With allusions to the Bible and a convalescing Chicago Bulls star, two of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.’s fellow Illinois Democrats defended their colleague after visiting him at his home Monday, and told the press to back off while Jackson recovers from mental and physical health issues that have kept him away from Congress since June.
Congressmen Bobby Rush and Danny Davis, both Chicago Democrats, said they met with Jackson for about 90 minutes at his home in Washington, D.C., just before Jackson left to drive to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where he’s been receiving treatment for bipolar depression and other health issues.
“There was periods of great laughter and great levity,” Rush said at an O’Hare Airport press conference after the visit Monday evening. “But then there was also some periods where he would actually cry…when he would think about the effects of all of this on his family.”
The congressmen chided the media for hounding Jackson during his absence, saying he needs to take his recovery slowly and that his D.C. home is “under attack” by reporters and photographers so that Jackson is afraid to leave.
The congressmen said they didn’t specifically discuss recent controversies surrounding Jackson, including a House ethics investigation related to the Blagojevich scandal, and recent news reports that Jackson is the target of a separate federal probe into his campaign account spending.
But as both congressmen defended Jackson, once a rising Democratic prospect, the theme of the wounded innocent was ever-present.
“I remember a fella named Job who got sick during the Biblical days,” Davis said. “And Job’s friends went to see him because they thought that he must have done something that was terrible to have this illness heaped upon him. Turned out that Job had not done anything!”
Rush, meanwhile, likened Jackson’s situation to that of Bulls star Derrick Rose, who is recovering from a knee injury.
“Nobody is clamoring for Derrick Rose to come back before the doctors say he should come back,” Rush said.
Neither congressman gave any timeline for Jackson’s return to work, even though he stands for re-election and hasn’t campaigned at all for his seat leading up to the Nov. 6 general election.
The visit from Davis and Rush comes just two days after Jackson made his first statement since taking his medical leave. In an automated phone message blasted out to his constituents in the 2nd Congressional District Saturday afternoon, Jackson said he is “anxious to return to work,” but didn’t offer a timetable, saying only it was currently against doctors’ orders.
Politicos say it’s a safe bet that Jackson, whose congressional district includes parts of Chicago’s South Side and south suburbs, will win re-election to the House seat he’s held for nearly 18 years. But his political challengers, Republican Brian Woodworth and independent Marcus Lewis, both have called for Jackson to be more upfront with voters about his medical condition.
The legal and personal controversies surrounding Jackson had been mounting even before he took his leave from the House in June. He had acknowledged an earlier marital infidelity, and his House ethics investigation is still open.
The problems have only multiplied since Jackson left in mid-June.
Just days before Jackson’s office announced his leave, the FBI arrested Raghuveer Nayak, a Jackson family friend and fundraiser, on fraud and tax-related charges. Nayak was a key figure in the Blagojevich scandal, though his criminal case is unrelated. Jackson’s House ethics investigation centers around whether the congressman directed Nayak to offer fundraising help to Blagojevich, in return for Jackson being appointed to a U.S. Senate seat.
Jackson has denied any wrongdoing, and has not been charged.