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MSNBC "Decision '08" - Transcript

Interview

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MS. MITCHELL: Senator Barack Obama will speak to a Latino advocacy group in Washington, D.C. Senator McCain was there earlier today. And this weekend, both senators will be outlining their positions on immigration reform at the La Raza meeting. In an already close race, both candidates are anxiously looking to secure the Hispanic vote, which could mean the difference in some key states, states like Florida.

Joining me now, Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Representative Schultz is also an Obama supporter and from Florida.

The Hispanic vote, it's really a very different situation between Obama and McCain then it was with George W. Bush.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Most definitely.

MS. MITCHELL: Clearly, the Republican party has suffered from its position on immigration from -- not the president's position but from Tom Tancredo and some of the other hard-line positions on immigration. What can Obama do to expand this universe?

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, John McCain has certainly helped, particularly in the swing state of my home state of Florida, where he, you know, started out as the person who was the epitome of immigration reform and now has gone into full-scale reverse and even said he would vote against his own bill that was the epitome of comprehensive immigration reform. So for starters, we have, you know, the continuing flip-flop of John McCain's position on immigration and a consistent position for Barack Obama, who has always said that we need to secure the borders but preserve the promise of America, and that we are a nation of immigrants.

And, you know, in my community in South Florida, I mean, we are really the United Nations of the country. I mean, no matter where you are, even in my district in Broward County, you have a variety of different ethnic backgrounds and people who have just, literally, come into this country. And they don't take too kindly to being told that it's time for them to go and that that's the sum total of the Republicans' immigration reform.

MS. MITCHELL: What would Barack Obama have to do to put Florida in play for the Democrats this year? Something on the running mate front?

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, Florida's already in play. I mean, it's clear in several national polls that Barack Obama is ahead of John McCain. And he's ahead because Floridians are in the throes of the downturn of the economy. Our housing situation is one of the worst in the country. They're struggling with gas prices. They're struggling with food prices. And they want a president who is going to move this country in a new direction and get us back on track and stop focusing almost exclusively on the wealthy, which is what this administration has continued to do and what John McCain essentially promises to continue to do.

MS. MITCHELL: We see that your governor has become engaged, Charlie Crist.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Yes, he has.

MS. MITCHELL: Does that mean that he might be a potential running mate?

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: (Chuckles.) Well, I don't know if his engagement is directly tied to his status as a --

MS. MITCHELL: I wouldn't -- I wouldn't -- I don't think that cause and effect -- (laughs) --

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: (Laughs.) Oh no, I'm sure there's no correlation.

MS. MITCHELL: But it makes -- but it does make him perhaps more appealing as a candidate.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: You know, I honestly think that Charlie Crist is focused on being governor. And I mean, if I were betting, I would say it is unlikely that he is McCain's choice for governor (sic), but it's certainly possible. He would put Florida in play. He's a popular governor. But I think it's -- I think it's unlikely that he ends up being added to the ticket.

MS. MITCHELL: Do you see any moderation -- as there's generational change in the Cuban-American community, do you see any moderation from either party on the stance regarding the sanctions and particularly the more recent sanctions of the last three years or so which have really cut back on travel by Cuban Americans back home, remittances, and now the most recent restrictions on the flights?

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, we have an ongoing, you know, debate and dialogue. And it is -- and it is, to a certain degree, generational in South Florida. My own personal opinion, I'm a supporter of the embargo. I think that a relationship with the United States needs to be earned. And I think that Cuba has not taken the steps that they need to take in order to earn that relationship.

That having been said, we do need to make sure that we can help, as Barack Obama has said he would do, with diplomatic dialogue and making sure that we take the steps necessary in order to move the ball down the field and encourage Cuba to make the human rights changes that they need to make so that they can earn a relationship with the United States.

MS. MITCHELL: Congressman, you were a supporter of Hillary Clinton's, in the primaries.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Yes.

MS. MITCHELL: And there are a lot of reports, one in The Wall Street Journal today that some of the people involved have denied to me, but there are still reports out there that there's very rocky negotiations for her role in the convention, whether her name is put into a nomination, exactly what's going to happen on the financial front with her trying to repay her debt. There are two joint fund- raisers tomorrow night --

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Right.

MS. MITCHELL: -- here in New York, and another one on Thursday morning with Obama and Clinton together again. Where does it stand now, among the Clinton supporters, and particularly the women supporters, some of whom have been very outspoken, saying that they have not yet warmed up to Obama?

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, I think it's a work in progress. There has been a tremendous amount of progress made. I don't think there's any concern as far as Senator Obama and Senator Clinton working together, her role in the campaign. I mean, I think all of that is more than overstated. I mean, I think it's -- I think it's not factually correct.

Look, what I've said before -- and it was, you know, even difficult for me emotionally. Women -- for women that supported Hillary Clinton, this is a very emotional thing that they're dealing with, that they were heartbroken at her loss. It was an opportunity -- I mean, I was raised to believe that a little girl in America can grow up and be anything she wants to be. I want to be able to show my daughter that a woman can be in the White House one day. And so it's not the same, "Okay, my candidate lost and now I'm automatically going to shift over." There needs to be some more evolution. But I am fully confident from what I've seen, many, many, many women and other categories of supporters of Hillary Clinton have moved over and are beginning to enthusiastically support Obama. But it's --

MS. MITCHELL: His campaign, just today, announced hiring her head of women's outreach. So he's taken steps.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Right.

MS. MITCHELL: She sent out an e-mail this weekend to her supporters, those who had given the maximum amount to her for the general election campaign, saying now that she's not a general election candidate that she has to repay that money to them --

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: She does.

MS. MITCHELL: -- if they don't voluntarily, you know, tell her that she can keep the money for a future Senate race. Isn't it hard to get people to contribute to a future Senate race? I mean, what is she going to do? She owes a lot of money. And this is more than $20 million she's going to have to repay to people.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, I know that the Obama campaign is helping her with her debt in terms of fund-raising. She is a phenomenally strong U.S. senator who has millions of supporters around the country. I think that she's going to make steady progress on paying that debt back.

And quite honestly, I had lunch with one of her contributors today who was the one that actually told me that he was getting ready to, you know, give her general election -- general election campaign back. And I don't think that's going to be, you know, terribly difficult at all. I mean, she knows that she's got to reach out to her supporters. But I think most of them are going to, you know, not give it back and let her keep it for the U.S. Senate.

MS. MITCHELL: Would you like to see her name be placed in nomination at the convention?

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: You know, honestly, my personal opinion is that that would be counterproductive. I mean, I think that we need to make sure -- what has been successful for us as Democrats, in the last two cycles, has been our unity. And I think we need to maximize our unity. And I'm not sure that that's something that Senator Clinton wants to see happen, herself.

MS. MITCHELL: All right. Thanks so much, Congresswoman.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you.

MS. MITCHELL: Good to see you.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you, Andrea. You too.


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