Democratic Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. has been gone for a month and nobody knows where he is or what's wrong with him. Last week, the Chicago lawmaker's office issued a vague statement saying he's dealing with "physical and emotional ailments" and is "undergoing further evaluation and treatment at an in-patient medical facility." Now, members of Congress, including Illinois Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin, are calling on him to be more forthright with his constituents in Chicago's South Side. "As a public official, there comes a point when you have a responsibility to tell the public what's going on," Durbin told Crain’s Chicago Business Monday. Jackson "will soon have to make a report on the physical condition he's struggling with." In a normal job, asking for a few sick days doesn't invite much scrutiny, but when you represent voters and you've been AWOL since June 10, you're asking for a flurry of speculation. Here's what's buzzing in Chicago's rumor mill:
Take him at his word—he's done this before. Though his office's statement is vague, it says due to his "exhaustion" the congressman "will need to receive extended in-patient treatment as well as continuing medical treatment thereafter." Some Democrats, such as Rep. Steny Hoyer, take him at his word, and that may be because Jackson has left his constituents hanging on issues of his health before. For instance, the Chicago Tribune notes that "Seven years ago, Jackson took even longer to publicly disclose medical treatment. In March 2005, he ended weeks of speculation by revealing that his trimmed-down figure was the result of weight-loss surgery performed about three months earlier. Jackson underwent a duodenal switch, described as a minimally invasive surgery that involves cutting out a part of a patient's stomach." Maybe he's just working on the wording of his press release?
It's related to his ethics investigation. Reporting on the mysterious illness, the Chicago Sun-Times staff notes that Jackson has been under pressure from a House Ethics Committee investigation. It stems from a "secretly recorded FBI tape in which then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich was caught saying that [Jackson's family friend Raghuveer] Nayak, acting as an emissary for Jackson, had made what Blagojevich believed was a $1.5 million offer in exchange for an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Barack Obama following his 2008 election as president. Jackson has repeatedly denied he authorized anyone to approach Blagojevich on his behalf and has never been charged."
He's pulling a Mark Sanford. In a tongue-in-cheek musing about Jackson's whereabouts, a blogger at Chicago Now speculates that Jackson's staff could be covering up an affair. "Worst-case scenario: this ends up like the South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford situation – with his office claiming he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, when in fact he was using taxpayer funds to meet his mistress in Argentina."
It's related to fraud charges. Tribune reporters Rick Pearson and Katherine Skiba note that last month Jackson family friend Raghuveer Nayak was arrested by the feds on fraud charges related to Nayak's surgical centers. Jackson's attorney has said his client was already on sick leave when Nayak was arrested and the two events are not related.
Update: A suicide attempt? Illinois radio station WLS cited "two high-ranking people on the Democratic side of the aisle, in both fundraising and in the legislative branch" saying Jackson's absence is due to a suicide attempt. “No, that’s not true,” Jackson's father, Jesse Jackson Sr., told Politico Wednesday night. “He’s with his doctor and getting treatment, regaining his strength. That’s all I really want to say at this point.”