Kurtz, Howard, Newsweek
Byline: Howard Kurtz
Meet the Democratic leader who's blasting Republicans and reaching out to a peeved Congress.
The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee is running late, prepping for an MSNBC interview while she brushes her tangled mass of blonde curls in the bathroom, a top adviser hovering behind her. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, dabbing on blue eye shadow, dismisses a suggestion that she call Newt Gingrich the "godfather of gridlock." A staffer feeds her fodder against Mitt Romney: "Spent his time laying off people, shipping jobs overseas ..." The Florida congresswoman looks bemused: "All in five minutes? No problem," she says. The talk turns to Ron Paul: "If I have to hit him at all, I'll hit him by saying he's unbelievably extreme." Then she jogs to the basement studio at the party's Capitol Hill headquarters, slides a mike under her purple dress, and delivers her message.
Party chairs are usually backstage fundraisers, but Wasserman Schultz is a nonstop broadcaster for Team Obama, sometimes delivering her points in robotic fashion. Her situation can be awkward, as the president's survival may depend on running against her fellow lawmakers, who resent being cast as part of a dysfunctional body. She tries to wish that away, saying: "I don't think the president means Democrats when he's criticizing Congress." Many Democrats are also steamed at the lack of attention they get from Obama. "I've had zero personal contact," says California Rep. Dennis Cardoza, who was told by one White House official that Obama looks "pained" when prodded to socialize with lawmakers. Former Tennessee congressman John Tanner says Obama summoned him only to solicit his vote, and he offers some advice: "Call on people when you don't ask them for something."
"I've heard concern about that," Wasserman Schultz concedes. "I've encouraged the president and the staff in the White House to be more inclusive and cognizant of notifying members when the president is going to be in their district or state."
Wasserman Schultz is a fighter--one whose passion occasionally gets her into trouble. She insists that "Republicans are waging a war on women," for instance, and refuses to back off, arguing that the repeal of Obamacare would hurt her gender.
A few weeks ago, in talking about the day a crazed gunman shot Rep. Gabby Giffords in the head, Wasserman Schultz pivoted to how "the discourse in America" had taken "a very precipitous turn towards edginess and a lack of civility with the growth of the Tea Party movement. …