FL’s Wasserman Schultz hears death knell for Iowa caucuses

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Photo by Derek Bridges via flickr CC BY 2.0

The meltdown of the Iowa caucuses Monday night probably spells the end of that state’s status as the first in the nation to judge presidential candidates, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida said Tuesday.

“Iowa’s probably on its last breath of remaining as the first state using the caucus system,” she said during a telephone briefing with news reporters.

Wasserman Schultz, a former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, expressed “tremendous respect” for the state’s caucuses as a “proving ground for presidential candidates.”

However: “I have long thought that the Iowa caucus was really an undemocratic, small-D, way of running an election,” she said.

The problems collecting caucus results Monday night, which Iowa party leaders blamed on a “coding issue” involving an app developed to report the count, are “almost beside the point.” Top party leaders were already looking upon the caucus system with increased skepticism, she said.

“Caucuses are not a fair way to run elections. We need to retain the principle of one person one vote, which is the commitment that we make in this county. You can see the complexity that has played out over the course of the last day or so that really makes it as clear as mud at the end of the day who’s going to come out of Iowa in the top couple or three slots,” she said.

“The party needs to transition to a point either where there are no more caucuses – I think that’s for starters.”

At the very least, the party needs to open the early selection process to more diverse states – including Florida, Wasserman Schultz suggested – and to rotate membership in that elite, “so that we can make sure there’s more of a diverse participation, a broader diversity in the voters,” she said.

“Honestly, it would be a more significant test of the staying power of candidates if they had an opportunity to begin the presidential contest with more diverse states.”

Wasserman Schultz offered the comments during a call organized by the Florida Democratic Party to preemptively rebut the arguments expected from Trump during his State of the Union address planned for Tuesday evening before a joint session of Congress.

Members of Florida’s Democratic congressional caucus attacked the president for alleged hypocrisy on a number of fronts, including his efforts to undercut the Affordable Care Act notwithstanding his promises to deliver better, cheaper health care.

“We know that he’s likely going to use this platform to spread a bunch of misinformation about his – quote unquote – accomplishments in office,” party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo said.

“Here’s the thing: Donald Trump has gotten away with making empty promises. In 2016, he didn’t have a record to stand on. But, after three years of this presidency, we know that his promises are nothing more than hot air.”

The Democrats pointed, to name one example, to the Lower Prescription Costs Now Act, approved by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, which would allow the government to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies over drug prices to benefit even participants in private health insurance.

The measure would set a $2,000 out-of-pocket limit under the Medicare prescription drug program and cover vision, dental, and hearing benefits for Medicare beneficiaries.

“That bill, like so many other bills passed by this Congress, is gathering dust on [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell’s desk. With a single tweet, Trump could fast track the Lower Drug Costs Now Act and sign it by the end of this week. Yet, in the two months since the House has passed this landmark bill, Trump hasn’t shown any interest in signing this bill which would deliver on his promise to reduce health care costs,” Wasserman Schultz said.

“And no one is surprised, because this is just the latest broken promise by our president, who has done nothing but attack the health care of millions of Americans who need it,” she said. “In the past three years, it’s become very clear which party is fighting to improve and expand health care and which one is trying to rip it away.”

The Democrats argued that Trump’s boasts about the economy’s strength belie the challenges Floridians confront.

“Too many families are struggling despite working two or more jobs – especially because of the high cost of living,” Rizzo said.

“The only thing that Washington Republicans and this president were able to do when they held the majority was to pass a tax cut to the wealthiest top 1 percent, adding $1.9 trillion to the deficit. What are we hearing now from this president? That he wants to cut Medicare, Social Security benefits, and Medicaid,” she said.

Trump said he’d be open to such cuts during an interview while at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He later moved to walk back those comments.

The Democrats also attacked Trump for failure to meet with Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan opposition leader, when both were in South Florida over the weekend – Trump at his Mar-a-Lago property and Guaidó for a rally in Miami.

Reps. Wasserman Schultz, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, and Donna Shalala “were proud to join” Guaidó at the rally, Wasserman Schultz said, and support legislation to keep applying pressure on the government of Nicolás Maduro.

Republicans also attended the event, including U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, and she called upon Republicans to support protected status to Venezuelan exiles in the United States. The Trump administration is deporting Venezuelans “back to a country that we are saying is too unsafe for the people who already live there,” Wasserman Schultz said.

“It’s an embarrassment that the president of the United States, who says he supports Guaidó, has not embraced him when he comes to this country,” Shalala said. “It’s typical of Donald Trump – he has the attention span of a 2-year-old and he flits from subject to subject.”