U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston took some responsibility Thursday for the leaked emails that eventually led to her resignation as Democratic National Committee chairwoman, saying “the buck stops with me.”
She also denounced an email by her former party staff questioning Bernie Sanders’ belief in God as “unacceptable.”
“There was one very unfortunate, unacceptable, outrageous email exchange — that I was not a party to — that discussed using Sen. Sanders’ faith, a faith which I share,” said Wasserman Schultz, who like Sanders is Jewish. “I haven’t perused all the emails, but even in that exchange, one of the staff acknowledged I, as chair, would never be OK with that.”
Wasserman Schultz spoke in her first local public appearance since resigning on the eve of last week's national convention. The congresswoman attended a briefing with Florida Gov. Rick Scott in Wynwood, the Miami neighborhood most affected by a local Zika virus outbreak.
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She was later interviewed by the Miami Herald editorial board, where she discussed her re-election race against Tim Canova, her Sanders-backed primary opponent and first serious challenger in more than two decades.
Wasserman Schultz denied that the DNC attempted to favor eventual nominee Hillary Clinton over Sanders. Some of the more than 19,000 leaked emails, apparently obtained by Russian hackers and published two weeks ago by the WikiLeaks website, showed party staffers discussing ways to hurt the Sanders campaign.
“I’m very proud of the primary nominating contest that we won — that we ran,” she told the editorial board. “We conducted the primary at the DNC according to the DNC rules.”
“There was nothing rigged, nothing untoward, nothing manipulated. And nothing that the DNC did to try to affect the outcome whatsoever,” she added. “If I had favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, I didn’t do a very good job, because this is one of the longest primaries that we’ve had in modern times.”
She nevertheless stepped down from her role as chairwoman because she didn’t want to take attention away from Clinton, Wasserman Schultz said. Three top DNC staffers — the chief executive, finance chief and communications director — lost their jobs this week following Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.
Though she acknowledged her staffers made mistakes, Wasserman Schultz defended some of the banter people write in emails they assume will remain private. In one email, she referred to Sanders’ campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, as an “ASS.”
“Well, he was acting like an ass,” she told the editorial board. “The Sanders campaign — and I give them credit for it — their strategy at that point was to make the DNC the bogeyman, and make me the bogeyman, so they could rally their supporters.”
Wasserman Schultz denied a Politico report that she asked Vice President Joe Biden for a video to play at her daughter’s bat mitzvah.
“Not true,” she said. “I really don’t think it’s appropriate for me to be responding to anonymous criticism. If people don’t have the nerve to be critical and put their name to it, then I’m not going to box nameless, faceless critics.”
Asked why she’s been absent from the campaign trail over the past week, Wasserman Schultz said she’s been spending time with family after the convention.
She insisted she will debate Canova, her opponent, though she wouldn’t say when. Only 25 days remain before the Aug. 30 primary. Wasserman Schultz asked the Herald editorial board to interview her separately from Canova; having him sitting next to her would have been a “distraction,” she said.
Canova noted to the editorial board earlier Thursday that Wasserman Schultz just this week skipped two candidate forums.
“This is not the picture of somebody who believes in a vibrant marketplace on ideas and a spirited debate on the issues,” he said. “She’s still avoiding debates, and it’s sad to say that it reflects what she was doing at the national level ... I think her effectiveness as a member of Congress will be limited in the future.”
Canova, a Nova Southeastern University law professor and first-time candidate, has run much like Sanders did against Clinton, waging a campaign against corporate interests and big money in politics. He didn’t seek Sanders’ endorsement, he said, and learned of it from a CNN producer, but plans to reach out to the Vermont senator to ask him if he wants to campaign for him.
“The name recognition is still not at the level that we need it to be,” Canova said of his underdog campaign, but he added it “has certainly been going up a lot just in the last two weeks.”
Congressional District 23, which stretches from Broward County to northeast Miami-Dade County, leans heavily Democratic, so the primary winner will almost certainly win the Nov. 8 general election. Two Republicans, defense attorney Marty Feigenbaum and activist Joe Kaufman, are also running.