This morning, Politico‘s Mike Allen moderated a really interesting encounter with Democratic National Committee Chair and Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. These Playbook Breakfasts, the last of which was with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, cover a ton of policy territory, are well attended, and Mike Allen — in a genteel, polite way — is quite tenacious.
Allen was kind enough to build me into his program today, asking me to pose a question, which I did on the foreign policy front, asking Rep. Wasserman Schultz where she and her fellow Democrats were on Afghanistan, particularly as some Jacksonian Southern conservative traditional hawks like Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) were calling for a significant pivot away from the current heavy deployment strategy to a much smaller US military footprint in Afghanistan.
For days I had been chasing down a rumor that Wasserman Schultz had told some folks that their agitation to start a new course reducing US forces in Afghanistan could result in many Dems losing their Congressional races and perhaps Obama losing the White House. If true, this would have been a terrible posture for the new DNC chair because it would have implied that political calculations were governing questions about the deployment of American men and women in combat vs. US national security interests. Turned out that this rumor was wrong — and to my delight, Wasserman Shultz opened her response to me by saying that in considering which way to go on Afghanistan, politics had to be the last of our concerns — and that on the ground realities and America’s strategic interests had to inform those judgment calls.
That was the right answer from Wasserman Schultz — and it impressed me. She is not where I am on Afghanistan and defers to much in my view to the Executive Branch, equating her support of the US military surge into Afghanistan with her vote supporting the surge of US forces into Iraq during the Bush administration. She said that her support was not unconditional, that if circumstances changed or objectives not achieved, her support would be withdrawn.
She acknowledged that while there were many in the US weary of the Afghanistan War, she didn’t feel that her constituents were ready to withdraw support for President Obama’s course — but their patience was not infinite.
In a response to ABC’s Jonathan Karl, she said that Democratic Members of Congress were not “whipped” or pushed or nudged this way or that on matters of war and military deployments — which was something I had not realized.
I was more impressed with Wasserman Schultz this morning than I had thought I’d be — as I differ from her substantially on her views toward the Israel/Palestine conflict and also on US-Cuba relations, where she swims in sync with Republican House Foreign Relations Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
But she was substantive and impressive on a broad set of fronts. One thing though. Former Clinton White House spokesman Joe Lockhart, who is leaving Glover Park Group to become VP for Communications for Facebook, already has his first political bridge re-building task. Wasserman Schultz confided that she had deactivated her daughter’s facebook page — stating that she didn’t think she could buffer her from harmful influences out there vis-a-vis that platform.
Interesting session — particularly the comment that the Girl Scouts of America is out of sync with modern young women and needs to get “more hip.”
— Steve Clemons