Reporting Jay Levine
WASHINGTON (CBS) – Several members of Illinois’s congressional delegation have joined the growing chorus of voices pressuring U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL) to speak out about his ongoing medical and legal troubles.
CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports some of the incoming members of Illinois’ congressional delegation said Thursday that Jackson owes it to voters to provide some details on his health, and to let them know when – or if – he’ll return to work.
The newest Illinois members of Congress, who will be sworn in next year, gathered on Capitol Hill for the start of their so-called orientation Thursday, and received some advice U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, who shared some insight into how things work in Washington.
But when the new Congress is seated, it’s still unclear if Jackson will be back at work. He’s been on leave now for more than five months, with no signs he plans to return anytime soon.
U.S. Rep.-Elect Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) said it’s not the first time a member of Congress has been on extended leave, pointing to Arizona Congresswoman Gabbie Giffords’ long absence after she was severely wounded in a shooting near Tucson last year.
“He should be allowed to recover. If you look at – in a completely different situation – Gabbie Giffords, we certainly gave her a year to recover,” Duckworth said. “But I think transparency, and being up-front about the things that you’re going through is also important.”
In Giffords’ case, she did not resign from Congress for more than a year after the shooting.
Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL) said, “It’s harder and harder to see an opportunity for him to be back here,”
U.S. Rep.-Elect Bill Foster (D-IL) – who served one term in Congress before losing his seat in 2010, then being elected back to Congress last week – said Jackson owes it to the public to come forward and say something about his status, and his intentions in regard to his political future.
“I think the logic of him proceeding along those lines is growing stronger every day,” he said. “This is something where, for a few weeks, letting someone alone to deal with these very complex problems is the right thing to do, but over time the balance shifts, and he owes it to his constituents, with an increasing urgency, to make a clear statement.”
For Durbin, it’s time for more than just talking about when and if Jackson would be well enough to return to Congress.
“I think the situation has reached the point where he needs to come out and publicly speak, and answer some basic questions about what he’s been through,” Durbin said. “I’m very sympathetic to the mental illness which he’s struggling with, but I also understand he has public responsibilities and obligations here.”
Durbin said Jackson also owes the public answers about the federal investigation of his campaign finance activities.
“As much as he can say, he should say now, so that there is some clarity in terms of what he’s going through,” Durbin said. “If he wants to be a member of Congress, to represent them, to be their voice, then he has to speak up and tell us the situation.”
Even one of Jackson’s closest allies, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), was urging him to speak out.
“I think he should speak about everything that is going on, and anything that could help or impede his work in the Congress of the United States. He has a responsibility to do that,” Gutierrez said.
Jackson’s desk at his Capitol Hill office is just the way he left it five months ago, when he began his leave of absence. His staffers are still working at the office, but the phones don’t ring and overall there’s an eerie silence.
Jackson’s spokesman, Frank Watkins, said he’s been given no indication when – or even if – the congressman might return to work.
“The information we’ve been given all along is that it’s strictly up to his doctors; once the doctors say that he’s cleared to come back to work, that he can come back to work,” Watkins said.
Watkins has known Jackson since he was four years old, and has been a kind of second father to him, but has only spoken with the congressman a few times since he first hospitalized in the summer.
Sources said family members have told Jackson’s friends that his bipolar disorder has been marked by sudden mood swings, deep depression, and anger.
“His dad says I helped to raise him, so his health problems … they really concern me,” Watkins said. “And, of course there’s press reports that he also has legal problems, which concerns me as well.”
Jackson had returned to the Mayo Clinic from his home in Washington, D.C., last month, after claiming reporters who’ve staked out the house and snapped photos of him outside were interfering with his treatment.
He checked out of the Mayo Clinic on Tuesday, but sources said he stayed in Minnesota, along with his parents, to avoid the reporters and cameras staking out his homes in Chicago and D.C.
There has been no indication Jackson has been to his Chicago home in months.
Jackson remained out of sight Thursday, still undergoing treatment. The advice of lawyers – the less said the better – clearly has been winning out over those who would like Jackson to get his side of the story out sooner, rather than later.
Meantime, Jackson’s attorneys were continuing to try to work out a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, and hope to get something done by the end of the year.