The midterm elections are just weeks away and as critical as ever. With predictions still putting Republicans on track to take back majority control of the U.S. Senate, Democratic candidates–among them, a number of women in in tight races–are over performing, leaving the overall outcome unclear until the final votes are counted.
We spoke with Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), who hopes American voters see the very stark contrast between the two major parties as they head to the polls in November.
According to Wasserman Schultz, her party has focused on reminding voters what has happened since the GOP took control of the House of Representatives in 2010: the infamous fiscal cliff fiasco, the debt ceiling, and government shutdown,
“It’s not only that we’ve already been through that nightmare where 800,000 federal workers were furloughed and we had life saving clinical trials at National Institute of Health (NIH) that had to turn new patients away and children were turned away from Head Start classrooms and national federal parks and numerous federal buildings were shuttered or unavailable but that [Senator Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell made it very clear, said it out loud that if the Republicans take the majority in the Senate that we can expect more of the same,” Wasserman Schultz told EBONY.
If the House isn’t passing any laws, then President Obama doesn’t have anything to tout as an legislative accomplishment all while any of those achievements he was able to make before 2010 are constantly under assault. The GOP led House has voted over 50 times to repeal President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, Obamacare, which now reports to have insured upwards of 12 million Americans.
Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz maintains that Republicans attack the president for attempting to take executive action on issues like employment protections for federal workers and immigration, while failing to pass anything in the GOP led House and they’ve simultaneously trumped up scandals with the IRS or following the terror attack in Benghazi— perhaps to distract from their lack of legislative progress. She wants voters to see that her party has chosen to focus on 'pocketbook issues' and an economic agenda for women that includes closing the gender wage gap, paid leave, and universal child care.
House Republicans and GOP candidates nationwide have run against the healthcare law and although it seemed the party might be backing off of the Obamacare obsession, some GOP hopefuls are still pushing the repeal line to the bitter end. That obsession has lead to continued budgetary standoffs and Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz says that Americans who have been frustrated by the obstruction and lurch from crisis to crisis should know the risks of a GOP controlled House and Senate: “That they intend to use the appropriations process that to try to bring President Obama’s policies and President Obama himself to the brink of economic disaster and to bring the country to it’s knees again. He threatened that they would use government shutdown again to try to force President Obama to agree with what the Republicans want to do.”
Black voters are the key to Democratic success in the 2014 midterms, yet most of the mainstream media coverage about midterm turnout focuses on older white Americans. While pundits describe a gender gap giving an electoral advantage to Democrats, the truth is the lion share of that gap comes from Black women. Democratic candidates in touch races, including Senator Kay Hagan in North Carolina and Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes who is making a late surge in some polls, are focused on turning out the Obama coalition of women and people of color to blunt GOP gains.
“President Obama won with 93 percent of the African American vote in 2012, but I believe with 98 percent of African American women that cast ballots that voted for President Obama,” Wasserman Schultz told EBONY, “There is no group that has been more supportive of the president and Democrats than African American women and Republicans seem to recognize that that’s a problem for them and they had that autopsy report where they pledged to change and they actually say in the report that the Republican party must be committed to building lasting relationships within the African American community ‘based mutual respect and a spirit of caring’…It’s really hard to demonstrate respect and caring when party leaders on the Republican side call inner city men ‘lazy’ – as Congressman Paul Ryan infamously did earlier this year – and when they say the Affordable Care Act is the worst thing to happen to this nation since slavery…To us actions speak louder than words and Democrats will continue to speak in word and deed that we are for building ladders to the middle class for everyone and that we recognize it is important to make sure when there are communities that have had even more challenges than other communities that we have to buttress those ladders that we’re building so that we make them more sturdy and make their pathway more likely.”
Access to the ballot box for many Democratic constituencies is still a battle since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act earlier this year and attempts to pack Black voters in all Black congressional districts were block in Virginia earlier this week. The Congresswoman says that Democrats are definitely hindered by suppressive laws that restrict early voting hours, including the popular "Souls to the Polls" tradition in many Black communities.
“Republicans have been so hellbent on throwing up obstacles in the path of voters, particularly African American voters, women, and Hispanics, the voters that are not coincidentally more likely to go to the polls and vote for Democrats and that are more likely to lack a photo ID, and that are more likely to access the voter during early voting hours,” Wasserman Schultz says, “These are all voter suppression efforts that Republicans have deliberately and even admitted that they were deliberately using to try to shrink the electorate to make it more likely that their candidates will win.”
Recently, there has been some controversy over Wasserman Schultz’s tenure after a verbal gaffe where the chairwoman quipped that Republican Senate-hopeful Scott Brown had given women “the back of his hand.” Wasserman Schultz has since apologized.
Congresswoman Wasserman SchuItz is taking the controversy in stride telling EBONY, “My focus is to just do the job the best I know how and do it well. My focus over the next 33 days is to do everything I can to focus on Democratic turnout to make sure we can do everything we can to support our candidates and to get Democrats across the finish line and you know successful results have a way of knocking back any undue criticism. We just have to ignore it and focus on doing the job.”