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."
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 DurbinDick DurbinDemocrats seek to avoid internal disputes over Russia and China Schumer steps on the gas to move Biden agenda Demand Justice launches ad campaign backing Biden nominee who drew GOP pushback MORE (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 KirkMark Steven KirkDuckworth announces reelection bid Brave new world: Why we need a Senate Human Rights Commission Senate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls MORE – 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 BecerraXavier BecerraThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump's pre-debate COVID-19 test sparks criticism Biden unveils updated strategy to end HIV epidemic by 2030 Buttigieg has high name recognition, favorability rating in Biden Cabinet: survey MORE (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."