Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (DFla.) was forced to defend herself last week after the Washington Free Beacon reported her splitting with other leading pro- Israel Democrats in supporting legislation for increased Iran sanction.
The Jan. 7 article citing numerous undisclosed sources claimed the congresswoman is working behind closed doors to push the White House position against new Iran sanctions and let the administrations negotiations proceed unfettered.
“While Wasserman Schultz has publicly talked tough on Iran, she is believed to have played a key role in pressuring Democratic Whip [Steny] Hoyer to pull his support for the bipartisan resolution at the last minute,” the Free Beacon reported.
Since the article was published, there have been no new on-the-record sources corroborating the accusations, and Washington Jewish Week was not able to find any sources with firsthand knowledge of the lobbying.
Still, a House aide involved with Iran legislation doesn’t exclude the scenario as untrue.
“It would not be surprising to me that the chair of the DNC is advocating on behalf of the president,” the aide told WJW.
At the same time, the aide questioned whether the sources in the article were high-level Democratic staffers, particularly the undeclared sources quoted saying that Wasserman Schultz has sided with the Iranian mullahs over American national interests.
“I just couldn’t imagine anyone saying that even if they don’t like her, at least not Democratic Hill staffers,” the aide said.
“I think it’s important to note that just because a senator or a member of congress doesn’t believe this enhanced sanctions legislation should pass does not mean they are in favor of Iran developing a nuclear capacity, and similarly if a senator or member of congress believes there should be enhanced sanctions, it doesn’t mean that they believe that there should be war or no attempt to negotiate with the Iranians,” William Daroff, senior vice president for public policy and director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America told WJW.
“To clarify, the article referenced cites no one on the record, is inaccurate, and wrong and mischaracterizes the congresswoman’s actions,” Mara Sloan, director of communications for Wasserman Schultz told WJW in a statement. “As her record reflects, she has always been and remains a staunch proponent of stricter sanctions against Iran as a deterrent to their nuclear weapons ambitions. Wasserman Schultz will continue working with her colleagues and the administration to ensure that Iran will never achieve that goal.”
“Wasserman Schultz was not (and is not) working against introducing Iran legislation,” Sloan said.
Currently, the real legislation is working it’s way through the Senate, where it has gained strong bipartisan support despite the Obama administration’s protests. A meeting between President Barack Obama and Democratic senators was slated to have been held yesterday, in which Democratic support for the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Bill (S. 1881) calling for more sanctions was to have been discussed.
Sloan points out that Wasserman Schultz has a record of supporting Iran sanctions, citing the House’s own sanctions bill passed by a 400-20 bipartisan majority in August, which Wasserman Schultz co-sponsored.
But while the House waits for the Senate to act, House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) joined Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) to draft a nonbinding resolution to express their support for the Senate’s effort and as a way of keeping the opinions of the members of Congress current.
But plans for the resolution collapsed when Hoyer withdrew his support, which the Free Beacon claims was due to lobbying from Wasserman Schultz, leaving no actual resolution. If Wasserman Schultz office’s statement was to be read literally, she has not opposed any “legislation,” leaving room for her potential opposition to a not-yet-finalized nonbinding “resolution.”
If the accusations are true, the sudden flip may sound unusual, but it is necessary to point out when the House’s sanctions bill was passed, negotiations with Iran were not far along and there was no pressure from the White House against Iran sanctions.
But Hoyer’s withdrawal of support for an Iran sanctions resolution in December may be puzzling, it’s doubtful he was following Wasserman Schultz’s lead.
“Hoyer is a big boy, and there are very few people that Hoyer takes orders from,” a Jewish organizational leader told WJW. “I’m fairly certain Wasserman Schultz is not one of them.”
But true or not, such revelations are unlikely to affect Wasserman Schultz’s electability, according to numerous Florida political experts.
“I suppose she will never say she’s against the sanctions, but she’s against efforts in the House to put more pressure on the president and the Senate to do things that the president would rather not,” David Hedge, professor of political science at the University of Florida, where Wasserman Schultz received her B.A. and M.A. in political campaigning in 1990, said.
“At the end of the day, it seems like she’s trying to please every side here, the president, her constituency, her larger liberal constituency in the party,” Hedge said. Susan MacManus, distinguished professor at the University of South Florida School of Department of Government and International Affairs, says that even with polls saying that most Americans, including Democrats, are in favor of increased Iran sanctions, Wasserman Schultz’s district is safe enough that a difference with the electorate on one political issue would not hurt her reelection chances.
“Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz is from a very heavily Democratic district,” MacManus told WJW. “I just looked at the registration figures today and it’s 2-1 Democrats.” “It has a sizable Jewish population; and the Jewish population there — while yes, there are some who would be more conservative, there are more that are liberal,” Mac- Manus said. “This issue alone would not be enough to move an election, particularly against a conservative Republican.”
Hedge points to the previous Wasserman Schultz’s previous election wins in Florida’s 23rd Congressional District — were from her first election in 2004, she has consistently defeated challengers by garnering percentages of the vote in the 60s and 70s; she ran unopposed in 2006.
Joe Kaufman, a perennial Republican primary candidate in the district, told WJW in a statement that he does not blame Wasserman Schultz if indeed she is opposing sanctions, since he takes an even stronger stance against them himself. “… I have been very public in saying — that sanctions will not stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons,” Kaufman wrote. “History has shown (North Korea, Iraq, etc.) that sanctions only work to economically punish the populace of the nation they are placed on, and I do not want to see harm come to the citizens of Iran, especially those citizens who are pro-U.S.”
But Kaufman said he differs from Wasserman Schultz in that he believes her motivation comes from blind support of Obama and belief that additional sanctions would hurt negotiations.
“I want to know how anyone can negotiate with a nation whose leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, openly calls the U.S. ‘evil’ and Israel a ‘bastard’ nation and proudly speaks of a future ‘annihilation’ of the Jewish state. Anyone who issues this type of rhetoric is not looking for peace,” Kaufman wrote.
Though according to both Hedge and MacManus, there’s little chance that Wasserman Schultz could lose an election in her district, where she is still very popular, she might not have it so easy if she decided to run for statewide office like senator or governor. For a politically split state like Florida, MacManus believes, Wasserman Schultz is too liberal for even many of the state’s Democratic voters in other parts of the Florida.
JNS.org contributed to this story.