Debbie Wasserman Schultz fires back after Allen West email

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) speaks during a news briefing January 6, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. House Democratic members discuss with members of the media on their testimony before the House Rules Committee on the impact repealing the Healthcare Reform Bill.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) speaks during a news briefing January 6, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Updated: 6:03 p.m. ET

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the head of the Democratic party, fired back on Wednesday at fellow Florida lawmaker who called her "despicable" and "not a Lady" a day earlier.

Rep. Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, said the blistering email from Republican Rep. Allen West stemmed from his "really unacceptable" politics -- but that she remained "unfazed" by it.

"I have to tell you I was unfazed by his email," Wasserman Schultz said in an interview with MSNBC.

In the email,  West accused her of being "vile," "unprofessional," "despicable" and "not a Lady" after she referenced him during debate over the GOP debt plan on the House floor. Wasserman Schultz added that the attack was "not surprising," given the pressure he was under to defend the Republican position on Medicare and Social Security.

"I mean, [Republicans] are defending ending Medicare as we know it; Congressman West represents thousands of senior citizens - which is what I was pointing out - and they would face significant increase costs due to the Republicans' Medicare plan and the 'cut, cap and balance' bill," Wasserman Schultz said. "So it's not really surprising that he would crack under the pressure of having to defend that."

The Florida Democrat, who was elected head of the Democratic National Committee in May, said West should "understand that when we're in debate on the House floor, members are going to go back and forth."

"If he feels that concerned and gets that churned up over having to defend his position, then he probably should reconsider his position," Wasserman Schultz added.

The congresswoman was not the only Democrat to push back against West's comments: In an email to constituents on Wednesday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., lambasted West for his "monstrous tongue lashing," and urged readers to sign a petition expressing solidarity with Wasserman Schultz and her position on Medicare and Social Security.

"The rant against Debbie was downright shocking, especially when you consider she was protecting the interests of the people of southern Florida, the people she's steadfastly represented for so many years," Gillibrand wrote in the email. "Is it wrong to put the elderly before Big Oil?"

Gillibrand also took West to task for his comment about Wasserman not being a "Lady": "Nothing is more ladylike than fighting for the issues that you care about," she wrote.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) used West's "hate-filled screed" as an opportunity to solicit campaign funds: In an email, Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., urged voters to donate money to "help throw Allen West and his Tea Party colleagues out in 2012."

"This is exactly the sort of partisan tantrum we're used to from House Republicans as they push our economy to the brink of disaster while pandering to their Tea Party base," Israel wrote. "We can't let this shameful display go unanswered."

Women's groups, too, have expressed outrage about the e-mail - particularly in regard to what many perceive as its sexist undertones.

"You know, it's sad [West's] attempt to be condescending and sexist is not going to fool any of his constituents," said Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, in an interview with Hotsheet. "The reality is, he's voting against his constituents."

O'Neill argued, however, that while West's comments about Wasserman Schultz's gender were "stupid and sexist," the more imminent concern was his policies.

"The real focus for me is on his attempt to slash Medicare and Social Security and Medicaid," she said.

EMILY'S List president Stephanie Schriock pointed to West's comments as an example of the "Republican war on women" - and urged supporters to sign a petition demonstrating their support.

"Allen West's angry, hostile tirade to DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is truly despicable," Schriock wrote in an email on Tuesday. "If you had any doubt about the Republican war on women, look no further than West's email -- it's threatening, sexist and demeaning."

West, in the meantime, stands by his statements -- and is actively fighting rumors that he may have apologized to the congresswoman.

Reports of an apology are "absolutely false," says West spokeswoman Angela Sachitano, who added that added that "the Congressman is actually waiting on an apology from the DNC Chair."

Update: Five female Democratic members of Congress have released a letter calling on West to apologize and asking the GOP leadership to disavow his response. The signatories are Reps. Gwen Moore, Carolyn Maloney, Lois Capps, Donna Edwards and Jackie Speier. Read it below:

Dear Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor, Majority Whip McCarthy and Representative West:

We know that politics can get rough and that strong debate brings out many emotions. And as women, we are often held to a higher standard in public discourse.

News reports indicate that after last night's debate, Congressman Allen West sent a completely inappropriate and sexist e-mail in total disrespect of our colleague, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

By any objective viewing of her floor speech, she was well within the rules of decorum for our chamber. Yet, Mr. West's response was completely out of order and an offensive personal attack with a clearly sexist tone. We call on you to disavow this response in the strongest of terms.

We also call on Mr. West to immediately apologize to Ms. Wasserman Schultz and vow to keep debate about policy, not personality.