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Lady of the House

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But the issue has persisted. Last month, Wasserman Schultz spent part of one weekday morning at the Sagemont School, the private grade school in Weston where she had just had parent-teacher conferences for her twin 9-year-olds, Jake and Rebecca. Her press secretary picked her up. He brought along a copy of that day's Roll Call, a widely read paper focused on Capitol Hill. On the front page was a profile of Wasserman Schultz headlined "Florida's Hurricane Force in the House." The story identified the congresswoman as a likely successor to Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the current chair of the Democratic National Campaign Committee. The same position had been a star-making turn for Emanuel, the Illinois congressman, and it would be another giant step for Wasserman Schultz.

But the story also included a quote from colleague Alcee Hastings that elicited a sigh from Wasserman Schultz. Hastings, a Democrat from Miramar, praised her for combining her legislative duties with motherhood. But he also suggested that the promotion might overwhelm her. Wasserman Schultz didn't think Hastings meant any harm. He's from an older, more conservative generation, she noted. Still, she seemed eager to change the subject.

When Wasserman Schultz is at home, she throws herself into the arduous duties that come with suburban child-rearing. On a recent Friday afternoon, for instance, she could be found in the Sagemont courtyard, giving her daughter's Brownie troop a crash course in gardening, a necessary lesson if they're to earn their badges. The six girls all spoke loudly and simultaneously and went dashing off in opposite directions. The congresswoman, for once, seemed frazzled.

"It's really hard," she later admitted. "It was hard [Monday] night, when I was tucking my kids in, when I knew I had to wake at 4:15 a.m. and leave the house at 5:30 a.m. and I wasn't going to see them. They get really sad the night before they know I'm leaving for Washington."

Her husband, Steve Schultz, an investment banker, drives the kids to school, then to softball and diving classes on the days that Congress is in session. "Her being up there [in Washington], it's a little harder, but it's not the end of the world," Schultz says. "The kids are used to it."

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.

"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."

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Thomas Francis

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