Democrat – FL Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Florida Congresswoman discusses the condition of her friend, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and explains why she feels recent political rhetoric needs to be dialed back.

The Washington Post describes Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz as one of the fastest-rising House Democrats. Sworn into Congress in January, 2005, she was the only freshman chosen to serve on the Whip team. She previously served in the state House of Representatives and state Senate. Having battled breast cancer, Wasserman Schultz introduced legislation that implements a national education campaign about the deadly disease. She's a member of the New Democrat Coalition and serves on the House Appropriations Committee.

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis: Tonight, though, we continue to cover the aftermath of the deadly rampage in Arizona over the weekend with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The Florida Democrat is one of Gabrielle Giffords’ closest friends in the House and joins us tonight from Capitol Hill. Congresswoman, sorry to have you on under these conditions and circumstances, but a delight to have you back on as well, anyway.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz: Thanks, Tavis, it’s good to be with you, but not under these circumstances.
Tavis: We hear that your friend Congresswoman Giffords is breathing on her own now?
Schultz: She is, and I was able to speak to her husband, Mark, yesterday, and it was great to hear the strength in his voice and the optimism that he had. Anyone that knows Gabby knows that if there is someone that could survive an injury like this one, it’s Gabby Giffords. She really has the heart of a lion. So we are hopeful that she’s going to make quick progress, even under the circumstances.
Tavis: When you say “the heart of a lion,” as best I can tell, we’re told, at least, that she is going to have a good recovery, maybe even a full recovery. Is that what you’re hearing as well, or is that what you know?
Schultz: I think it’s way too early to tell what kind of recovery she’s going to have. I know that there’s clearly impact on her brain. They don’t know which parts of her brain, and they really won’t know for some time. She’s not out of the woods yet in terms of she’s still in that window of time in which they are watching for swelling and making sure that there’s not any more damage as a result of potential swelling.
So every day that goes by, though, is another good day without – and gets her more and more out of danger.
Tavis: So there are a number of conversations, as you well know, that have kicked up in this country as a result of this horrific shooting just days ago. Let me start with the conversation about civility. Again, you know the conversation well. Your thoughts on whether or not civility is the conversation that we ought to be having? Is it somehow connected to this, or the lack of civility? What’s your thought about this conversation?
Schultz: Well, Tavis, whether it’s connected directly to this incident and this tragedy is almost beside the point, because this is an opportunity for elected leaders, for the members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, to lead by example.
I have talked to colleagues on both sides of the aisle, appeared on news programs with colleagues on both sides of the aisle and really been heartened to see that there’s agreement that we need to dial it back, that we need to strike a better tone of civility and that we need to set an example again for the world about the kind of democracy that we have the potential to be and the way we practice it.
Tavis: But why does it take something like this for otherwise educated, intelligent, upstanding members of our country to get the fact that they need to dial it back? Does it take all of this to understand that?
Schultz: I wish that it didn’t, but you have the media frenzy that exists, the 24-hour news cycle, the competition for ratings, the shock jocks that seem to feel that the further they push the envelope, then the more likely they are to get the attention that they’re craving.
We have to, as elected leaders, I think, lead by example. Look, I’m not suggesting that on the right or the left that we advocate our views and principles any less vigorously, but words matter. The words that we choose matter. The whole notion that we’re all brought up with, that sticks and stones can break your bones that your mom counsels you, don’t worry about people say because sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you? That’s not true.
Words can hurt you, and words can cause – we don’t know what sets someone off like this guy, Jared Laughlin (sic), that has a – that’s fragile and mentally unstable. We don’t know what is going to push someone over the edge, so there’s a way to disagree vigorously without treating our opponents like the enemy, and we should do battle in the arena of ideas and in the arena that is the House chamber or whatever arena we’re in, but then we need to leave that battle in the arena and be human beings and remember that we are Americans all on the same team first. That’s how I think we should conduct ourselves.
Tavis: Since you mentioned the House chamber, let me stay with that for just a moment. Clearly, no one was shot, nobody lost his or her life in this process, but it’s hard to find a greater moment of incivility in the history of the House than when your colleague on the other side of the aisle, Mr. Wilson, stood up in the president’s speech, President Obama’s speech, and said, “You lie” for the nation and the world to hear.
If ever there were a moment of incivility in our politics, it was that moment. The president accepted his apology rather quickly, and for whatever reasons, and I’m not casting aspersion, I’m just calling the facts as they are, the president at that moment is my point chose not to use that as a teachable moment to talk to us about incivility.
We know now he’s on his way to Arizona to speak tomorrow night and to console the victims and their families, et cetera. So should the president now take this opportunity – he hasn’t said anything as yet – about civility? Should he talk about that now?
Schultz: Yes, in short. We have had – without singling individuals out, but we have had presidents in the recent past miss opportunities to bring the nation together and to – who have not taken advantage of the turning point that an incident like this is.
We really are, Tavis, at a turning point right now. This is an opportunity that Gabby Giffords, as well as I know her, and as strongly as I know she feels about the importance of moderation and civility and measuring our words carefully and not whipping people up into a frenzy, all the while advocating our views vigorously, I know Gabby will want the president and will want us to use this opportunity to bring the nation together and to, again, be the example of the kind of democracy that the Founding Fathers envisioned, and take the violent language, the violent symbolism and the violent rhetoric out of our discourse.
Tavis: Speaking of Founding Fathers, they gave us the right to bear arms, and Arizonans love the right to bear their arms. The numbers are out and everybody’s talking about it. The Monday following this shooting, gun sales in Arizona, up 60, six-zero, percent from a year ago. Is that the answer?
Schultz: (Laughs) I personally don’t think arming ourselves is the answer. Again, as Gabby’s friend, she is a gun owner, she supports the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms, but this is certainly not – the response to this should not be arming ourselves to the teeth. The response to this should be for us to find a way to make our democracy better, to figure out how to disagree without turning our opponents into the enemy.
Maybe if we do that in the Congress and start to lead by example that way, then maybe we will be able to push those outside the political process, who are the mouthpieces and who have the megaphones, to take a page from our book.
Tavis: So here’s the exit question – having said all that you said, which I agree with, I want to ask whether or not you are hopeful about this, because I’ve been at this long enough and you’ve been at it long enough to know that these moments come and they go, and as my dearly departed grandmother used to say, “When all has been said and done, most often, more has been said than done.”
Is this going to be a moment that we look back on a couple of years from now, six months from now, three months from now, and realize that when we had that moment to engage this conversation in some real discourse about this issue, we moved right on past it and here again, the ball gets dropped?
Schultz: Well, I hope not. I know that I personally am going to take ownership of one of the things that I think is helpful for us to move this ball down the field, and that is that I really believe that the Republicans and the Democrats in Congress need to have an event, some type of conference or convention that we come together, which we never do.
The Republicans have their retreat this week, the Democrats have ours next week, but following that, I think that we need to come together. I’m not even suggesting that we find common ground, although that would be nice. I’m suggesting that we try to work together on ways in which we can work together better and treat each other like we would want others to treat us, and how we can utilize the golden rule a little bit better.
I know there are members on both sides of the aisle, I’ve spoken to them, who support this idea and support this concept, and at least I can be responsible for my own actions and I’m going to try to help make that happen.
Tavis: Well, obviously the nation is watching and we will see how you and your colleagues behave in the coming months and years, or misbehave, as it were – hopefully the former and not the latter.
Schultz: Hopefully.
Tavis: I know these are difficult times and tough conditions for you to come on this program, but thank you for your time and for sharing your insights, I appreciate it. We, of course, wish the best and send our prayers to your friend.
Schultz: Tavis, thanks, and thanks for shining a light on this. We really appreciate it.
Tavis: Glad to have you on, as always.
Schultz: Thank you.
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Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm