Why the White House kept Debbie Wasserman Schultz as DNC Chair

December 3, 2012

The news that the White House plans to renominate Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to a second term in January ends a period of speculation that the Florida House member might be on her way out of the gig in President Obama's second term.


It's no secret in official Washington that tensions existed at times between Wasserman Schultz and the White House. As Politico's Glenn Thrush wrote in an ebook on the Obama campaign:

"Many of Obama’s advisers have quietly begun questioning whether they should have picked Wasserman Schultz, an outspoken Florida congresswoman, as his DNC chairwoman. She has clashed with Chicago over her choice of staff and air-time on national TV shows — and they think she comes across as too partisan over the airwaves."

The White House, at the time, denied any rift but privately aides acknowledged that those strains existed. And yet, Wasserman Schultz is back for a second term. Why?

There's no single answer to that question, according to aides familiar with the decision, but there are a few reasons to explain it. Here's three.

First, Wasserman Schultz was the definition of a good soldier. In the press release announcing the plan to re-nominate her, it was noted that she has participated in 885 events in 31 states.  Those close to the process repeatedly noted that Wasserman Schultz went wherever she was asked to go in the campaign -- a critical (and overlooked) trait in a surrogate. That Obama carried Florida -- against the predictions of almost everyone outside of the president's campaign team -- also accrued to Wasserman Schultz's benefit as a credible surrogate.

Second, Wasserman Schultz has real connections among two key constituencies -- women and Jewish voters -- within the Democratic party. Not only do those ties mean that those groups feel as though they have a voice within the upper ranks of the party but they also ensure some backlash if Wasserman Schultz was viewed as being pushed out against her will. And, because she had made quite clear that she wanted the job again, any decision not to re-offer it to her would have almost certainly been cast as just that. 

Third, Wasserman Schultz had no other obvious next step. With House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi staying on in her job -- and renominating New York Rep. Steve Israel as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- there are few opportunities within Democratic leadership circles for Wasserman Schultz. Staying on as DNC Chair was, by far, the most high-profile position that the Florida Democrat could hope to have post-election.

(It's also worth noting that there was no other obvious choice to replace Wasserman Schultz if she wanted to go or the White House wanted her to do so. Former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm is pursuing a media career, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland is still mulling another run for governor in 2014 and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is still mayor through 2013.)

What's clear is that Wasserman Schultz -- while she may not be the sort of beloved figure that Sen.-elect Tim Kaine was among the Obama braintrust -- did more than enough to earn a second term.  And, that's what she got this morning.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Sean Sullivan | December 3, 2012