Lady of the House

She's got three kids, 650,000 constituents, and millions of watching eyes. Debbie Wasserman Schultz can't keep them all happy.

But while schedules can be juggled to accommodate the kids' biggest events, Wasserman Schultz is haunted by the little ones that slip past her — like the Mother's Day tea scheduled for a Wednesday morning earlier this month. Wasserman Schultz's own mother attended in her place, and 4-year-old Shelby didn't seem to mind until the congresswoman called that night to ask how the tea time was and her daughter burst into tears. There's a lump in Wasserman Schultz's throat as she tells that story.

Still, she insists, "I can't extricate myself from being a mother — and I don't want to. I think it's an asset. I bring a worldview to the table that is significantly underrepresented in this body." Case in point: On that hectic April morning, shortly before the Count Our Votes rally, Wasserman Schultz received a visit from several lobbyists of the beverage manufacturing industry to her Capitol Hill office, which is, as you might expect, plastered with photos of her husband and kids. They cautioned her about a looming piece of legislation that would impose costly environmental regulations on their clients. But Wasserman Schultz was more concerned with another regulation. "I was at my daughter's diving practice Monday, which is at a high school in Cooper City, and I noticed there were vending machines full of every sugary drink." The lobbyists spent the rest of the meeting on the defensive and left shortly thereafter.

Indeed, it's hard to spend any time with Wasserman Schultz, especially in Washington, and not be taken aback by her indomitable energy. And given that Pelosi — a mother and a grandmother — is the person who controls her fate in Congress, it's hard to imagine that being a mom will be held against her. But Wasserman Schultz insists she isn't "angling" for a leadership post or looking beyond her current office in pursuit of a grander ambition.

Hillary Clinton's campaign has relied on Wasserman Schultz to attack its enemies.
Hillary Clinton's campaign has relied on Wasserman Schultz to attack its enemies.

"I realize the trajectory I'm on makes it seem that I'm after all this stuff, and I'm so grateful for the advances I've been able to make," she says, "but I'm really working this hard because of how much I care about advancing our [Democratic] agenda." To the extent she benefits from that by gaining a coveted appointment, "it just means I can help my district."

Her idealistic claims are not likely to stop Washington observers from speculating, given how far Wasserman Schultz has already come at such a young age. If there's one thing the heated 2008 Democratic primary contest has proven, it's that gender and race are no longer barriers to running for the highest office in the land.

And though Wasserman Schultz is not the sort for introspection, she does admit that her support for Hillary Clinton has given rise to a stubborn daydream, one in which she's walking down Pennsylvania Avenue with one of her daughters. "I want to be able to point at the Oval Office and say, 'A woman works there.' "

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help