Commentary Politics

Debbie Wasserman Schultz Blames Voters for Failures of Democratic Party

Jodi Jacobson

Women are critical to the success of Democratic candidates. These voters might be forgiven for being unclear about whether those for whom they vote actually mean to keep their promises when they get into office.

Rarely do politicians appear to go out of their way to alienate their core constituencies. It is even more rare that they do so in the course of an election cycle in which they play a critical role, and in which turnout will be key to winning. Nonetheless, that is exactly what Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) did, in what was an otherwise very brief interview published by the New York Times Magazine on January 6.

It’s a doozy. Wasserman Schultz is also chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and ostensibly working to elect more Dems in 2016. Yet in a few short paragraphs, she insulted an entire demographic of female voters, made misleading statements about medical marijuana and the heroin epidemic, and suggested that drug addiction was not a problem “in the suburbs.” The interview has caused a firestorm among progressive groups and advocates, including CREDO Action, which has launched a petition calling on her to resign. Wasserman Schultz calls herself a progressive, but that appears more an effort to ally herself notionally with a growing political movement than a reflection of her actual politics, positions, or actions. 

Take this exchange between interviewer Ana Marie Cox and Wasserman Schultz:

Do you notice a difference between young women and women our age in their excitement about Hillary Clinton? Is there a generational divide? Here’s what I see: a complacency among the generation of young women whose entire lives have been lived after Roe v. Wade was decided.

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Are young women complacent? Not according to actual data. Voters ages 18-to-29 make up a decisive share of the Democratic electorate. In 2004, 2006, and 2008, this group gave Democrats the majority of their votes. In 2008, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center, 69 percent of younger women voted Democratic, compared with 62 percent of comparably aged men. In 2012, the “youth” vote gave Obama his second term, and the gender gap—with a majority of younger women voters supporting Democrats—persisted well into 2014. While youth voting rates declined in 2012 and 2014 relative to earlier years, a majority of voters ages 18-to-29 supported Democrats. This does not sound like complacency to me.

And while state legislatures throughout the country have done more to unnecessarily restrict access to abortion than to address the real economic, social, and educational needs of their residents, people in their late teens through their 30s have been raising money for abortion access funds; protesting anti-choice laws; staffing political campaigns; and educating, mobilizing, and campaigning for change in communities across the country. Young women and men came out in droves to occupy the Texas state capitol building for several days in 2013, and helped at least temporarily defeat efforts to eliminate access to abortion care in that state, until then-Gov. Rick Perry later convened a an “emergency” midnight session to pass that same bill.

It is true that some polling shows younger adults less likely to name abortion as “an important issue,” but that does not necessarily signal complacency, so much as a lack of effective political education and a lack of leadership on behalf of the Democratic party itself on the importance of access to abortion care as a matter of public health and human rights.

In fact, if anything, Wasserman Schultz and other Democratic leaders have consistently sent mixed signals to the very voters she decries as being complacent. Under the watch of former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Steve Israel and Wasserman Schultz at the DNC, the Democratic party has gone out of its way to support the campaigns of anti-choice Dems in numerous states and refused to support progressive candidates in others. In some notable cases, Wasserman Schultz refused to endorse and instead effectively supported Republicans over Democrats in critical races for her own personal gain, all the while raising money off of threats to Roe v. Wade and off the unrelenting campaign against reproductive rights waged by legislatures throughout the country.

Young people may be perceived as “complacent” by the Democrats, but are more likely frustrated, confused, and yes, perhaps even exhausted from supporting candidates who too often take those voters for granted. For example, while President Obama is signing every executive order under the sun, he has refused for years now to correct a “misinterpretation” of the 1973 Helms Amendment, which “restricts the use of foreign aid to pay for abortions overseas, even in countries where abortion is legal.” By signing an executive order clarifying what is allowed under the Helms amendment, U.S. organizations could provide safe abortion care abroad under the exceptions for cases of rape, incest, and where the pregnant woman’s life is endangered, a very critical unmet need given the immense refugee crisis now enveloping Europe. The continued lack of action on this issue signals that Democrats don’t take abortion care very seriously.

Moreover, under the Obama administration and the leadership of Wasserman Schultz and others, we got the Stupak Amendment, a set of restrictions in the Affordable Care Act that represented a profound loss of reproductive rights enshrined in law. We then had Obama and the Department of Health and Human Services unnecessarily expand the Stupak Amendment to high-risk insurance pools. We’ve had carve-outs for religious groups receiving federal and state funding, allowing them to discriminate against the health and rights of women and girls. We’ve had Democrats endlessly repeating rhetoric that cements the Hyde Amendment by relying on the refrain that no federal funding goes to abortion care without challenging—at least until recently and under great pressure—the very premise of why this is wrong. These are but a few examples of why younger women might find themselves less than excited about a Democratic party that promises more of the same.

Women, and specifically Black women, are critical to the success of Democratic candidates. These voters might be forgiven for being unclear about whether those for whom they vote actually mean to keep their promises when they get into office.

In addition to her comments on abortion, Wasserman Schultz also made confusing and inaccurate statements about drugs and drug addiction. For example:

You’re one of a dwindling number of progressive politicians who oppose legalization of even the medical use of marijuana. Where does that come from? I don’t oppose the use of medical marijuana. I just don’t think we should legalize more mind-altering substances if we want to make it less likely that people travel down the path toward using drugs. We have had a resurgence of drug use instead of a decline. There is a huge heroin epidemic.

Heroin addiction often starts with prescribed painkillers. Pill mills were a problem in Florida, but the state didn’t make prescribing opiates illegal. There is a difference between opiates and marijuana.

Still, your opinion on this does seem like an outlier. It’s perfectly O.K. to not be completely predictable. I am a person, and I have individual opinions that may not line up ideologically. They’re formed by my personal experience both as a mom and as someone who grew up really bothered by the drug culture that surrounded my childhood — not mine personally. I grew up in suburbia.

The insinuation here is that drug use and abuse is a problem centered largely or mostly among low-income urban dwellers.

I grew up in suburbia, in the majority white, prosperous suburbs of northern Long Island. And my brother is a recovering heroin addict. Suburbia not only didn’t protect him, it probably contributed to his addiction in many ways—but that is the subject of another article. While never personally involved in drug use, I could not but help see the drugs being bought and sold all around me in junior and senior high school by my affluent white peers. For more than a decade, heroin has increasingly become a problem concentrated among suburban white men and women in their 20s and 30s. Surely, as a leading legislator and someone who describes herself as a “progressive,” Wasserman Schultz should have a more informed and nuanced view of drugs and drug culture, not to mention a better understanding of the desperately far overdue shift from the “just say no” approach to drug use and abuse of the past to a much more effective and humane focus on public health and human rights.

Wasserman Schultz’s comments on drugs angered progressives not only because she is wrong on the facts, but because she also has been a major congressional supporter of private detention centers and private prisons, which in fact profit greatly from criminalizing drugs—especially among populations without the wealth and resources to get access to treatment instead of being sent to jail.

Wasserman Schultz was already under fire for her decisions to limit Democratic candidate debates to Saturday nights, a move that strikes many people as an effort to weigh the scales in favor of one candidate over another. She’s also been criticized for her efforts to undermine the Iran deal in Congress, and for other concrete actions she’s taken in Congress and as chair of the DNC.

You don’t get to call yourself a “progressive” unless you walk the walk. And if anything, progressives, especially younger activists and voters, want change and accountability, not government leaders they perceive as engaged in favoritism, cronyism, and yes, complacency when it comes to corporate control of our democratic system. Wasserman Schultz’s own actions and statements seem to lay blame outside the nexus of power that she controls, rather than looking inward to how she may be contributing to the very problems she laments.

Commentary Contraception

Hillary Clinton Played a Critical Role in Making Emergency Contraception More Accessible

Susan Wood

Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second-chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Clinton helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

In the midst of election-year talk and debates about political controversies, we often forget examples of candidates’ past leadership. But we must not overlook the ways in which Hillary Clinton demonstrated her commitment to women’s health before she became the Democratic presidential nominee. In early 2008, I wrote the following article for Rewirewhich has been lightly edited—from my perspective as a former official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the critical role that Clinton, then a senator, had played in making the emergency contraception method Plan B available over the counter. She demanded that reproductive health benefits and the best available science drive decisions at the FDA, not politics. She challenged the Bush administration and pushed the Democratic-controlled Senate to protect the FDA’s decision making from political interference in order to help women get access to EC.

Since that time, Plan B and other emergency contraception pills have become fully over the counter with no age or ID requirements. Despite all the controversy, women at risk of unintended pregnancy finally can get timely access to another method of contraception if they need it—such as in cases of condom failure or sexual assault. By 2010, according to National Center for Health Statistics data, 11 percent of all sexually experienced women ages 15 to 44 had ever used EC, compared with only 4 percent in 2002. Indeed, nearly one-quarter of all women ages 20 to 24 had used emergency contraception by 2010.

As I stated in 2008, “All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.”

Now, there are new emergency contraceptive pills (Ella) available by prescription, women have access to insurance coverage of contraception without cost-sharing, and there is progress in making some regular contraceptive pills available over the counter, without prescription. Yet extreme calls for defunding Planned Parenthood, the costs and lack of coverage of over-the-counter EC, and refusals by some pharmacies to stock emergency contraception clearly demonstrate that politicization of science and limits to our access to contraception remain a serious problem.

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Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

Although stories about reproductive health and politicization of science have made headlines recently, stories of how these problems are solved are less often told. On August 31, 2005 I resigned my position as assistant commissioner for women’s health at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because the agency was not allowed to make its decisions based on the science or in the best interests of the public’s health. While my resignation was widely covered by the media, it would have been a hollow gesture were there not leaders in Congress who stepped in and demanded more accountability from the FDA.

I have been working to improve health care for women and families in the United States for nearly 20 years. In 2000, I became the director of women’s health for the FDA. I was rather quietly doing my job when the debate began in 2003 over whether or not emergency contraception should be provided over the counter (OTC). As a scientist, I knew the facts showed that this medication, which can be used after a rape or other emergency situations, prevents an unwanted pregnancy. It does not cause an abortion, but can help prevent the need for one. But it only works if used within 72 hours, and sooner is even better. Since it is completely safe, and many women find it impossible to get a doctor’s appointment within two to three days, making emergency contraception available to women without a prescription was simply the right thing to do. As an FDA employee, I knew it should have been a routine approval within the agency.

Plan B emergency contraception is just like birth control pills—it is not the “abortion pill,” RU-486, and most people in the United States don’t think access to safe and effective contraception is controversial. Sadly, in Congress and in the White House, there are many people who do oppose birth control. And although this may surprise you, this false “controversy” not only has affected emergency contraception, but also caused the recent dramatic increase in the cost of birth control pills on college campuses, and limited family planning services across the country.  The reality is that having more options for contraception helps each of us make our own decisions in planning our families and preventing unwanted pregnancies. This is something we can all agree on.

Meanwhile, inside the walls of the FDA in 2003 and 2004, the Bush administration continued to throw roadblocks at efforts to approve emergency contraception over the counter. When this struggle became public, I was struck by the leadership that Hillary Clinton displayed. She used the tools of a U.S. senator and fought ardently to preserve the FDA’s independent scientific decision-making authority. Many other senators and congressmen agreed, but she was the one who took the lead, saying she simply wanted the FDA to be able to make decisions based on its public health mission and on the medical evidence.

When it became clear that FDA scientists would continue to be overruled for non-scientific reasons, I resigned in protest in late 2005. I was interviewed by news media for months and traveled around the country hoping that many would stand up and demand that FDA do its job properly. But, although it can help, all the media in the world can’t make Congress or a president do the right thing.

Sen. Clinton made the difference. The FDA suddenly announced it would approve emergency contraception for use without a prescription for women ages 18 and older—one day before FDA officials were to face a determined Sen. Clinton and her colleague Sen. Murray (D-WA) at a Senate hearing in 2006. No one was more surprised than I was. All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.

Sometimes these success stories get lost in the “horse-race stories” about political campaigns and the exposes of taxpayer-funded bridges to nowhere, and who said what to whom. This story of emergency contraception at the FDA is just one story of many. Sen. Clinton saw a problem that affected people’s lives. She then stood up to the challenge and worked to solve it.

The challenges we face in health care, our economy, global climate change, and issues of war and peace, need to be tackled with experience, skills and the commitment to using the best available science and evidence to make the best possible policy.  This will benefit us all.

News Politics

Ohio Legislator: ‘Aggressive Attacks’ May Block Voters From the Polls

Ally Boguhn

Efforts to remove voters from state rolls and curb access to the polls could have an outsized impact in Ohio, which has seen a surge of anti-choice legislation under the state’s Republican leadership.

Ohio Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) said she is worried about the impact of what she called “aggressive attacks” on voting rights in her state.

Ohio voters who have not engaged in voter activity in a fixed period of time, generally two years, are considered by the state to have moved, which then begins the process of removing them from their rolls through something called the “Supplemental Process.” If a voter fails to respond to a postcard mailed to them to confirm their address, they become “inactive voters.” If an inactive voter does not engage in voter activity for four years, they’re automatically unregistered to vote and must re-register to cast a ballot. 

Though other states routinely clean voting rolls, most don’t use failure to vote as a reason to remove someone.

“We have two million voters purged from the rolls in the last five years, many in the last four years since the last presidential election,” Clyde said during an interview with Rewire

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Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) dismissed concerns of the voter purges’ impact during an interview with Reuters. “If this is really important thing to you in your life, voting, you probably would have done so within a six-year period,” he said.

Ohio’s removal of voters through this process “is particularly problematic in the lead-up to the November 2016 federal election because voters who voted in the high-turnout 2008 federal election (but who did not vote in any subsequent elections) were removed from voter rolls in 2015,” according to an amicus curiae brief filed by the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights division in support of those who filed suit against Ohio’s law. 

The DOJ has urged the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a lower court’s ruling in favor of the state, writing that Ohio’s voter purge violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Since 2012, at least 144,000 voters have been removed from Ohio’s voter rolls in its three biggest counties, Reuters reported. The secretary of state’s office said 2 million registered voters had been taken off the rolls in the past five years, though many had been removed because they were deceased.

Husted contends that he is just enforcing the law. “Ohio manages its voter rolls in direct compliance of both federal and state laws, and is consistent with an agreement in this same federal court just four years ago,” Husted said in an April statement after the ACLU of Ohio and Demos, a voting rights organization, filed a lawsuit in the matter.

In predominantly Black neighborhoods near downtown Cincinnati, “more than 10 percent of registered voters have been removed due to inactivity since 2012,” reported Reuters. The outlet found that several places where more voters had cast ballots for President Obama in 2012 were the same locations experiencing higher percentages of purged voters.

“Some of the data is showing that African Americans voters and Democratic voters were much more likely affected,” Clyde said when discussing the state’s purge of registered voters. 

Clyde has requested data on those purged from the rolls, but has been turned down twice. “They’ve said no in two different ways and are referring me to the boards of elections, but there are 88 boards of election,” she told RewireWith limited staff resources to devote to data collection, Clyde is still searching for a way to get answers.

In the meantime, many otherwise eligible voters may have their votes thrown away and never know it.

“[P]eople that had been purged often don’t know that they’ve been purged, so they may show up to vote and find their name isn’t on the roll,” Clyde said. “Then, typically that voter is given a provisional ballot and … told that the board of elections will figure out the problem with their voter registration. And then they don’t really receive notice that that provisional ballot doesn’t eventually count.” 

Though the state’s voter purges could continue to disenfranchise voters across the state, it is hardly the only effort that may impact voting rights there.

“There have been a number of efforts undertaken by the GOP in Ohio to make voting more difficult,” Clyde said. “That includes fighting to shorten the number of early voting days available, that includes fighting to throw out people’s votes that have been cast—whether it be a provisional ballot or absentee ballot—and that includes purging more voters than any other state.” 

This could make a big difference for voters in the state, which has seen a surge of anti-choice legislation under the state’s Republican leadership—including failed Republican presidential candidate Gov. John Kasich.

“So aside from the terrible effect that has on the fundamental right to vote in Ohio, progressives who maybe are infrequent voters or are seeing what’s happening around [reproductive rights and health] issues and want to express that through their vote may experience problems in Ohio because of these aggressive attacks on voting rights,” Clyde said. 

“From our presidential candidates on down to our candidates for the state legislature, there is a lot at stake when it comes to reproductive health care and reproductive rights in this election,” Clyde added. “So I think that, if that is an issue that is important to any Ohioan, they need to have their voice heard in this election.” 

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