Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s decision to make a Muslim-American doctor her VIP guest at President Obama’s final State of the Union address was portrayed by the chair of the Democratic National Committee as sending a "very strong message" against prejudice, but it turns out that she was killing two birds with one stone: Dr. Mohsin Jaffer has contributed thousands of dollars to Wasserman Schultz and fellow Democrats.
"I conceived the notion of inviting a Muslim-American constituent and encouraging my colleagues to do so, so we can send a very strong message on the most important day of the year," Schultz told reporters. "The rhetoric and vitriol that has been targeted at this community has been absolutely outrageous and unacceptable."
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The notion likely was also influenced by the fact that Dr. Jaffer contributed $2,600 to Schultz’s 2014 reelection campaign and has contributed more than $20,000 to Democratic candidates and committees in the past six years.
Also receiving $5,250 over the years has been Florida Rep. Patrick Murphy, who is currently fighting to be the Democratic candidate for Senate in Florida.
Asked whether Dr. Jaffer being a political donor to Schultz diminishes the strength of the message that she was trying to send, Luis Miranda, the DNC communications director, said that "contributing to campaigns doesn’t disqualify anyone so it’s a totally bulls— question."
Sean Bartlett, a spokesperson for Wasserman Schultz, said that the fact that Dr. Jaffer is a donor was a "coincidence."
"That happened to be a total coincidence, and had nothing to do with his selection," said Bartlett. "[Dr. Jaffer] is an active member of the South Florida community, as a medical doctor and a volunteer, and was spoken highly of by a number of contacts of our office as well as some of our own staff."
Wasserman Schultz sent a letter to her fellow Democratic congressmen urging them to invite Muslim-Americans to be their guests at the event, but not all of them have chosen to invite donors.
Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) invited Ahmed Shedeed, president of the Islamic Center of Jersey City, to be his guest for Tuesday's speech. Shedeed has not donated any money to Booker, and has made only sparse donations to both Democrats and Republicans. Sen. Harry Reid (D., Nev.) invited Tania Dawood, a member of the Muslim Students Association at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who has never made a political donation.
Wasserman Schultz has been outspoken in the lead-up to the speech about how great the message her invite of Dr. Jaffer means to her, and said that "as a Jew" it was incumbent upon her to stand with her persecuted Muslim brothers.
"I've been appalled as so many of my constituents have been appalled at the vitriol and the hatred and the appalling reactions of some towards Muslims and Muslim-Americans and I felt for me as a member of a minority religion myself, a religion, Judaism, that has been persecuted throughout our existence," Schultz said Tuesday on MSNBC. "It’s incumbent upon us to stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters and make sure that we can push back hard on that vitriol and hatred and say absolutely not."
Schultz brought Dr. Jaffer to stand with her during the appearance. There was no mention by either of Dr. Jaffer's status as a Democratic donor.
State of the Union invites are usually used by members of Congress to send a political message. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), for example, will be joined by an unemployed coal miner to shed light on Obama’s "war on coal."