In the aftermath of an election cycle that was unfriendly to Democrats on the national stage, two survivors vowed to not give up.
Around 200 family members, friends, elected officials and community activists attended the swearing-in ceremony of U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and U.S. Congressman Ted Deutch Wednesday morning at the Federal Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale.
Related: Straight Ally Ted Deutch
For Wasserman Schultz, first elected to public office as a 26-year-old, the roof-top ceremony was extra special. She defeated newcomer Tim Canova in a competitive race for the house seat in district 23. The campaign came on the heels of Wasserman Schultz’s resignation as chair of the Democratic National Committee.
“As we know from time to time people try to get her down,” Deutch said of his colleague. “That’s because she always steps to the fore, always in the front of the battle for the things we care about. The amazing thing is despite those efforts she always comes back stronger and more determined to stand up for all of us.”
Wasserman Schultz, 50, represents parts of Broward and Miami-Dade Counties, while Deutch, 50, represents parts of Broward and Palm Beach Counties. Both representatives were selected to last year’s Top 25 Straight Allies issue by readers of the South Florida Gay News.
“My first priority in Congress will be to protect those who need it the most,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Whether it’s healthcare, immigration or our social safety net, we cannot turn our backs on our most vulnerable.”
Wasserman Schultz and Deutch attended the inauguration ceremony of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States – but not out of glee.
“For the simple fact that I want him to know we are watching his every move,” Wasserman Schultz said.
During her remarks in Fort Lauderdale, Wasserman Schultz thanked her parents, husband, rabbi and staff for their unyielding support. She then declared protecting Obamacare to be of the utmost priority.
“The most immediate threat we face is as many as 20 million Americans could lose their health care coverage with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Ending this program without any comparable replacement could literally result in lives being lost. It is cruel and disgraceful to go back to the dark times when there were annual and a lifetime coverage limits on all Americans. It is embarrassing and appalling that Congress would even consider repealing a law that protects breast cancer survivors like me and up to 129 million Americans who live every day with a pre-existing condition.”
Deutch, who sits on the foreign affairs committee, said he would work to strengthen America’s relationships with allies, “especially Israel,” he said. Raising awareness of eating disorders, creating bipartisan support to fight climate change and pushing for the Supreme Court to overturn Citizens United are other issues on the congressman’s radar.
Several local LGBT leaders attended the ceremony. Rabbi Noah Kitty of Congregation Etz Chaim, a South Florida LGBT-inclusive synagogue, said she was proud of Wasserman Schultz for enduring a steady stream of attacks from the right.
“And she’s still standing,” Kitty said.
Michael Rajner, a Wilton Manors resident, said he was glad to see two fighters stay on the job.
“It’s very comforting to know Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch are returning to Congress this session,” Rajner said. “They have been consistent leaders on LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues, and our community will be well represented by them as we face incredible challenges ahead.”
The transition in Washington, Wasserman Schultz said, remains a touchy subject.
“On Friday, our country will swear in a new President,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Understandably, that change in power has generated a lot of uncertainty and anxiety in our community. Since the November elections I’ve felt that same apprehension at times but as we look forward we cannot allow doubt to paralyze us because there’s simply too much at stake.”
Rabbi Howard Needleman of Temple Kol Ami Emanu-El gave the invocation, asking God to provide the constitutional officers “wisdom, strength and compassion.” The Walker Elementary School choir performed “America The Beautiful,” Emily Kaufman delivered a stirring rendition of the national anthem, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department Honor Guard presented the colors and Reverend Joe Johnson of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church closed the ceremony with the benediction.
“We are not victims, but victors,” Rev. Johnson said.