Hoyer defends Jesse Jackson Jr.'s leave

The second-ranked House Democrat on Tuesday defended Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s extended absence, saying the Illinois Democrat has been upfront with constituents about his mysterious condition.

"We all have a responsibility to report to our constituents," Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, told reporters in the Capitol. "They [Jackson's aides] have certainly reported that he is ill and seeking help. And I think that that fulfills that responsibility."

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Jackson last appeared on the Hill in early June, and a statement issued by his office a few weeks later indicated that he'd been on medical leave for "exhaustion" since June 10.

A second statement issued last Thursday added to the mystery, indicating that Jackson's condition is "more serious than we thought and initially believed."

"Recently, we have been made aware that he has grappled with certain physical and emotional ailments privately for a long period of time," Jackson spokesman Frank Watkins said in the statement. "At present, he is undergoing further evaluation and treatment at an in-patient medical facility."

Jackson has been under some fire for not being more specific about either the condition or the potential length of his absence. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) fueled that debate Monday, saying Jackson should provide more details "soon."

"As a public official, there comes a point when you have a responsibility to tell the public what’s going on,” Durbin said in Chicago. “If there is some medical necessity for him not to say more at this moment then I will defer to that. But he will have to soon make a report on what he’s struggling with."

Hoyer noted that another Illinois lawmaker – GOP Sen. Mark Kirk – has also been on an extended medical leave, after he suffered a stroke in January.

"I hope that Jesse is able to return in the short term, just as I hope that Mark Kirk is also able to return in the short term," said Hoyer, who spoke with Jackson's family several weeks ago about the Democrat's condition.

There are strong hints, however, that other Democratic leaders remain in the dark.

"I know far less than Sen. Durbin," Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), vice-chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters in the Capitol Tuesday. "Right now, the best thing I can tell you is that we're all hoping that we're going to see Congressman Jackson sooner than later."