming majority of members who were elected with more than 60 percent of the vote. And, I mean, that's because districts are designed to, you know, elect more partisans than a more appropriate distribution of voters. What we did in Florida, actually -- and, you know, Gerald will remember this -- in 2010, we amended Florida's constitution to require the legislature, which is controlled by Republicans now, to use standards when they drew the districts.
SCHULTZSo they had to ignore incumbency, so they couldn't draw a district specifically to protect an incumbent. They had to ignore political party affiliation, so they couldn't draw a district to reflect one political party. And they had to respect municipal boundaries, so they couldn't take a city and cut it up six ways from Sunday so that they could minimize the impact of a particular group of resident, no matter what their affiliation was.
SCHULTZAnd as a result, when we did that -- just, for example, in the Congressional Delegation, we went from a delegation -- well, you know, Florida's a purple state. We won -- you know, Democratic candidates won, I think, the presidency in Florida four out of the last five presidential elections. So we're 50/50. But we had a delegation in Congress that was 19-to-6 Republican to Democrat.
SCHULTZNow, after that amendment, we added two seats in Congress because of our population growth, and we went to 17-to-10. And we -- and the Florida House, Democrats added eight seats in the Florida House of Representatives, two seats in the Florida Senate. And there's actually a lawsuit now that is still being waged because in two cases, the Senate and Congress, it's clear that they broke the -- the Republicans broke those rules.
SCHULTZAnd now we'll see what the courts decide. But we've got to have, you know, more standards in place, more independent commissions that draw districts fairly. Legislators have too much personal interest in the outcome of the way their district lines look.
REHMI want to read you two emails, so you'll understand how divided not only is the audience but the country. An email from Robert says, "Rep. Wasserman Schultz is one of the most articulate Democrats on the national scene. I hope she continues to shine."
REHMHere's another from Kaye in Dallas, Texas who says, "As" -- sorry, it's from Laurel in Ann Arbor, Mich. who says, "As someone who identifies with the Tea Party, I resent your disrespectful treatment of us on your show today. I am forced to subsidize your show through our taxes. Yet you have on a guest such as this woman who has only hateful inaccurate things to say about us. Why should I have to pay for that?"
SCHULTZWell, we should make sure that we give broad access to all kinds of opinions. And certainly that's why we support taxpayer funds going for public radio, public television. It's in the public interest. You're not guaranteed to hear everything you want to hear. That's what the First Amendment is all about. But, you know, one thing I will say is that, look, it takes all kinds.
SCHULTZIn order to get things done, we have to work together. And I tell a number of stories in the book that are examples of ways that I have made an effort to try to reach across the aisle and bring people together. There's a gentleman named Dan Webster, who's a Republican from Florida. He's the former speaker of the Florida House. And we work together. When he came to Congress in 2010, we decided we were going to host a bipartisan dinner so that we could start building some trust. And we're up to 30 or 40 members, and it's going well. And, you know, we've got to start somewhere.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go back to the phones. Let's go to Winamac, Ind. Let's see. Hi there, Richard. You're on the air.
RICHARDWell, thank you for taking my call.
RICHARDMy comment for Mrs. Schultz is basically, she made the statement that people need to contact their elected representatives personally. Myself, I have retired. I am a political news junkie. I like to keep up with what's going on, and I must say I don't approve of a whole lot of it anymore. But I do. I write my congressman and senators. And I do it with email, with snail mail. I have called offices.
RICHARDWhen I get response from these elected representatives, they are generally computer-generated letters, whether it's email or snail mail. They are condescending, and they quite often don't even refer to what I wrote to them about in the first place. And, excuse me, but that's -- you know, it's rather discouraging when you do like she said and contact them and this is the kind of response you get.
SCHULTZAnd I can understand that frustration. Look, there are going to be varying degrees of responsiveness, like I said. But I really encourage the best contact is obviously personal contact. And like I said, it's going to be hard to get -- you know, we have 735,000 or so constituents. So meeting with everyone who would want to sit down with us is hard.
REHMOf course. What about a telephone call?
SCHULTZYou know, sometimes a telephone call is possible. But you -- we would be on the phone or...
SCHULTZ...taking meetings with our constituents and be able to do nothing else if we said yes to every one of those requests. So in the book I encourage people to find the issue that motivates them the most, get involved in an organization that is a strong advocate around those issues, and, you know, almost always, they are going to have access to a member's office because they are in the Capitol and -- and I'm talking about whether it's a, you know, a professional organization or a nonprofit charity.
SCHULTZAnd your voice can be heard through the advocacy of that organization, but you should absolutely take the time. Letters are great, more personal, the better. But go down -- take every opportunity you can to attend an event in which your representative is the speaker. And, you know, whether you're sitting in the audience, you have an opportunity to answer -- to stand up and ask a question. Or when the meeting breaks up, and -- you know, I always stay after, to the bitter end, and talk to people who come up to me after an event is over. And you really have a chance to get the ear of that person.
REHMAnd just as a postscript to Laurel's email, as someone who identifies with the Tea Party, I do want to remind you we had Marco Rubio on this program just recently. And, let's see, from Anne who says, "Speaking of next generation issues, can you talk about other possible strong female candidates other than Sen. Clinton for president in 2016? Is there interest from people like Senators Klobuchar or McCaskill?"
SCHULTZYou know, I think either Sen. Klobuchar or Claire McCaskill would make excellent candidates for president. And we have so many strong women that are in a position now to move up the ladder, 20 women in the Senate. We have 81 -- a record 81 women in the House of Representatives.
SCHULTZThat -- but it's essential, Diane, that we populate the pipeline because, in order to make sure that a little girl in America -- like, my parents told me my whole life -- can grow up and be anything she wants to be, even president of the United States, even chair of the Federal Reserve, like we saw with Janet Yellen the other day...
SCHULTZ...so now we have another example of a powerful woman who made it big -- we've got to make sure that we are reaching behind us as women. Whether you're a woman in the private sector or the public sector or the nonprofit sector, reaching behind us, nurture another young woman that's coming behind you. Don't just celebrate that you've reached the next rung on the ladder. Reach behind you and bring another woman on that rung that you've just left because we've got to replace ourselves. We've got to make sure that pipeline...
SCHULTZ...is filled, and we've got to -- and that way, we're going to ensure that women are in more positions of authority, and we'll get that, you know, that long list of women that we need to be succeeding, whoever it is, as the first woman president.
REHMAnd, still, lots of people want to know, as Ruth writes, "How much are legislators influenced by voters and how much by lobbyists in the negotiation process?"
SCHULTZWell, I mean, the overwhelming majority of legislators and elected officials that I know are influenced primarily by the people they represent. But let's not denigrate the term lobbyist. You know, anyone who crosses the threshold of my door is a lobbyist. They have an interest in an issue. They are pushing me to support their position. And, you know, lobbyist has developed this connotation because there are hired guns, you know, who...
REHMAnd because there's so much money.
SCHULTZYeah, well -- but lobbying is advocacy. And, you know, I don't -- no matter who's coming to see me on an issue, you're a lobbyist whether you're a regular citizen or whether you're a high paid hired gun that is advocating for a position for a particular private sector interest. There's nothing wrong with advocacy.
SCHULTZThat's what America's all about. The problem is is when you have elected officials who don't listen to varying opinions and who -- you know, I've unfortunately heard lots of stories over the years of colleagues who don't take meetings and who won't listen to either their constituents or only listen to the high-paid lobbyists. That's a problem.
REHMWhat's your own next step?
SCHULTZOh, my next step is -- you know, the president has asked me to stay on at the DNC, and I was elected to a full four-year term. You know, I finished Tim Kaine's term as chair of the DNC, and now I have been reelected to that role. So I, you know, hope to -- I'm going to -- I plan on continuing to do the best job I can in that role. And then professionally, you know, my most important professional responsibility is to represent my constituents in the 23rd district of Florida.
REHMDo you want to run for the Senate?
SCHULTZI'm running for reelection to the U.S. House of Representatives next year in 2014, and I hope my constituents will continue to support me.
REHMAnd maybe someday for president?
SCHULTZI -- my immediate goals are to do the jobs that I've been assigned. I have a lot of balls in the air, got to do a good job on both.
REHMDebbie Wasserman Schultz, her new book is titled "For the Next Generation: A Wake-Up Call to Solving Our Nation's Problems." And let's hope our nation's current problems get solved today.
SCHULTZWe're going to work hard, got to work together.
REHMI hope so. Thank you and congratulations.
SCHULTZThank you so much, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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