Jesse Jackson Jr. Speculation Continues to Swirl

Posted July 11, 2012 at 6:40pm

Under pressure to reveal where he is and what his “ailments” may be, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s doctors released a statement Wednesday night saying he is being treated for a “mood disorder.”

But the statement is unlikely to dampen the speculation about the Illinois Democrat’s mystery medical ordeal, considering the statement gave few details.

The release, sent out by the lawmaker’s spokesman, did not identify his doctor’s name nor the facility at which he is being treated.

The statement read: “Information regarding the Congressman’s treatment is protected by federal law under the privacy provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPPA”). The name of the attending physician and treatment center will not be disclosed in order to protect his continuing privacy. His physician makes the following statement: ‘The Congressman is receiving intensive medical treatment at a residential treatment facility for a mood disorder. He is responding positively to treatment and is expected to make a full recovery.’ In addition, the rumors about him being treated for alcohol or substance abuse is not true.”

The surprise statement came after a day in which the drumbeat for Jackson to divulge more about his medical condition grew louder, as House Democratic leaders joined the call for him to inform voters and his colleagues about his unusual leave of absence.

Speculation about the Illinois Democrat’s mystery condition and whether he would ever return to Congress was rampant on Capitol Hill and in his hometown of Chicago.

On Wednesday night, conflicting reports emerged about the possibility that Jackson might be seeking help at an Arizona facility for addiction, but Jackson’s office did not substantiate that NBC News report. Jackson’s wife, Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson, told a Chicago NBC affiliate that the Congressman was not in rehab, but she declined to provide more details.

In the absence of news on his condition, reporters this week have peppered House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Members close to Jackson with questions about his whereabouts, his condition and whether the Congressman should come clean about “the physical and emotional ailments” that his office said last week he has been grappling with “privately for a long period of time.”

Though his office said he has been on a leave of absence since June 10 for exhaustion, that was not announced until June 25. On July 5, the office issued a statement saying the illness was more serious than thought and the Congressman would require “extended in-patient treatment as well as continuing medical treatment thereafter.”

On Wednesday, Hoyer said Jackson should reveal more.

“Let me just deal with this briefly in this way. I think Congressman Jackson and his office and his family would be well advised to advise the constituents of his condition,” Hoyer said.

Pelosi said Wednesday that Jackson should tell his constituents his condition after he has been properly evaluated by doctors. “I hope that we will hear soon that he is on the way to recovery. He’s a valued Member of Congress,” she said.

Other Illinois Democrats, including Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin and Rep. Luis Gutierrez, said earlier this week that it would be better for Jackson to disclose his condition.

The lack of information on Jackson’s condition and whereabouts left his political allies fearing the worst. Chicagoland Democrats said rumors about Jackson have run rampant for days without any word from his aides to alleviate concern.

“Everyone is just kind of scratching their head,” one Illinois Democratic operative said.

Only a very small group of people know Jackson’s whereabouts, leaving virtually all of his staff in the dark.

On Tuesday, Jackson’s office, as well as his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, shot down unsubstantiated claims that the Congressman had tried to commit suicide. In a radio interview, the elder Jackson also invited Durbin to call him to get an update on his son. But on Wednesday, the reverend told reporters covering his group’s annual conference that it was “inappropriate” to ask questions about his son, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Former Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.), who also attended the conference, told reporters that Durbin, Gutierrez and Hoyer should “back off of Jesse Jr. … At the proper time, they will know.”

Jackson’s absence comes just a few months after he defeated former Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.) by a 40-point margin in a March primary.

Halvorson, Jackson’s longtime Southside political nemesis, also called for the Congressman to be more forthcoming. “He’s in the public eye,” she said in a phone interview. “He’s got to do some explaining. He doesn’t get to have a private life. He’s got to start talking.”

Other local Democrats speculated that Jackson could leave Congress altogether as a result of this health incident, although none would say that for the record.  

If Jackson leaves Congress, it’s too late to hold a special election. But local Democratic officials could replace his name on the November ballot — and Jackson’s wife would top the list of potential successors. But as long as Jackson remains on the ballot, he’s almost guaranteed re-election in the heavily Democratic 2nd district.

Daniel Newhauser and Jonathan Strong contributed to this report.