Anthony Man, South Florida Sun Sentinel
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is nearing the end of an audacious, yearlong campaign to leapfrog colleagues with more seniority and land one of the most powerful jobs in Congress: chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee.
“A top committee chairmanship like appropriations would be a major coup for her and frankly a major coup for South Florida,” said Kathryn DePalo-Gould, a Florida International University political scientist.
Even if she falls short — assuming Wasserman Schultz has a good showing — it would represent a comeback from the political turmoil of four years ago, when she resigned as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee after stolen internal emails showed party staffers weren’t neutral in the 2016 presidential primary.
A dismal showing would be politically embarrassing.
A vote by the 222 members of the House Democratic majority is likely in the first few days in December.
Though her Nov. 3 re-election as a member of Congress was never in doubt in Wasserman Schultz’ overwhelmingly Democratic Broward/Miami-Dade county district, this is a very different kind of election.
Factors include personal relationships, who is seen as preferred by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has developed personal and political relationships with which lawmakers, and the deep internal party divide between the more moderate-centrist wing of the Democratic Party and the liberal-progressive wing.
The job involves presiding over the bills that allocate $1.4 trillion of annual federal spending.
“Should Debbie succeed, it’s a massive deal,” said Broward Mayor Steve Geller, a former Florida Senate Democratic leader who served with Wasserman Schultz in the state Legislature. “Having a Floridian, and in particular a South Floridian, in that chair would be of immense value to all of South Florida. It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of the appropriations chair.”
Wasserman Schultz announced her candidacy for the job about 13 months ago when the current chairwoman, U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, announced her retirement plans.
The other candidates are U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio. All three contenders are currently chairwomen of subcommittees of the Appropriations Committee. DeLauro and Kaptur both have more seniority than Wasserman Schultz, who is finishing her eighth term.
The insider news organization Roll Call wrote last week that Wasserman Schultz was running “something of a dark horse campaign” and Politico described DeLauro as a “longtime ally” of Pelosi.
The No. 3 House Democrat, U.S. Rep Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, supported Wasserman Schultz’s campaign promise to create an advisory panel to address systemic racism in the government appropriations process if she becomes chairwoman. Clyburn, like Pelosi, is officially neutral.
Wasserman Schultz has support from leading members of the Congressional Black Caucus and moderate Democrats. DeLauro has support from progressives and organized labor.
Also, on the policy front, Wasserman Schultz told colleagues on Nov. 20 that she was committed to “using the full powers of the House Appropriations Committee to double down on fighting climate change.” If she be-comes chairwoman, she said the committee would fund efforts to combat climate change throughout the federal government.
On the political front, Wasserman Schultz has helped other Democratic House candidates with political fundraising. She raised or contributed $300,000 for other House candidates in the quarter that ended Sept. 30, for a total of $2.6 million in the current election cycle.
Geller said a strong second place finish for Wasserman Schultz would be OK. “It’s not the same as winning but coming in second place for chair of the Appropriations Committee reaffirms that you’re a serious player,” he said.
Wasserman Schultz said by email she is working to win the race. “I’m eager to usher in a 21st Century Appropriations process that truly allows us to meet those needs. This message is resonating with members in a competitive chair’s race for this vital committee. Holding this gavel would certainly be an honor, but it would also allow us to make massive strides in bettering the lives of Floridians and all Americans.”
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