House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer added his voice to a group of Democratic lawmakers calling for Illinois Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. to provide details of the ailments that have caused his monthlong absence from Congress.
Hoyer, the second-ranking House Democrat, told reporters today that Jackson “would be well advised to give his constituents as much information” as possible about the medical condition and treatment that has kept him from Washington.
In a July 5 statement, Jackson’s office said the congressman and son of civil rights leader the Reverend Jesse Jackson needed “extended inpatient treatment” for a medical condition that was “more serious” than previously thought.
“Recently, we have been made aware that he has grappled with certain physical and emotional ailments privately for a long period of time,” according to the statement. Jackson’s office provided no further details about the lawmaker’s condition except to say he was “undergoing further evaluation and treatment at an inpatient medical facility.”
A June 25 statement from Jackson’s office said the lawmaker had begun a medical leave June 10 because he was suffering from exhaustion.
Frank Watkins, a Jackson spokesman, had no immediate comment.
The congressman’s father, civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr., told reporters it was “inappropriate” to ask questions about his son during the annual Rainbow PUSH Coalition business luncheon in Chicago today.
Other Illinois politicians pushed back against their colleagues’ demands for more disclosure.
“I’m calling on all my Democratic friends to back off, give him some space,” Roland Burris, who was named to fill Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat after he was elected president, said in an interview at the PUSH event.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, who also attended the luncheon, said it was “important that we honor their wishes and wish them well.”
“The congressman needs time to get better, and I pray for him,” said Quinn, a Democrat.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California defended Jackson’s reticence, telling reporters that “the timing” of a further disclosure “relates to the knowledge of his situation.” At a news conference, Pelosi said, “hopefully he will have the appropriate evaluation that so that he can share that information.”
Hoyer made his comment a day after he defended Jackson’s announcements about his absence. The Maryland Democrat told reporters yesterday that Jackson’s office had “certainly reported that he is ill and seeking help” and “that fulfills that responsibility” to inform constituents.
Two days ago, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, told reporters in Chicago that Jackson should provide constituents of his Chicago district with more information about his health.
“There reaches a point when you have a responsibility to tell people what you’re facing and how things are going,” Durbin said.
“If there is some medical necessity for him not saying more at this moment, then I will defer to that,” Durbin said, according to a transcript of the July 9 Chicago news conference. “But he will have to soon make a report on what he’s struggling with, the physical condition he’s struggling with.”
Yesterday, another Illinois Democrat, Representative Luis Gutierrez, told reporters in Chicago that Jackson “has a responsibility to give us more information” about his medical condition, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Jackson, 47, is in his ninth term as a House member and survived a primary challenge in March from former Representative Debbie Halvorson.
He is also under investigation by the House Ethics Committee, which is reviewing whether Jackson improperly lobbied in 2008 for appointment to a vacant U.S. Senate seat by then- Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.
A report by the Office of Congressional Ethics, which referred the matter to the ethics panel, said there was “probable cause to believe” that Jackson directed Chicago businessman Raghuveer Nayak to raise campaign money for Blagojevich in exchange for appointment to President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat or knew that “Nayak would make such an offer.”
On June 20, Nayak was arrested on unrelated federal charges of paying kickbacks to doctors for patient referrals, according to a Justice Department statement.
Jackson testified as a defense witness at Blagojevich’s political corruption trial, denied raising money for Blagojevich and said he refused the governor’s demand for a $25,000 campaign contribution.
Blagojevich, convicted in June 2011 of 17 corruption counts including bribery, extortion conspiracy and bribery conspiracy, is serving a 14-year prison term.
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