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Senator Patty Murray & DNC Chair Wasserman Schultz on "State of the Union"

Senator Patty Murray & DNC Chair Wasserman Schultz on "State of the Union"

By State of the Union - May 27, 2012

CROWLEY: We want to turn now to the head of the Democratic National Committee, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Thank you so much for being here.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you, Candy. Great to be with you.

CROWLEY: Let me start out and just pick up with something that the mayor was talking about, saying, listen, you know, the American people decide about qualifications, saying that he would -- that certainly Mitt Romney is every bit as qualified to be president as President Obama was when he ran for president. Do you quibble with that?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, there's a few things actually that I agree with Rudy Giuliani on. Number one, the dramatic difference between Rudy Giuliani's job creation record and Mitt Romney's when he was given an opportunity to actually govern.

Massachusetts was 47th out of 50 in job creation coming off the last recession, and when Mitt Romney had an opportunity as a governor to demonstrate that he could take the central premise that he's using in this campaign for his qualification for president, which is his record at Bain Capital, to apply that in government in Massachusetts, he has an abysmal record.

When it comes to qualifications for president, I'd say that Rudy Giuliani is absolutely right. Barack Obama put his qualifications and his case that he made to the American people before them in 2008, and they elected him overwhelmingly against John McCain.

And so for the last three-and-a-half years, President Obama has had an opportunity to take us from the worst economic crisis that he inherited of any president since FDR and had 26 straight months of job growth in the private sector.

And let me also just quickly take issue with what Mayor Giuliani is saying. We are running on President Obama's incredible record of job growth. We've got a long way to go, but 26 straight months of job growth in the private sector, a resurgence in the manufacturing sector, an opportunity to rescue and thankfully rescue the American automobile industry when Mitt Romney would have let them go bankrupt.

So we have a record that we're proud to run on.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you this -- you would agree though we've been talking about Bain and so has the Obama re-elect committee for some time which isn't exactly the president's record.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: And we will continue to do that, absolutely.

CROWLEY: OK. Let me show our viewers an ABC News/Washington Post poll. The question was, which candidate would do better on handling the economy? Romney, 47 percent, President Obama, 46. How about creating jobs? Obama, 47, Romney, 44. Essentially it is a dead heat.

Why is that? If you've done such a great job -- as Democrats, if this president does such a great job from bringing us back from the precipice, why do -- you know, why is it a dead heat that they think that Obama would do as much for jobs or the economy as the president?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, what we continue to maintain, I mean, this election was always going to be close and it will be close probably right down to the wire. President Obama has acknowledged that while we've made progress, he is not satisfied with the progress that we've made. We need to continue to push hard.

We've got a long way to go. But we have made progress by making investments in the economy, by striking a balance and making sure that through tax breaks for small businesses and the middle class, 18 different tax breaks for small businesses, an opportunity that we've taken advantage of to cut taxes for the middle class, make investments in opportunities for more students to go to college and get an opportunity to be successful.

While Mitt Romney continues to support returning to the failed policies of the past, Candy, and providing more and more tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires and making sure they can continue to do well.

CROWLEY: But, again, given that you're running on the record and the things that you want to do in the future, why is it so dead even at this point? Does it not say that a lot of the American people don't agree that this has been a great success?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No, I think that if you look at the last few presidential elections, they've all been close. I mean, the American people are divided. We have a dramatic contrast, and completely different directions that the American people could choose to go in.

We believe that the American people will choose to go in the direction that Barack Obama has been taking us because he has been fighting for the middle class and working families and because he wants to make sure that everybody has a fair shot, everybody pays their fair share, and everybody pays by the same set of rules.

Mitt Romney wants to take us back to the policies that is got us into the worst economic crisis in the first place, let Wall Street write their own rules again, repeal health care reform, and put us in a situation where...

CROWLEY: Let me ask you...

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: ... we could give hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks to people who are already doing well instead of making sure everybody has an opportunity to do well.

CROWLEY: In a Quinnipiac University poll, specifically on your state, the state of Florida, well outside the margin of error here, when you ask folks who is your choice for president? Mitt Romney 47, Obama, 41. What is going on in Florida that makes the president outside the margin of error of sort of losing at this point?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: There are a number of different polls. That one poll is a snapshot. There are other polls that show it, you know, neck and neck or President Obama ahead in Florida. He's ahead in most of the battleground states, ahead in Ohio, ahead in Wisconsin, particularly because he was willing to invest and rescue the American automobile industry, make sure that the 1.4 million jobs in the pipeline of that industry remained, while Mitt Romney would have tossed them out and let Detroit go bankrupt.

This is going to be a close election, but when it comes to the battleground states that will really decide this election, ultimately it's a choice between Barack Obama, who has been fighting for the middle class and working families, who has been making investments in education and giving people opportunities to succeed, and Mitt Romney who -- and the tea party extremists who want to focus on the people who are already in America doing just great and make sure they can do even better. That's the contrast. CROWLEY: Let me move you to a couple other questions I have about other subjects. Wisconsin, there's a recall of the sitting Republican governor, recall movement. He's now leading in the polls up there. But it's coming up. You've said, look, yes, I don't think there's national implications to this, and yet you are going to spend some of your time up there fund-raising for the Democrat who is challenging the sitting Republican governor, campaigning for him.

If the Republican governor should retain his seat up there, what will it say about the power of unions who have been fighting him and what will it say about putting Wisconsin in play this fall?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, I am going there Tuesday to campaign with Mayor Barrett. I think that he has a real opportunity to win. We have put our considerable grassroots resources behind him. All of the Obama for America and state party resources, our grassroots network is fully...

CROWLEY: But are there national implications?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: ... engaged. And -- well, I think what's going to happen is that because of our on-the-ground operation, we have had an opportunity in this election, because especially given that Wisconsin is a battleground state, just like we did in the recall elections a year ago, to give this a test run.

And so what I think the implications will be is that ultimately I think Tom Barrett will pull this out, but regardless it has given the Obama for America operation an opportunity to do...

CROWLEY: Test run it.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: ... the dry run that we need of our massive, significant, dynamic grassroots presidential campaign, which can't really be matched by the Romney campaign or the Republicans because they've ignored on the ground operations.

CROWLEY: And let me ask you, I have got 20 seconds, are you running for re-election? Will you file your papers soon?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Oh, yes. I already have done so. Of course I'm...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: You filed your papers. Yes, there was a question out there, folks said that you had not filed your papers. You're running.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I filed my papers ages ago. I'm not sure where that question came from. I mean, not from you, but from others. Of course I'm running for re-election and I look forward to earning the support once again of my constituents in my district in South Florida.

CROWLEY: OK. Thanks. You might want to look at the statewide election site and correct... WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Oh yes.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: ... out there.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I have.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much. All right.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I'm fully compliant. Thanks so much.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much. The head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. We appreciate it.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you.

CROWLEY: On this Memorial Day weekend, a report card on how this country is caring for its warriors.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: We have made progress. We have a long ways to go, and we cannot forget.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Serving those who serve, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Caring for our veterans. A year after we first asked, we asked again. Benefits with the Chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee, Patty Murray.

(START VIDEO CLIP)

MURRAY: Paying for our veterans is a cost of war. Do we have the resources in this country to provide for those men and women and their families for a long time to come? And that question hasn't been answered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: PTSD and brain injuries with Retired General Peter Chiarelli.

(START VIDEO CLIP)

CHIARELLI: We just don't know enough about how the brain works. We just do not have the really good diagnostic tools we need.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Jobs with veteran advocates, Tim Tetz and Paul Rieckhoff. (START VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're coming back and saying, OK I just served my country. Now I find myself jobless. What can I do to get myself back in there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's something that the country finally is focused on. And people understand that veterans are not just a charity, they're an investment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Serving those who serve, when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me is the Chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Patty Murray in Washington. Senator, thank you for being here.

MURRAY: Great to be here.

CROWLEY: Memorial Day is such a great day to talk about those that were lucky enough to come home. But how they are being served by the population as a whole. We now have sequestration. That is an agreement that there would be huge cuts in the defense and non- discretionary domestic spending if Congress couldn't act on their own to get an equal amount of cuts. How will that affect veterans benefits?

MURRAY: Well first of all let me thank you for doing this to really focus the country where we should be on Memorial Day. On those men and women who have served us. Those who have lost a family member, we can never forget. And those who come home, we've got to make sure we're doing everything we can. So, I really appreciate it. Sequestration is something that all of us have to be concerned about. We've got some real big decisions coming at us.

We believe that veterans benefits are protected under that, as they should be. Because we have asked these men and women to go to war. They should not be making the sacrifice.

CROWLEY: So you're -- you're thinking that they won't be touched as is. So I guess the next question is, as is, are the veterans benefits and the increases they've asked for in the next budget enough?

MURRAY: Well I think that's an interesting question to answer. Because they're -- it -- it's -- it ties not just to the benefits that they've getting, or supposed to get, but -- which we will have budgeted for. But, are they getting it in a timely way? Are they getting accurate benefits? Are we correctly diagnosing PTSD as they leave the military? Are we doing everything we can to make sure that they get access to the -- their benefits in the right kind of way, fast? So it's -- it's resources, but it's a lot bigger.

CROWLEY: And -- and my -- my guess is that your answer to all those questions is, no?

MURRAY: My answer to every question you would ask me about veterans today versus a year ago, is we've made progress. We have a long ways to go and we cannot forget.

CROWLEY: Except for, is it progress? Because now I guess the -- we have a new report out that the waiting -- the backlog first of all is over -- about 900,000 disability benefit applications. So the backlog is closing in on a million for Heaven's sakes. And that the waiting period can be more than a year?

MURRAY: Yeah. You know that...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Is that acceptable? MURRAY: No, it's not acceptable. It -- it doesn't meet the guidelines of the V.A. It doesn't meet what the country expects. And it has a serious impact on a veteran who is waiting to get a benefit check to pay -- put food on the table or pay for their mortgage or just do basic things in their life. So it is unacceptable. There -- there is the...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY; Don't we say that...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: ...I guess the frustration is, I feel like you and I and certainly you have worked on this for -- for far longer than I have reported on this. And the question is, why doesn't anything ever seem to change much?

MURRAY: You know, it -- it is such a complex problem. And I -- I'm not going to give anybody excuses. But I do need to remind all of us that the injuries that our soldiers are coming home with today, what they are living through that previous generations of warriors did not survive? Are very complex. But that doesn't mean we should not be doing what we can do. Or...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: More are surviving.

MURRAY: Yeah.

CROWLEY: That's the good news.

MURRAY: More are surviving.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: ...we're not taking care of them well enough.

MURRAY: They're complex. They're complex cases. So rating them and getting the right disability rating is complex. But that means we need to have people who are trained up and -- and we were not prepared for a war that's lasted this long with that many soldiers who have had repeated deployments.

CROWLEY: I guess that's people's frustration with the government though is though as the war went on, someone should have been thinking, this war could go on for a while and it will mean that we'll have X many more veterans.

(CROSSTALK)

MURRAY: I've been screaming about that forever.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: With these sorts of...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: ...absolutely. And I think now we have something that sounds so simple. At the -- the V.A. and the Department of Defense have different rating systems for the disabilities. Now why can't someone just say, you know choose one? Pick one?

MURRAY: I met with a soldier, a sergeant who had three -- was it three IED explosions? Served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome. Was diagnosed by the Army for that. But then when he went to get out of the service they said, oh you were lying. You're a malingerer. You didn't have anything wrong. You're making this up. Can you imagine somebody who has the courage to say I'm having issues is told they're a liar? He was dismissed from the Army and not given the benefits he's earned. We have fought back, not just for him but for hundreds of people now who were misdiagnosed coming out of the Army.

They're now going back and doing a total review, but I am seriously worried about the hundreds of men and women who have left our military with an incorrect diagnosis. We have got to get this right. The Army is starting to do it. We need to do it across all services.

CROWLEY: Is just with mental health, whether it's TBI, traumatic brain injury or PTSD or other sorts of stresses that are brought on by combat or by being in the arena, is there enough money set aside to deal with what -- I mean, there's almost half a million we're looking at of veterans returning or soldiers returning that will suffer from some form of PTSD.

MURRAY: Yes, this is a question our country needs to come to grips with. This is not just going to be what do we need next year or what do we need as we pull out our soldiers from Iraq, but the costs of 10 years of war on a specific population are going to be felt for decades.

And we need to say, do we have the resources in this country to provide for those men and women and their families for a long time to come? And that question hasn't been answered. (CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Is there a no to that question, though, just quickly? Do we have the resources? We can't afford not to have them, can we?

MURRAY: I think we have to absolutely be on top of this and asking that question. You know, we're in this time period where everybody says I don't want to pay any more, I don't want to be involved. We sent our troops to war without paying for it. Now we're bringing them home without saying how we're going to pay for it. That's going to hurt every American in the future.

CROWLEY: Senator Patty Murray, thank you, on Memorial Day. We appreciate your time. MURRAY: Thank you. 

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