WASHINGTON (CNN) — The top Democrats in the House of Representatives are split on whether Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. should reveal the details behind his mysterious leave of absence from Congress.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that Jackson, a Democrat from Illinois, should disclose information on his own timetable, but Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House minority whip, said Jackson’s office should provide an update.
“He’s obviously facing a health problem,” Hoyer said Wednesday in response to a question from CNN. “People get sick. And when people get sick, they miss work. Everybody in America understands that but I think the family would be well-advised to give his constituents as much information as is appropriate.”
It was a very direct message from a House Democratic leader who has been reluctant, up until now, to publicly press Jackson for more detail.
The chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus told reporters Wednesday he has spoken several times with members of Jackson’s “blood family” and is confident Jackson will return from his leave of absence.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Missouri, said there was no urgency for Jackson or his family to come forward with any details about the absence.
Cleaver told reporters outside the House chamber that “when the people in his district have become concerned, then Congressman Jackson will respond, but so far there is no evidence that there is upheaval in his congressional district.”
Added Cleaver: “He’s fine. He’s an old football player – he’ll be back.”
Cleaver made it clear he was in regular contact with Jackson’s family, not directly with Jackson himself.
An animated Cleaver said, “It’s frustrating and upsetting to me” that other Democrats on Capitol Hill have called on Jackson to provide more information. Cleaver said every member of Congress deserves privacy and cited Congress’ vote on a law that keeps medical information confidential.
“This is not about a congressman. This is about a human being who is sick. This is not a political matter, it’s a health matter,” Cleaver said.
Cleaver said Jackson’s situation was discussed at the weekly Congressional Black Caucus lunch on Wednesday and added that caucus members were alarmed that other Democrats were urging the family to provide more information.
“We all agreed today, 100%, that that should not be the way in which we deal with members of Congress who get ill,” Cleaver said.
Pelosi deferred to Jackson, a nine-term representative.
“The time is right when Congressman Jackson has an evaluation of what his situation is, and I’m sure then he will share it with his constituents,” she said.
Pressure began mounting on Jackson Tuesday after comments to reporters in Chicago by fellow Illinois Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin.
“As a public official … there reaches a point when you have a responsibility to tell people what you’re facing and how things are going. Sen. Kirk has done that, and I think Congressman Jackson will face that, too,” Durbin said.
Earlier this year, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, suffered a stroke. He is still recovering and his office continues to give updates on his progress.
Jackson hasn’t been on Capitol Hill for votes or hearings since late May, and in early June his office announced he was taking a leave of absence because he was suffering from a “medical condition.”
More questions arose late last week, when Jackson communications director Frank Watkins said, “Congressman Jackson’s medical condition is more serious than we thought and initially believed.”
“We have been made aware that he has grappled with certain physical and emotional ailments privately for a long period of time,” Watkins said
Initially, Jackson’s office said the congressman was suffering from “exhaustion,” but has since declined to provide any further information regarding his health.
Another of Jackson’s Illinois colleagues, Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky, said Wednesday she didn’t have any details on Jackson’s situation or medical condition and said she didn’t want to “second guess” how the congressman’s family and his office have handled the situation.
But she echoed Hoyer’s call for additional information.
“Clearly at some point he’s going to have to give some info about when he’s coming back,” Schakowsky said.
Several senior House Democratic aides contacted by CNN said Jackson isn’t telling Hill colleagues anything. Privately, they were critical about the information blackout from Jackson’s office, noting it only raises more questions about his absence.
By Kate Bolduan and Deirdre Walsh – CNN
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