In Context: Giving women 'the back of his hand'

Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is shown speaking in Florida in 2012. On Sept. 3, 2014, in Milwaukee, she criticized Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's record on women.
Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is shown speaking in Florida in 2012. On Sept. 3, 2014, in Milwaukee, she criticized Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's record on women.

Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz made national headlines and stirred controversy when she sharply criticized Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker during an appearance in Milwaukee on Sept. 3, 2014.

The Florida congresswoman was the featured speaker in a round-table discussion on women's issues at the Milwaukee Athletic Club. She was joined by U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, and Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Mike Tate, among others.

At one point, Wasserman Schultz said: "Scott Walker has given women the back of his hand."

She added: "What Republican tea party extremists like Scott Walker are doing is they are grabbing us by the hair and pulling us back."

Republican Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch said the remarks were "absolutely hideous and the motive behind them was despicable."

And a spokeswoman for Mary Burke, the Democrat who is challenging Walker in the Nov. 4, 2014 election, said: "That's not the type of language that Mary Burke would use, or has used, to point out the clear differences in this contest."

The controversy makes the remarks a good candidate for In Context, a periodic feature that provides a fuller look at comments that gain widespread attention.

Following is a transcript of key portions of Wasserman Schultz's remarks, based on a video of the roundtable event by Wisconsin Eye.

After a few minutes of introductory comments, Wasserman Schultz turned her attention to the upcoming elections.

"We know that the other side is playing for keeps. And what’s at stake for women in this election and in elections to come -- particularly if you’re a mom, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a granddaughter.

"What matters for the women in America, for the women in our lives, is so personal. Because just look at what’s -- and you have only to look in this state to see what having a right-wing, tea party extremist governor means for the quality of life of women. Someone who has no regard for their quality of life, who actually has what I would say is disdain and disrespect. And the evidence that I would hold up is that, it’s one thing to have Republicans who oppose equal pay for equal work. That’s mind boggling in and of itself.

"But then to take the extra step of actually repealing the enforcement mechanism to ensure that women in Wisconsin get equal pay for equal work? I know I ran for office, Gwen (Moore) ran for office, the women who are elected around this table and the women involved in the political process around this table, we all are involved in this process to make the world better, to help give people a hand up, to pull another woman up behind us on the rung of the ladder that we’ve just left, and to lift as we climb.

"And Scott Walker has given women the back of his hand. And there is no -- I know that is stark. I know that is direct. But that is reality. When you have women earning 78 cents in Wisconsin for every dollar a man earns, and a governor who has actually signed a law that repeals that enforcement mechanism, that is just -- that is just unacceptable."

An important note: In April 2014, Burke said Walker’s repeal of a 2009 law meant Wisconsin was one of just five states "without an equal pay law protecting women from gender discrimination in their paycheck." We rated the claim False. Walker reversed an attempt to toughen up Wisconsin’s law, but its protections against gender discrimination in the workplace pay date back decades. The governor’s 2012 action left those in place, albeit without tougher penalties for employers.

Wasserman Schultz continued with comments about a voter expansion project, then said:

"We are focused on making sure that our voters turn out. That they understand what’s at stake in this election. And let’s look at more nationally, what women believe about the Republicans’ policies. Because the Republicans themselves did a poll just about a week ago, that leaked out, that demonstrated exactly how women feel about Republican policies.

"The poll showed that women thought that Republicans were intolerant, that they were lacking in compassion and that they were stuck in the past. Just to give you a snapshot. (Laughter.)

"This is what women voters, polled nationally, said about Republicans in general. That same poll showed that women cited equal pay as the policy that would help them the most. So, when you ask women, what is the biggest obstacle to their success -- and what would help lift them up and give them more of a shot at being able to take care of their families, make sure that they can raise their kids, get them the best possible education so that they can succeed in the path they choose in life -- they say that the biggest obstacle is equal pay.

"Because if you look at what women lose over the course of their professional lives by having unequal pay -- let’s say that the national average is 77 cents for every dollar a man earns -- the average woman loses over the course of her professional life, $430,000. You know what? That’s real money. No matter where you are."

Another note: In his State of the Union address in January 2014, President Barack Obama said women "make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns." PolitiFact National rated the claim Mostly True. Our colleagues noted that the entire gap is not necessarily due to discrimination -- a conclusion some listeners might have drawn when hearing Obama mention "equal pay for equal work" shortly after citing the 77-cent figure. And there are alternative calculations that show a smaller overall gap. Still, the 77-cent ratio was a credible figure from a credible agency.

Wasserman Schultz continued speaking about the pay gap, then said:

"Every woman I know -- I have twin 15-year-olds and an 11-year-old. And there is nothing that matters to my husband and I more than making sure everything we do in our lives is done through the lens of being their parent and making sure that our commitment is -- results in making sure that, when they grow up, they have a better life than we did. Or at least as good. At least as good.

"So instead, what Republican tea party extremists like Scott Walker are doing, is they are grabbing us by the hair and pulling us back. And it’s unacceptable. And it’s not going to happen on our watch."

(The day after Wasserman Schultz made her comments, she issued a statement saying: "I shouldn't have used the words I used. But that shouldn't detract from the broader point that I was making that Scott Walker's policies have been bad for Wisconsin women, whether it's mandating ultrasounds, repealing an equal pay law, or rejecting federal funding for preventative health care, Walker's record speaks for itself.")

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