By Mike Soraghan - 11/20/09 05:25 AM EST
Rev. Jesse Jackson backed off his criticism of Rep. Artur Davis
Thursday night, issuing a statement saying he has "abiding admiration"
of the Alabama Democrat.
"I talked to Congressman Artur Davis today to assure him of my abiding admiration of him as a leader who is engaged in a huge challenge," Jackson said in the statement, obtained by The Hill through a congressional source. "I offer no challenge to his integrity as a leader. Representatives should all vote their conscience in the interest of their constituency."
“We even have blacks voting against the healthcare bill from Alabama," Jackson said at a CBC reception in his honor. "You can’t vote against healthcare and call yourself a black man.”
Jackson’s comments signified the first time race has been publicly used to criticize a member on healthcare reform. Other issues, including euthanasia, abortion and immigration, have dominated the debate for the last several months.
Jackson did not refer to the comments in his statement, nor did he state an apology. But he struck a markedly different tone than Wedensday night, and even appeared to back Davis's campaign to be the first African-American governor of Alabama.
"The historical Davis journey as a change agent continues and his latest quest deserves the support of the caring," Jackson said in the statement.
But he did reiterate the need for changes in healthcare, saying they are most needed by "the black and the poor."
"There is a growing disparity among the black and the poor and we desperately need voices and votes," Jackson's statement said.
"Among the black and the poor, the infant mortality rate is higher, life expectancy is shorter, poverty is growing and unemployment is highest. We need comprehensive healthcare that is more accessible and less expensive for all Americans."
That is the point that Jackson said he was trying to make Wednesday night when he was asked about his criticism of Davis. He said Alabama has some of the highest poverty in the nation, and is therefore the most in need of universal health coverage.
Davis voted for the healthcare bill in the Ways and Means Committee, but against it on the floor earlier this month. He was also one of two members of the CBC to vote for an amendment placing strict limits on abortion coverage.
Davis said he doesn't oppose a healthcare overhaul, but prefers a version drafted by the Senate Finance Committee that doesn't include a public health insurance option and taxes high-end health plans rather than wealthy people. But he has indicated he is still open to supporting the final bill.
“It will look different when it comes back from conference,” Davis said Thursday.
Davis has amassed a more conservative voting record than most Democrats in the lower chamber. He is one of only 23 House Democrats who opposed healthcare reform and climate change legislation.