Under increasing pressure from top Democrats to disclose what's kept Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. off the job for more than a month, the congressman's office issued a statement Wednesday saying he is being treated for a "mood disorder" at an inpatient center.
Even as Jackson's camp tried to tamp down widespread speculation — denying chatter that Jackson was being treated for alcohol or drug abuse — an array of questions was left unanswered. It remains unclear what specific psychiatric problem Jackson is being treated for, where he's being treated and when he'll get out.
In keeping with the secrecy that has surrounded Jackson since his medical leave from Congress was announced, the office's statement came from a doctor who went unnamed, citing health privacy reasons.
"The congressman is receiving intensive medical treatment at a residential treatment facility for a mood disorder. He is responding positively to treatment and is expected to make a full recovery," read the statement from the anonymous doctor.
Rick Bryant, Jackson's chief of staff, added his own assertion, saying a rumor about Jackson "being treated for alcohol or substance abuse is not true."
The statement capped a day in which questions, speculation and denunciations over the Jackson mystery stretched from the U.S. Capitol to a downtown Chicago hotel where Jackson's father held the annual Rainbow/PUSH Coalition convention.
A mood disorder can mean many things. According to Mental Health America, formerly known as the National Mental Health Association, there are four basic forms of mood disorders, including "major depression, cyclothymia (a mild form of bipolar disorder), SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and mania (euphoric, hyperactive, overinflated ego, unrealistic optimism)."
The treatment advocacy organization estimated 1 in 5 Americans report at least "one depressive symptom in a given month," while bipolar disorder is less common, occurring at a rate of 1 percent of the general population.
Jackson, who sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, has found his name linked publicly more often lately to another panel: the House Ethics Committee. It is probing his activities related to alleged improprieties over Jackson's bid late in 2008 to win appointment to the Senate from then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The seat was open after Barack Obama's election to the White House.
Jackson has been absent from his House job since June 10 and has missed 90 roll-call votes, including the Republicans' much-trumpeted move Wednesday to repeal Obama's health care law in the wake of last month's Supreme Court decision.
Before the largely symbolic health care vote,Rep. Steny Hoyerof Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, addressed Jackson's absence with reporters.
"I think Congressman Jackson and his office and his family would be well advised to advise the constituents of his condition. He's obviously facing a health problem. We have many members who are out right now.
"This is not an unusual circumstance. 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," said Hoyer, whose comments were an about-face from a day earlier.
Hoyer's remarks urging more disclosure followed similar calls from Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the No. 2 official in the Senate, and other state Democrats, including Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Chicago and Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston.
Other Democrats were more sympathetic to Jackson's refusal to shed more light on his health problems, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.
"I hope that we will hear soon that he is on the way to recovery," said Pelosi, who said she had not talked to Jackson. "He's a valued member of Congress. But the timing (of disclosure) ... is related not to my curiosity or anybody else's, but to his health care needs."
In Chicago, Gov. Pat Quinn also counseled patience.
"I think at this time, the people of Illinois have good hearts. When somebody is dealing with challenges on their health, we wish them well and we pray for them. I pray for Jesse Jackson Jr. every single day and I think everybody should."
About a mile away, politicians packed the dais Wednesday at the annual conference of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, founded by the lawmaker's father, theRev. Jesse Jackson.
While the son's absence at the gathering was notable, the elder Jackson tried to keep the focus on the PUSH event. He told reporters who approached the dais in a hotel ballroom that it was "inappropriate" for them to ask him about his son.
"Inappropriate, no discussion, please," Jackson said as he paused between photos with dignitaries. He sat with Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and others.
When a reporter said it was the first time in 42 years that he had found the elder Jackson at a loss for words, the civil rights leader responded, "My words are not lost, it's inappropriate. This is a business dinner."
During his remarks to the crowd, Jackson mentioned his son only obliquely, talking about "the congressman" during an anecdote about how one misses details while traveling by airplane. But it was clear Rep. Jackson's situation was on the minds of attendees.
While the congressman's father declined to discuss his son's health, Ald. Sandi Jackson told the Tribune that she's "in constant talks with (her husband's doctors) about Jesse's condition and his medical prognosis going forward."
She refused, however, to spell out the nature of the "physical and emotional ailments" that Jackson aides cited in a news release one week ago after they initially said he was being treated for "exhaustion."
Before the PUSH luncheon, formerU.S.Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., launched into a tirade against the large media contingent on hand, telling reporters to leave Rep. Jackson alone.
"You all aren't here to cover this convention, you're here to cover Jesse Jr. That is ridiculous," complained Burris, who briefly held Obama's Senate seat before it was claimed by Republican Mark Kirk, whose January stroke means he, too, is absent from Congress.
The drama over Jackson's departure began June 25, when his spokesman, Frank Watkins, announced that the lawmaker had begun a medical leave June 10.
Jackson, serving his ninth term in the House, is up for re-election Nov. 6. The disclosure from Watkins coincided with the deadline for independent candidates to file nomination papers with the state.
Watkins released a second statement last Thursday saying Jackson long had grappled privately with "physical and emotional ailments" and would need extended in-patient treatment and continuing medical care afterward.
The statement issued by Jackson's office Wednesday evening came after NBC News reported that the congressman was being treated for alcoholism at an unnamed Arizona facility. The Jackson statement denied drug or alcohol abuse but did not address whether the congressman was being treated in Arizona.
Tribune reporters Monique Garcia and Rick Pearson contributed.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun