Debbie's Double-Talk

DNC Chair tells Florida press she's for sanctions, tells Washington press she's for Obama

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.) / AP
January 14, 2014

Jewish community leaders in South Florida say they are growing frustrated with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.) over her conflicting statements regarding a bipartisan Iran sanctions measure in the House.

Following a Washington Free Beacon report detailing her efforts to block a House resolution backing new sanctions on Iran, Wasserman Schultz has told her hometown press that she is open to new sanctions, while telling D.C. reporters that she opposes them.

The conflicting statements are a sign that Wasserman Schultz is torn between her support for the White House, which opposes the sanctions, and her constituents, who are less convinced of Iran's good intentions and more supportive of tough congressional action.

Her disparate stances have spurred confusion and worry in South Florida, where pro-Israel leaders have failed to get Wasserman Schultz to explain her stance on the record.

Several of Wasserman Schultz’s South Florida constituents told the Free Beacon that the lawmaker’s office has been standoffish and combative when confronted about the issue.

Wasserman Schultz’s backroom bid to kill the sanctions resolution had even drawn the attention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) South Florida office, which urged its members to call the lawmakers office to demand she publicly explain her position.

The Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), a pro-Israel advocacy group, is also running a TV ad in her district that urges viewers to call Wasserman Schultz and ask her to stop blocking new Iran sanctions.

Wasserman Schultz spokeswoman Mara Sloan told the Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin on Saturday that the lawmaker supports "holding off on new sanctions until the diplomacy plays out."

However, Sloan said the opposite to Miami Herald reporter Marc Caputo.

"Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been a strong supporter of sanctions against Iran and will continue to be," Sloan was quoted as saying.

Wasserman Schultz’s staffers in D.C. and Florida have had a difficult time explaining her stance to constituents, according to several who called her office.

Staffers in Wasserman Schultz’s office "did not deny the [original Free Beacon] article," according to pro-Israel activist and Florida resident Rabbi Yehuda Kaploun, president of the Orthodox Alliance of Florida. "I asked them specifically and they wouldn’t" issue a denial.

Wasserman Schultz’s staff also "wouldn’t express support" for the Iran sanctions measure, Kaploun said. "I was sorely disappointed once again. It’s not enough to just say you’re pro-Israel."

Wasserman Schultz has come under fire from her constituents following the Free Beacon’s Tuesday report about her efforts to convince House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) to pull his support for the bipartisan sanctions measure, which died in the last weeks of 2013 following what sources described as a full court press by Wasserman Schultz.

AIPAC has been quietly urging key supporters in South Florida to demand that Wasserman Schultz explain her actions.

"The article included below about Debbie Wasserman Schultz blocking bipartisan Iran sanctions came out yesterday and, simply put, we need to know if the story is true," the letter states, according to a copy obtained by the Free Beacon.

"So, we are asking you, our leaders in the pro-Israel community, to reach out to Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s office and respectfully ask the congresswoman if the Free Beacon article is true," AIPAC writes. "If the article is not true, then please ask if the congresswoman will issue a statement supporting the Cantor-Hoyer [Iran sanctions] Resolution."

Kaploun recalled that the "unhappy camper" who fielded his call "tried not to engage" on the issue and ultimately told the rabbi, "I can’t tell you what our position is" on the sanctions measure.

Wasserman Schultz’s local office has stopped responding to concerned constituents altogether, directing them to instead call the lawmaker’s Washington, D.C., office, according to multiple sources.

Other Jewish leaders said that Wasserman Schultz’s staff has alternately mocked the Free Beacon and lashed out at its reporters.

One senior legislative assistance in the congresswoman’s D.C. office even denied that such a resolution existed, according to Stephen Fiske, chair of the Florida Congressional Committee PAC, a nonpartisan, pro-Israel political action committee.

"I pushed and said, hypothetically, if the House were to come up with the identical wording as stated in Senate’s bill—The Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act of 2013—will Debbie sign on?" Fiske recalled.

The staffer responded by saying "she will not answer," Fiske said.

The senior Wasserman Schultz staffer then mocked the initial Free Beacon report and its author.

"During the conversation, [the staffer] laughed when I brought up [the Free Beacon reporter], as if [he is] not to be taken seriously, which her office is apparently telling others with whom I have spoken," Fiske said.

"She also said that ‘this guy [the reporter] has it out for the congresswoman,’" Fiske said.

Fiske went on to note that "several people told me they have tried to speak directly with DWS, but she has been unavailable to everyone so far."

Others who called Wasserman Schultz’s office reported that the staff  "would not comment and got annoyed" when asked about Wasserman Schultz’s stance.

At least 20 children at Hillel Jewish Day School in North Miami Beach also called up Wasserman Schultz’s office to ask about her anti-sanctions stance, according to Fiske, whose son helped make the calls.