Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s ascension to the top post at the Democratic National Committee has won resounding praise from House Democrats, who now have a colleague leading the DNC for the first time in decades. But the shift also creates a set of challenges.
Wasserman Schultz’s promotion leaves a hole at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, where she was a top fundraiser and recruiter. Roll Call has learned she was expected to raise $4 million for the DCCC, trailing only Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and two others.
And at least one top Democrat suggests that the outspoken Florida Congresswoman may lose some autonomy, in addition to having limited ability to help her House colleagues, as she moves to an institution largely dedicated to doing the White House’s bidding.
“She’s a very, very capable woman. She has a lot of energy,” said Donald Fowler, who served as DNC general chairman alongside former Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.) in 1995 and 1996, the last time a Member of Congress held the chairmanship. “But as chair of the party, the Congresswoman’s allegiance will be to the White House. ... In all matters related to the DNC, the White House calls the tune. I believe that if anybody thinks that somehow the House has won a new institutional influence on the White House, they’re mistaken.”
As was the case with Dodd, Wasserman Schultz is expected to have relatively limited involvement in day-to-day operations at the DNC, serving instead as the chief fundraiser and mouthpiece for Democrats’ premier campaign machine.
Even in that role, Dodd’s ability to balance his DNC and Senate responsibilities was strained at times, especially as the presidential campaign moved into full swing, according to Fowler, who is now back in South Carolina.
Following Wasserman Schultz’s Tuesday promotion, however, national Democrats expressed near-unanimous confidence in the 44-year-old mother-of-three and cancer survivor’s ability to be successful.
“There have been a number of people who have served in elected office and chaired the DNC at the same time — and Members from both sides of the aisle serve in Congress and run their party’s respective political committees with great success,” one Democratic official said. “There is not a scintilla of doubt that she can perform both roles with flying colors.”
Indeed, close friend and former Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.) told Roll Call Wednesday that Wasserman Schultz is perhaps the most determined person she has ever met.
“As her former roommate, I saw that if she has to sacrifice a little sleep, she’ll do it,” Bean said. “What I’ve seen from Debbie is that whatever she takes on she delivers successfully.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.