Interview with DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Interview with DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz

By The Situation Room - July 20, 2011

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": The clock is ticking right now towards a possible default of the federal debt, and stress levels are rising here in the nation's capital. The Democratic Party Chair and the Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz certainly has a lot on her plate right now with the debt crisis, everything else, as well as a very, very strong verbal showdown with a Republican colleague of hers from Florida.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Congressman (sic), thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: All right, let's talk about substance first, then we'll get into this little rift --


BLITZER: -- you have with this congressman.

The "Gang of Six" is out with a plan. The president sort of warmly embracing it yesterday, even though there are cuts in Medicare for the elderly included.

Is this something you can live with?

SCHULTZ: Well, I think the really good and big news out of that "Gang of Six" proposal is that there are finally Republicans, particularly in the Senate, that recognize that default would be cataclysmic and that we need to avoid that at any cost, and we need to make sure that we have a deal that can be embraced by -- as broadly by as many members of both houses as we can.

BLITZER: If there are cuts in Medicare, Social Security, could you embrace it? SCHULTZ: Well, I haven't seen the details of the plan or know how it impacts Medicare. But I do think it's important to note that the Democrats have put all of our sacred cows on the table, that we're willing to consider items that are going to preserve the long-term Medicare and Social Security without impacting or harming seniors.

BLITZER: Because one of the proposals the president himself has embraced is what's called means testing for Medicare recipients. In other words, richer elderly people would have to pay more to get the basic Medicare treatment than middle class or poor Medicare recipients.

Is that -- is that something you can live with?

SCHULTZ: Well, I think we need -- I'm not prepared to commit to any specific proposal, but like I said, we are willing to put all of our sacred cows on the table to make sure that we can get a big solution to a big problem.

And there are a lot of things that we' placed on the table as an option. It would be wonderful if we had the Republicans cone to the table and put their sacred cows on the table as well.

BLITZER: Some of the Republicans have done it with the tax increases that are included in the "Gang of Six."

SCHULTZ: Exactly, the "Gang of Six."


BLITZER: But you just heard some of those liberal Democrats, your colleagues in the House , saying -- and Richard Trumpka from the AFL-CIO, they can't accept this "Gang of Six" proposals precisely because it deals with entitlements -- Social Security, Medicare, Medicare -- and they will never vote for it.

And so, you are the chair, you have a tough position. You've got to get the conservative Democrats, the liberal Democrats, but you're also a member of Congress. You know, what will you do if it comes down to a deal that the president wants, supporting the "Gang of Six" legislation that deals with -- and you have a lot of seniors in your district in south Florida?

SCHULTZ: I do. Making sure we protect seniors from being gravely harmed by changes to Medicare is the goal of all Democrats, including the president. And I know that long term making sure that we can get a big solution to a big problem is going to be important.

And like I said, that's why we've put everything on the table and we need the Republicans in the House to join President Obama and congressional Democrats so that we can sort out what everyone can agree on.

BLITZER: There's one other technical issue that the president seems to be open to, and certainly a lot of others are open to, I'm wondering if you're open to adjusting the cost of living increase for Social Security, Medicare, so that the seniors who are getting a regular cost of living increase, it will be reduced in the years to come, and then in five years and ten years down the road.

Is that something you could live with, a technical adjustment of the cost of living?

SCHULTZ: The important thing is that when it comes to including entitlements in any deal, there needs to be some balance. There needs to be shared sacrifice.

I think the president and congressional Democrats are looking for that balance, and we could look at those sacred cows if the Republicans are putting theirs on the table. But so far, at least on the House side, there hasn't been any inclination to do that.

BLITZER: So -- but if the Republicans were willing that, at least the Republicans are in members of the "Gang of Six," like Tom Coburn and others, if they were willing to increase taxes, you would be willing to deal with entitlement cuts?

SCHULTZ: Accomplishing a big deal with everything on the table would be possible with that shared sacrifice. I don't see how it's possible without it.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about this little fight you've had with Congressman Alan West who -- he represents a district just north of yours in south Florida; he's a Republican. You were on the House floor and you said this, and I'll play the clip of what you said.


SCHULTZ: Incredulously, the gentleman from Florida who represents thousands of Medicare beneficiaries, as do I, is supportive this plan that would increase costs for Medicare beneficiaries. Unbelievable from a member from south Florida.


BLITZER: All right, to which he sent a letter to you and copied the Republican leadership, and it's blistering.

He says, "Look, Debbie, I understand that after I departed the House floor, you directed your floor speech comments directly towards me.

"Let me make myself perfectly clear, you want a personal fight, I am happy to oblige. You are the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the United States House of Representatives. If you have something to say to me, stop being a coward and say it to my face, otherwise, shut the heck up. Focus on your own Congressional district."

That's not all he says. He goes on.

"I am bringing your actions today to our majority leader and majority whip and from this time forward, understand that I shall defend myself forthright against your heinous, characterless behavior --which dates back to the disgusting protest you ordered at my campaign headquarters October 2010 in Deerfield Beach. You have proven repeatedly you are not a lady, therefore, shall not be afforded due respect from me.

"Steadfast and loyal, Congressman Alan B. West, F-Florida."

Wow. Have you ever been attacked publicly like that?

SCHULTZ: No, and I was surprised that he sent that to my personal e-mail, an e-mail that he didn't previously have.

But it's -- you know, it doesn't faze me. I mean, it isn't surprising he would react to the probably untold pressure he's getting from his constituents.

I mean, he and I both represent, as I pointed out in debate on the House floor, represent thousands of senior citizens who under this cut, cap and balance -- really, duck dodge and dismantle -- plan that the Republicans have proposed would face huge increases in their Medicare costs. It would end Medicare as we know it. It's the Ryan plan on steroids. And he clearly is feeling the pressure.

If he can't handle that pressure, can't handle being called out in debate on the House floor, then he probably should change his position.

And, you know, he also suggested that I focus on my own congressional district. I'll point out that I was. He's a constituent of mine, and so I was dutifully doing my job and representing my constituents and taking to task someone who I think is really taking the wrong position when it comes to the people we represent in south Florida who badly need that safety net and make sure that we're not going to dramatically increase their costs, which that cut, cap and balance plan does.

BLITZER: So you're saying he lives in your district, he doesn't live in his own district?

SCHULTZ: Yes, Congressman West is a constituent of the 20th congressional district, but represents the 22cd.

BLITZER: Now there's reports out there as of this moment that he called you and apologized.

SCHULTZ: That is absolutely untrue. I have not received an apology. I haven't received a phone call. I know he has my e-mail, I haven't got an apology on my e-mail nor on my fax machine in my district office or my congressional office in the Capitol or at the Democratic National Committee.

BLITZER: He's quoted in this roll call as having told a "Huffington Post" reporter, I just apologized.

SCHULTZ: That's simply not true. BLITZER: As of this moment, he has not called you, he has not communicated -- he has not apologized?

SCHULTZ: No, he has not.

BLITZER: If he does call you and say I'm sorry, what will you say?

SCHULTZ: Well, I would appreciate his apology, and I would hope that he would reconsider his ill-advised position on increasing benefits -- increasing costs for Medicare beneficiaries.

But I think Congressman West really needs to understand that when we're debating on the House floor, that's what we do. We engage in a back and forth. And if he can't handle that, particularly on an issue as important to our constituents as Medicare, then he probably needs to reconsider his really ill-advised position on Medicare.

BLITZER: Obviously a lot of hard feelings there with the congressman.

By the way, we invited him to come into THE SITUATION ROOM today like you, and his office told us he couldn't do it, he didn't want to do it today. But he has an open invitation to come in if he wants to come in.

SCHULTZ: But, Wolf, understand, the hard feelings are one way. I simply debated a policy issue on the House floor. He had spoken directly before me and I got a tirade in response out of the clear blue sky. It was really unfortunate.

BLITZER: I would like you to sit with me for a moment, cause Mitt Romney is speaking out in California right now. I want to go there, just listen briefly and get your reaction.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: -- $787 million that he would be able to keep unemployment below 8 percent. It has not been below 8 percent since. And for Californians, it's above 10 percent. It's two full percentage points higher than when he was elected president.

Now some years ago, just weeks after he became inaugurated, he went on "The Today Show," and he said, look, if I can't turn this economy around in three years, I'm looking at a one-term proposition. And I'm here to collect.


ROMNEY: We have to make sure we focus our attention on getting Americans back to work.


BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE) -- now going after the president. He's arguably the front-runner right now for the Republican nomination.

You're the Democratic party chair. Is he the Republican who fears you the most?

SCHULTZ: Well, it's interesting that Mitt Romney is talking about job creation and unemployment when he was 47th in job creation in the nation as governor of Massachusetts, wasn't even able to recover the jobs lost in the 2001 recession in his state.

So coming from someone with an abysmal track record, he really shouldn't be questioning the president's record which has begun to turn this economy around. And now, each month, each quarter has created private sector jobs, millions at this point, when we were bleeding jobs before the president was inaugurated in 2009.

BLITZER: Possibly getting ready for a possibly Romney-Obama run for the White House?

SCHULTZ: I think it's really unclear. They have a collection of interesting candidates on the other side. They're going to duke it out for the next few months, and we'll see who emerges as their nominee.

BLITZER: Thanks for coming in.

SHULTZ: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Debbie Wasserman Shultz, is a congresswoman from south Florida, she's also the chairman for the Democratic National Committee.


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