CHICAGO – Pressure intensified Monday on U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to answer questions about a medical condition that has had him on leave for weeks, with the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat saying Jackson has a responsibility to give the public an update about his situation “soon.”
Sen. Dick Durbin’s comments at an unrelated Chicago event echoed those made by his fellow Illinois Democrat’s political opponents and voters since Jackson announced a medical leave without disclosing his location or detailing a specific condition.
“As a public official, there comes a point when you have a responsibility to tell the public what’s going on,” Durbin said. “If there is some medical necessity for him not to say more at this moment than I will defer to that. But he will have to soon make a report on what he’s struggling with.”
Jackson’s office initially said last month that he was being treated for exhaustion, but staff members said last week that Jackson’s condition was more serious than first thought and required treatment at an inpatient medical facility.
A statement said Jackson also had been grappling privately with emotional issues for some time.
Durbin noted Monday that Sen. Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican who suffered a stroke earlier this year, provided regular updates about his condition that included interviews with his doctors and a video showing his physical rehabilitation progress. Durbin said the video “answered hundreds of questions” for voters.
Jackson spokesman Frank Watkins declined to comment Monday. Jackson’s father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, said his son’s medical condition is a private matter.
Jackson’s congressional colleagues also had no answers.
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus with Jackson, said he hasn’t spoken to Jackson and has relied on the media for updates.
“So beyond that there is nothing else that I know,” he said.
The timing of the medical leave comes months after Jackson, 47, had to campaign hard in Illinois’ primary against his first credible challenger in years.
A House Ethics Committee also is investigating allegations that Jackson was involved in discussions about raising money for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s campaign in exchange for Blagojevich appointing him to President Barack Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat. Blagojevich is serving a 14-year prison sentence for corruption.
Last month, a former fundraiser for Jackson and Blagojevich, Raghuveer Nayak, pleaded not guilty to unrelated federal medical fraud charges. Prosecutors at Blagojevich’s 2010 corruption trial had said another Blagojevich fundraiser was ready to testify that Jackson instructed Nayak to raise money for Blagojevich’s campaign to help him secure the Senate seat. The same witness later testified that he attended a meeting with Jackson and Nayak.
Jackson also allegedly directed Nayak to buy plane tickets for a woman described as the congressman’s “social acquaintance,” which Jackson has since called a personal matter that he and his wife have dealt with privately.
Jackson, who was first elected in 1995 and has easily won every election since, never has been charged and has repeatedly denied wrongdoing. He faces two little-known opponents, a Republican and an independent, in November for the district that stretches from Chicago’s South Side to include suburbs and rural communities.