Born on January 12, 1950 in Jamaica, New York, Sheila Jackson Lee earned a BA in political science from Yale University in 1972 and a JD from the University of Virginia Law School in 1975. She subsequently worked as an attorney from 1975-77, and as staff counsel to the U.S. House Select Assassinations Committee from 1977-78.
Jackson Lee then moved to Houston and made three unsuccessful attempts at local judgeships before securing a post as an associate municipal judge from 1987-90. She then won a seat on the Houston city council in 1990 and served there for four years.
In 1994 Jackson Lee, a Democrat, was elected to represent Texas’s heavily Democratic 18th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. A major backer of her campaign was local executive Kenneth Lay of the Enron Corporation, which was later to fall amid a national scandal. Jackson Lee has been re-elected to Congress every two years since then, and she is a longtime member of both the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus.
Visits to Cuba
In February 1999, Jackson Lee was part of a six-person Congressional Black Caucus delegation that visited Fidel Castro‘s Cuba to criticize the U.S.-imposed restrictions on trade and travel between that Communist nation and the United States. Among those who accompanied Jackson Lee were Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters.
In March 2016, Jackson Lee was part of a delegation sent to Cuba by President Barack Obama.
Positions Regarding Iraq & the Iraq War
In 2000, Jackson Lee was one of 70 members of Congress (66 Democrats and 4 Republicans) who signed a letter calling on President Bill Clinton to “de-link” economic sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq from a continued embargo against the shipment of any military equipment into that country. Such a measure would have permitted Iraq to continue receiving economic aid even as Saddam refused to honor his previous commitments to verifiably dismantle his weapons programs.
In December 2005, reporter Amanda Carpenter asked Jackson Lee whether she believed that a precipitous withdrawal of all U.S. military forces from Iraq might lead to civil war in that country and foster the creation of a new haven for terrorists. The congresswoman replied: “Well, let me say that I started out against the war. I remain opposed to the war, but I am forward thinking and I think now is a question of how we can safely secure our troops and provide for the safe, successful exit strategy … to redeploy as soon as practical….” Carpenter followed up by asking: “If they are redeploying, where are they going to go? Are they going to stay in the region? What does that mean?” To this, Jackson Lee responded: “Redeployment has several aspects. Redeployment would mean they would stay in the region on the perimeters. If, by chance, there was a total collapse, as it relates to a peaking violence, they would be poised and ready.”
In 2007, Jackson Lee was one of 90 Members of Congress who signed an open letter to President George W. Bush, stating: “We will only support appropriating funds for U.S. military operations in Iraq during Fiscal Year 2008 and beyond for the protection and safe redeployment of all our troops out of Iraq before you leave office.” The letter was initiated by the Peace Pledge Coalition, an alliance led by such notables as Medea Benjamin, Bill Fletcher, Kevin Zeese, and representatives of the Progressive Democrats of America, Democrats.com, AfterDowningStreet.org (later called WarIsACrime.org), Velvet Revolution, and the Backbone Campaign.
Positive Description of Bashar al-Assad
In 2003 Jackson Lee was invited by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to go on a “fact-finding” mission in the Middle East. Clearly impressed by Assad, the congresswoman subsequently told reporters: “He’s a 39-year-old president who even gave us a picture of him and his children”—implying that Assad’s gesture may have been an indication of his good will and humanity. “Let’s see what he can do. He’s not his father”—a reference to the late Hafez al-Assad, who had ruled Syria as a totalitarian dictator from 1971 until his death in 2000. Moreover, Jackson Lee invited the younger al-Assad to speak in Texas, even though the U.S. government had designated Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Alliances with Left-Wing Activist Organizations
In November 2003, Jackson Lee spoke at a rally in support of the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride—an effort to promote comprehensive immigration reform featuring a path-to-citizenship for virtually everyone residing in the U.S. illegally.
In 2003 Jackson Lee served on the advisory committee of the Progressive Majority.
In 2006 the Immigrant Legal Resource Center presented Jackson Lee with its annual Phillip Burton Award, named after the late U.S. congressman who had helped abolish the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1975.
In 2007, Jackson Lee was a guest speaker at the annual “Take Back America” conference organized by the Campaign for America’s Future and the Institute for Policy Studies.
In 2011, Jackson Lee addressed a Rebuild the Dream rally with the revolutionary communist Van Jones.
Ties to Louis Farrakhan
In July 2005, Jackson Lee was one of numerous Congressional Black Caucus members who met with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and were photographed with him. The congresswoman also attended a 2006 Farrakhan sermon at a Houston mosque, where she lauded the Nation of Islam for having “always been on the forefront of leadership without embarrassment, shyness or apology.” Farrakhan, for his part, praised Jackson Lee as someone who “knows the struggle that the Black and Brown members of Congress have to influence that process.”
When the Daily Caller in February 2018 contacted Jackson Lee and a number of her fellow Congressional Black Caucus members to ask if they would be willing to publicly denounce the notorious Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan because of his racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric, Jackson Lee was one of 20 who declined not only to denounce him, but also to issue any comment at all regarding his infamous anti-Semitic, anti-white rhetoric.
Support for the Council on American-Islamic Relations
In November 2006 in Arlington, Virginia, Jackson Lee spoke at a fundraising banquet held by the Hamas-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
In September 2014, the congresswoman said of CAIR: “The Council’s work in the state of Texas and across the nation is much appreciated.”
In October 2017, she said at a CAIR event: “Our democracy requires the active participation of informed citizens, and I commend CAIR for its efforts to support the principles of civic engagement on which the United States of America was founded.”
In 2018, Jackson Lee sent a congratulatory letter to CAIR, celebrating its 24th year of operation.
Hiring the Radical Stoney Cooks
In 2006, far-left activist Stoney Cooks served as Jackson Lee’s chief of staff and administrative assistant. In 1967, Cooks had joined members of the Students for a Democratic Society and other leftist groups in a delegation that traveled to Czechoslovakia to participate in a propaganda meeting with representatives of the North Vietnamese government and the Viet Cong. And in 1973, Cooks had co-sponsored the U.S. Preparatory Committee for the 10th World Festival of Youth and Students, held in East Berlin; this Committee operated from the offices of the Communist Party USA‘s official youth front.
Support for Communist Venezuela
Jackson Lee has long called for improved relations between the United States and Communist Venezuela, which she characterizes as a friendly nation. In 2007 she urged the U.S. to lift its ban on selling F-16 fighter jets and spare parts to the government of the late Hugo Chavez.
Shortly after Congress had approved a $700 billion bailout of financial services firms in October 2008, Jackson Lee was one of six Democratic members of Congress who enjoyed a Caribbean junket sponsored by Citigroup that November. According to the National Legal and Policy Center, a watchdog group, the trip violated House rules: “The ‘lead sponsor’ was Citigroup, which contributed $100,000. Citigroup was certainly aware that it would be a major recipient of bailout funds. It was also aware that its fortunes had become increasingly reliant on Congressional actions. Citigroup should have also been aware that corporate sponsorship of such an event was banned by House rules adopted on March 1, 2007, in response to the [lobbyist Jack] Abramoff scandal and the infamous golf trip to Scotland.” Joining Jackson Lee on the trip were Charles Rangel, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Bennie Thompson, Donald Payne Jr., and Donna Christensen.
In May 2017, the Washington Free Beacon reported that in early February of that year, Jackson Lee’s congressional campaign had unlawfully used $9,800 from its political funds to purchase tickets to Super Bowl 51, which was played on February 5, 2017 at NRG Stadium in Houston. The campaign had also spent another $4,900 at an Italian restaurant in Houston on the day of the Super Bowl. That same day, a jovial Jackson Lee posted to her Instagram account a photo of herself “on location” at NRG Stadium. Following these revelations by the Free Beacon, Jackson Lee scrubbed the photo from her Instagram page. Neither Jackson Lee’s campaign nor her congressional office returned requests by the Free Beacon for a comment matter.
Supporting the Equal Rights Amendment
In July 2009, Jackson Lee told activists who were rallying on Capitol Hill in support of the newly reintroduced Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), that the United States had a moral obligation to follow the example of “twenty-seven other countries, including Rwanda, Afghanistan, Algeria and China [that] have equality provisions” for women. As CNS News pointed out: “According to the State Department’s 2008 report on human rights, the four countries cited by Jackson Lee are in fact described as nations where women face grave injustices.”
When the House of Representatives voted by a 345-75 margin to defund the notoriously corrupt community organization ACORN in September 2009, Jackson Lee was one of the 75—all Democrats—who voted to continue funding the group.
Mistakenly Claiming That “Today We Have Two Vietnams”
In July 2010, Jackson Lee stated, from the floor of the House of Representatives, that North and South Vietnam had managed to forge a peaceful relationship with one another in the years since the Vietnam War. Said the congresswoman: “Today we have two Vietnams, side by side, North and South, exchanging and working. We may not agree with all that North Vietnam is doing, but they are living in peace. I would look for a better human rights record for North Vietnam, but they are living side by side. Because that was a civil war. And because the leadership of this nation did not listen to the mothers and fathers who bore the burden of 58,000 dead and did not declare victory….” (Click here for video.) In fact, of course, South Vietnam had ceased to exist on July 2, 1976, when North and South were merged to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Opposing the Repeal of Obamacare
In a January 2011 floor debate over a Republican bill (HR2) calling for repeal of the recently passed national healthcare reform legislation (Obamacare), Jackson Lee said that such a repeal would violate the U.S. Constitution:
“The Fifth Amendment speaks specifically to denying someone their life and liberty without due process. That is what H.R. 2 does and I rise in opposition to it. And I rise in opposition because it is important that we preserve lives and we recognize that 40 million-plus are uninsured. Can you tell me what’s more unconstitutional than taking away from the people of America their Fifth Amendment rights, their Fourteenth Amendment rights, and the right to equal protection under the law?”
Jackson Lee revisited this theme on May 6, 2013, when she said, from the floor of the House: “[A]lthough health care was not listed, per se, in the Constitution, it should be a constitutional right. And if you read the words or quote the words of the Declaration of Independence — ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that we have certain inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ — one might argue that education and health care fall into those provisions of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
“I Stand Here As a Freed Slave”
On February 13, 2013, Jackson Lee, arguing that government spending programs were already as lean as they should ever be, exhorted her House colleagues to reach a budget compromise so as to prevent automatic spending cuts through sequestration. “We’re at the bone almost,” said the congresswoman, “and sequester, that is across-the-board cuts, will literally destroy us and put us in a recession.” Jackson Lee then suggested that lawmakers should try to emulate the spirit of cooperation that Congress had shown during the Civil War: “I stand here as a freed slave because this Congress came together. Are we going to be able to do it today to free America?”
Honoring a Hip-Hop Artist Renowned for His Vulgar Lyrics
Also in February 2013, Jackson Lee honored the hip-hop artist Jay Jenkins, known as “Young Jeezy,” with a “Certificate of Congressional Recognition” for his “outstanding contribution” to the lives of young people through his Street Dreamz Foundation. “Your core values of hard work and integrity has helped improve youth in the Houston community,” said the certificate, which was signed by Jackson Lee. The lyrics of Young Jeezy’s songs are replete with profanity, including many references to “niggas.”
Mistakenly Asserting That the U.S. Constitution Was Written “Some 400 Years Ago”
While speaking from the House floor on March 12, 2014, Jackson Lee suggested that the U.S. Constitution (which was adopted in 1787) had been written in the early 1600s: “Maybe I should offer a good thanks to the distinguished members of the majority, the Republicans, my chairman and others, for giving us an opportunity to have a deliberative constitutional discussion that reinforces the sanctity of this nation and how well it is that we have lasted some 400 years, operating under a constitution that clearly defines what is constitutional and what is not.”
Introducing a Bill Advocating Reparations for Slavery
In January 2019, Jackson Lee introduced H.R.40 — Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act, founded on the premise that there should be “appropriate remedies” to address the “lingering negative effects of slavery on living African-Americans and society.” The bill had 125 co-sponsors, all Democrats.
Jackson Lee Is Accused of Retaliating Against Intern Who Sued a Staffer for Alleged Rape
In January 2019, a female former intern of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) — the Caucus’s nonprofit arm which was chaired by Jackson Lee — filed a lawsuit alleging that in 2018 the CBCF had fired her in retaliation for her stated desire to sue by Damien Jones — the Foundation’s then-intern coordinator — who, the young woman alleged, had raped her in October 2015, when she was nineteen years old. Moreover. the plaintiff claimed that she was in possession of evidence — including text messages, telephone conversations, and DNA — to prove that the encounter with Jones had occurred. During a lengthy phone call on January 17, 2019, the CBCF board demanded that Jackson Lee resign from her position as head of the Foundation. But the congresswoman refused to step down, and the call ended abruptly. A few days later, however, Jackson Lee agreed to resign not only from her position as CBCF chairwoman, but also from her post as House Judiciary subcommittee chair. The New York Times, citing officials familiar with the matter, reported that some CBCF board members had told Jackson Lee that she would face a “vote of removal” if she failed to resign.
Demanding a Task Force to Investigate the Case of Illegal Alien Who Died of Flu-Like Symptoms While in Custody
Jackson Lee was outraged when a 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant died of flu-like symptoms while in the custody of U.S. Border Patrol personnel who had apprehended him for illegally crossing the America’s southern border near Hidalgo, Texas on May 13, 2019. During a House Homeland Security hearing soon thereafter, the congresswoman said to Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS): “I believe there should be an internal task force set up dealing with [migrant] children, dealing with children’s death. My question to you is: Will you set up an internal in-house task force to deal with … these deaths, to find what solutions should be put in place?” In response, McAleenan informed the congresswoman that “we already have internal task forces working these issues.”
Protesting Against the Senate Filibuster, and in Favor of “The For The People Act”
On July 22, 2021, Jackson Lee joined such notables as fellow Democratic Reps. Jamaal Bowman, Emanuel Cleaver, Troy Carter, Hank Johnson, and Al Green in speaking at a demonstration in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building. They were demanding the elimination of the Senate filibuster so that Democrats in that chamber of Congress would be able to pass the radical For The People Act, which sought to ban Voter ID laws and other election safeguards, with just a simple majority. They also chanted: “Whose street? Our street. Whose house? Our house.”
Jackson Lee Has Repeatedly Accused Others of Racism
Over the course of her career as a legislator, Jackson Lee has often accused her political opponents of racism. For example:
- During a 1997 visit to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, Jackson Lee, who was then serving on the House Science Committee and on the Subcommittee that oversees U.S. space policy, asked a guide whether the Mars Pathfinder would be able to show an image of “the flag the astronauts planted there before.” When it was subsequently pointed out that the flag to which she was referring was in fact the one that Neil Armstrong had planted on the Moon—not Mars—in 1969, Jackson Lee complained that she was being mocked by bigots. “You thought you could have fun with a black woman member of the Science Committee,” her then-chief-of-staff wrote angrily in a letter to the editor.
- In July 2010, Jackson Lee spoke at an NAACP meeting where she derided the conservative Tea Party movement as a racist phenomenon, saying: “All those who wore [Klansman] sheets a long time ago have now lifted them off and started wearing, uh, clothing, uh, with a name, say, I am part of the Tea Party. Don’t you be fooled. Those who used to wear sheets are now being able to walk down the aisle and speak as a patriot because you will not speak loudly about the lack of integrity of this movement.”
- When some states promoted and passed Voter ID laws, Jackson Lee—asserting that such laws were designed to suppress black turnout on election day—characterized them as part of a racist backlash against the fact that “we elected the first African American president” (Barack Obama).
- In 2011 Jackson Lee went to the House floor and suggested that congressional Republicans were opposed to raising the U.S. federal debt ceiling because of their race-based hatred for President Obama. She said: “I am particularly sensitive to the fact that only this president, only this one, only this one has received the kind of attacks and disagreements and inability to work. Only this one. Read between the lines. What is different about this president, that should put him in a position that he should not receive the same kind of respectful treatment of when it is necessary to raise the debt limit in order to pay our bills …?”
- In 2011 Jackson Lee denounced congressional committee hearings on Islamic terrorism as “an effort to demonize and to castigate a whole broad base of human beings.” Complaining that the committee was giving too little attention to “the cold cases of the civil-rights movement,” she encouraged its members to hold hearings to determine “whether Klansmen still roam today and terrorize individuals in parts of this country.”
- In January 2012, Jackson Lee condemned former congressman Newt Gingrich for having recently dubbed Barack Obama “the food stamp president” because the number of Americans receiving food-stamp benefits had risen dramatically during his administration. That moniker, said the congresswoman, was a racially coded term whose “underlying suggestions” were intended to promote “racial divisiveness.” Jackson Lee also denounced Gingrich’s suggestion that in some inner-city schools, students could be paid to do some janitorial work as a way of helping them learn good work habits and responsibility. By the congresswoman’s calculus, the fact that the children in question were “predominantly Latino and African American” made Gingrich’s idea, “by its very words, divisive and destructive.”
- In September 2017, Jackson Lee was angered by President Donald Trump’s recent criticism of Colin Kaepernick and other National Football League players who had chosen — as a symbol of protest against racial injustice in America — to kneel during the national anthem prior to the start of their games. On September 25, the congresswoman went to the House floor, chastised Trump for the “racism” of his remarks, and then knelt as an expression of solidarity with those athletes. “That is racism,” she said. “You cannot deny it, you cannot run for it, and I kneel in honor of them. I kneel in honor of the First Amendment. I kneel because the flag is a symbol for freedom. I kneel because I’m going to stand against racism. I kneel because I will stand with those young men, and I’ll stand with our soldiers, and I’ll stand with America, because I kneel.”
- On March 2, 2021, CNN’s Don Lemon asked Jackson Lee: “The Supreme Court is hearing arguments today that could weaken voting rights in Arizona. Major push nationwide to make it harder for people to vote. What does this mean particularly for black voters?” The congresswoman replied: “Well, I think tragically we have not had this historic opposition to our rights since slavery, during the Jim Crow days and of course the harshness of the 1960s. The tragedy of this is an entire party, the Republican Party, is committed to voter suppression, committed to avoiding the opportunity of votes. Donald Trump laid out he only wants one day for votes. They don’t want opportunities for absentee ballot, extended voting, same-day registration, all things that empower young people and people of color, African-Americans. This is a war on black people as it relates to voting…. It’s tragic that Republicans want to take that stand because they can’t win fairly. They can’t draw people to their positions. They are now trying to suppress the votes.”
It should be noted, moreover, that Jackson Lee’s accusations of racism are by no means limited to political matters. For instance:
- In 2005 she expressed her objection to the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) practice of assigning “lily white” names to hurricanes—i.e., names normally associated with Caucasians. “All racial groups should be represented,” the congresswoman told The Hill Magazine, in hopes that the WMO in the future “would try to be inclusive of African American names.” She suggested such names as “Keisha, Jamal and Deshawn.”
- In 2009 Jackson Lee helped to prevent conservative broadcaster Rush Limbaugh from becoming a part-owner of the National Football League’s St. Louis Rams franchise, on grounds that Limbaugh was racially insensitive. “He [Limbaugh] does not represent the fullness of appreciation of athletes of all diverse backgrounds, no matter what he wants to pretend to say on his radio station,” said the congresswoman.
- In 2011 Jackson Lee went to the House floor to complain about a Pepsi Max commercial that had aired during that year’s Super Bowl telecast. In the ad, a black woman was shown throwing her soda can at her boyfriend or husband for glancing at an attractive white female jogger; when he ducked, the can struck the jogger, and the couple then scurried away. “It was not humorous,” the congresswoman shouted. “It was demeaning—an African-American woman throwing something at an African-American male and winding up hitting a Caucasian woman.”
- At a House Homeland Security Committee hearing in August 2019, Jackson Lee spoke about the urgent need to address the allegedly growing level of white racism plaguing America. “I believe that racism… should be declared a national security threat,” she said. “Racism is a national security threat. Before, we would say, ‘you have a right to your racist views. You have a right to believe that slavery was right. That segregation was right.’ We live in an era where that can no longer be allowed.” Asserting that FBI statistics showed “an acceleration” of the incidence of hate crimes since the start of Donald Trump’s presidency, the congresswoman said that “young, disaffected white males” were the principal offenders. “We must find a way to invest huge sums of money intervening in these white minds that are drawn to white militia, white supremacy, white nationalism because they have nothing else to do — no intervention, no recreation, no libraries, no training of communities,” Jackson Lee added.
Jackson Lee’s Entitlement Mentality and Intemperance
Over the course of her political career, Jackson Lee has earned a reputation for having both an entitlement mentality and a highly volcanic temper. According to the Daily Caller, the congresswoman’s toxic personality has caused her to have “one of the highest staff turnover rates in Washington.” Between 2001 and 2011, for instance, at least 39 of her staffers quit their jobs less than a year after they had been hired. In March 2011, the Daily Caller enumerated a host of examples of incidents where Sheila Jackson Lee’s volcanic and unpredictable temperament was on display. Following are some excerpts from that article:
- Jackson Lee … hands out nicknames to the people who work for her. The Houston Democrat addressed one of her employees as “you stupid motherfucker.” And not just once, but “constantly,” recalls the staffer, “like, all the time.”
- Another Jackson Lee aide recounts … [Jackson Lee] “came out screaming at me over a scheduling change. Called me ‘a stupid idiot. Don’t be a moron, you foolish girl’ and [she] actually did this in front of my parents, of all things.”
- Yet another staffer remembers requesting a meeting early on in her tenure to ask how best to serve the congresswoman. Jackson Lee’s response: “What? What did you say to me? Who are you, the Congresswoman? You haven’t been elected. You don’t set up meetings with me! I tell you! You know what? You are the most unprofessional person I have ever met in my life.” With that, Jackson Lee hung up the phone. According to the same staffer, Jackson Lee “would always say, ‘What am I, a prostitute? Am I your prostitute? You can’t prostitute me.’”
- For some, a job in Jackson Lee’s office proved not just emotionally but physically perilous. One staffer recalls a frank conversation with his doctor, who told him he needed to quit. “It’s your life or your job,” the doctor told him, warning that the stress and long hours were wreaking havoc on his body.
- Only a few on staff fought back. One of Jackson Lee’s drivers became so frustrated with her abuse the person pulled the car over and demand she stop: “She’s screaming and swearing. ‘M.F.’ everything. Finally I slammed on the brakes and told her to get the hell out of my car. I’m like ‘I can’t drive with you like this. Either get out, or you can calm down.’ And she’s like ‘you need to go or get fired.’ I’m like, ‘that’s fine. But I’m either leaving without you or you can calm down,’” the staffer said. Jackson Lee then threatened to call the police and claim she was being held hostage in the car. But she finally did calm down when the staffer called her bluff, offering to flag down a Capitol Police officer to explain the situation.
- In 2007 … Caroline Stephens, then a low-level staffer for California Republican Rep. Gary Miller, [said]: “You could tell when she wasn’t there.” … That was because on a day in which Congress was in session, a different set of sounds often came through closed doors to Jackson Lee’s office: screaming and, many times, crying. [One] day, a skinny young black man with his hair pulled back in a ponytail walked into Miller’s office and asked Stephens for a favor. Could he borrow a knife to cut a birthday cake? Stephens, who’d seen the man working in Jackson Lee’s office, was happy to help, with only the request to “make sure you bring it back, that’s our only one.” He laughed. “We would never leave a knife around when the congresswoman was here,” he said. As Stephens put it, “that’s when it all clicked that they are really afraid of her.”
- Her [Jackson Lee’s] employees describe waiting for their boss for hours on end, sometimes late into the night, while she attends events or even sits in her office watching TV. “You worked really, really, really late for her. When she was in town, you were in the office. So that meant, two, three, four o’clock in the morning – we were there,” one former staffer said. “She liked to hold her staff meetings — she would individually pull in the deputy chief of staff, myself and some other people individually to go over different parts of her day. But she would literally wait until super late at night. None of us could go home, because she wouldn’t tell when she was coming back or if she wasn’t. And if she called and you didn’t answer, it was like World War III,” the source said.
- Jackson Lee’s designated driver picks her up at her apartment one block from her office each morning and waits for her outside wherever she goes throughout the days and nights. “Whatever time she told me to be there, I would always show up at least 20 minutes late, and expect to wait at least 45 minutes,” said one of Jackson Lee’s drivers. By the end of this person’s tenure, “She was making me wait in the car, sometimes upwards of five to seven hours per day.” With the car running for heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer, it began to wear down the car’s engine. “My mechanic friend said, you know, your car looks like you’ve driven it twice the miles you have,” the source said.
- One woman who interviewed for a job in Jackson Lee’s office arrived [for the interview] at 5:00 p.m. but ended up waiting for hours. “I sat there, no kidding, from 5:00 p.m. until 10:30 p.m. They had me waiting, and this was just for the interview. Her staffers there kept telling me to be patient, that she puts everyone through the ringer…She actually went out to dinner while I was sitting there waiting for an interview,” the woman said. A Lee staffer called the woman at 11:15 p.m. after she’d just arrived home to beg her to come back. The congresswoman was finally ready.
- It wasn’t just staffers who have been made to wait. Ray LaHood, the secretary of transportation, cooled his heels for an hour and a half in her office before leaving. “He was there to address transportation issues – getting funding to Houston. So I was just shocked that she would let him leave,” a former staffer said. Jackson Lee was waiting for a chance to appear in front of the C-SPAN cameras on the House floor.
- “I would have to wait for hours,” says Gladys Quinto, a former staffer whom Jackson Lee instructed to write a memo about why she was incompetent in front of other staffers. “I missed the last metro once. My roommate had to come pick me up.”
- Nathan Williams, who quit his job when Jackson Lee threw a cell phone at him, told the Houston Chronicle in 2002, “I don’t think I ever got home before 11 o’clock at night.”
- Even though she delays others for hours, Jackson Lee won’t wait a second for her demands to be met. “She expected you to run – all the time,” says a former staffer. “There was no walking. Nobody could walk, you always had to run – everywhere. She viewed walking as being lazy, so everyone always had to run.”
- Another former aide added that the congresswoman would clock her on how long it took her to run an updated schedule print-out from Jackson Lee’s office in the Rayburn building to the House floor. “She would actually physically time you in terms of from office to getting to the [House] floor and finding her, hunting her down,” the staffer said. Then Jackson Lee would demand, “what took you so long?”
- Her former drivers say the congresswoman demanded they run red lights and drive on highway shoulders around traffic. This caused at least one accident. As Jackson Lee was yelling at a staffer to drive faster she turned too sharply, smashing the side of her car into a wall.
- Jackson Lee’s requests don’t stop at the end of a normal working day. “In the middle of the night, people had to go get her garlic. She’ll call you at two in the morning for garlic because she takes them as supplements,” a former staffer said. Jackson Lee’s garlic runs were confirmed by other staffers, too, though no one could remember the exact brand of the supplement. The deputy chief of staff “would have to go get it, and he would have to go drop it off. It was some kind of a multi-vitamin,” another former staffer said.
- On Christmas Eve, one staffer was at a midnight mass ceremony at her church. When the boss called, the staffer didn’t answer. “She got so irritated that I wasn’t answering her call on Christmas Eve. So she called me every minute for 56 minutes,” the source recalled.
- A former staffer recalls one revealing episode during the height of the financial crisis in the waning months of the Bush administration. Jackson Lee demanded a meeting with a top Treasury aide, even though she did not sit on any of the committees with jurisdiction over financial matters. As her car pulled up outside the Treasury, Jackson Lee told her driver to park directly outside the door. Due to the proximity of the Treasury Department’s headquarters to the White House, Secret Service officers told the driver not to park there. After an argument with the agents, who kept telling the driver to back off, Jackson Lee finally emerged from the building. As the car drove away, a Secret Service van flashed its lights behind them. “Keep driving,” Jackson Lee told her staffer. Ultimately, the driver pulled over in defiance of the boss’s wishes. At this point, Jackson Lee emerged from the car, screaming, “I’m Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee! Who do you think you are?” to a team of Secret Service agents. Jackson Lee accused the “white” agent at the gate of racism, claiming she wouldn’t have to deal with “this stuff” when Barack Obama became president. She then filed a formal complaint with the Secret Service, which prompted an investigation. A Treasury official later explained that the accusation had been dismissed because the agent in question was Hispanic, not white.
- Given Jackson Lee’s apparent touchiness on racial questions, there’s a certain irony in the fact that aides claim she is far harsher to the African Americans who work for her. “’You stupid mother-effer’ was like a constant,” says one. “Like, all the time. But the interesting thing is she would really project that behavior more towards her African American staffers. She would have other ethnic groups in the office, like interns or whatnot. But it was really her African American staffers who she felt comfortable enough to really curse out…. This is something we always talked about. We chalked it up to her just feeling more comfortable acting out her aggression toward a certain group of people versus others.”
- “She is very strange in who she insults and how. For some reason, it seemed like she was racist against African Americans,” another said.
A 1998 HoustonPress.com article also provides a number of examples of Jackson Lee’s intemperance. Following are some excerpts from that piece:
- [Rhiannon] Burruss [Jackson Lee’s executive assistant and events planner] recounts another incident where she had scheduled Lee to appear at an 8:30 a.m. Washington breakfast sponsored by the Houston Housing Authority. Shortly after 10 a.m., a furious Lee called Burruss at the office and accused her of making “a fatal error,” by embarrassing her in front of constituents. Lee claimed when she arrived at 8:45 the breakfast was already over, and therefore the aide had listed the wrong time. Burruss later talked to Lee’s staff driver, Matt Eggers, and learned the congresswoman hadn’t left her apartment until after 9 a.m. that day, and was nowhere near the scene of the breakfast until well after that time. When Burruss complained to Lee’s chief of staff Leon Buck, she says he shrugged and commented: “I told you she lies.”
- In early March , Burruss got a phone call from Rebecca Cox, a Continental Airlines governmental affairs vice president at the airline’s Washington office. According to Burruss, Cox bluntly declared, “We have been dealing with the congresswoman for three years now, and we are tired of her bad behavior. Something has got to happen.”
- As an airline Gold Card carrier with plenty of frequent-flier miles, Lee routinely upgrades her airline seats to first class, not an unusual arrangement. But Lee had come to expect other deluxe perks not always available in Continental’s non-hub cities, Cox explained. She then described an incident the previous month when Lee boarded a flight at National, and found the menu did not include a seafood special she had wanted. “She screamed at the top of her lungs at least a minute,” Burruss quotes Cox as telling her. “She embarrassed the flight attendants and the passengers in first class. And she embarrassed herself.” According to Burruss, Cox claimed Lee declared, “Don’t you know who I am? I’m Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. Where is my seafood meal? I know it was ordered!”
- According to Burruss, Lee routinely demands three first-class reservations on the carrier for Monday and Tuesday when she is in Washington, and then decides at the last minute which one to use. The airline was fed up with the arrangement, and began reducing the reservations to coach class, a development that infuriated Lee when staffers told her they could not guarantee her first-class seats. That conundrum had led to the resignation of Burruss’s predecessor, and it contributed to Burruss’s own departure as well on March 23. “I told her I was not able to guarantee her the three first-class reservations,” says Burruss, and Lee responded by suggesting that if she couldn’t, she should consider alternative places of employment. “That won’t be necessary,” answered Burruss, who then uttered what must be one of the most frequently used two-word sentences in Lee’s congressional office: “I quit.”
On another occasion, in 1998, Jackson Lee — who was accustomed to having an aide drive her back and forth to her destinations each day, in a government-leased car — became enraged when a staffer failed to reserve a limousine for her. After wondering aloud whether a white male colleague had gotten a limousine to chauffeur him because of his race, Jackson Lee told her executive assistant and events scheduler: “You don’t understand. I am a queen, and I demand to be treated like a queen!”
During an August 2009 town hall meeting on healthcare reform, Jackson Lee, showing contemptuous disrespect for a questioner who opposed the Democratic plan, openly carried on a cell-phone conversation while the questioner—a female cancer survivor—was addressing her. Jackson Lee subsequently appeared on CNN’s Newsroom program, where anchor Rick Sanchez showed a YouTube video of the incident and then said: “I gotta ask you, what were you thinking, Congresswoman?” In a rambling reply, Jackson Lee speculated about whether the people who post videos on YouTube generally care about “a robust public [healthcare] option” and “eliminating pre-existing diseases.” Unable to get Jackson Lee to respond directly to any questions about her telephone call, an increasingly exasperated Sanchez said: “Congresswoman, you’re absolutely ignoring my question. I don’t think that’s very nice.” Finally, Sanchez put it so simply and directly that Jackson Lee was forced to respond. The exchange went as follows:
SANCHEZ: I say to my children it’s impolite to text—it’s wrong to be on the phone when you’re talking to people, and it’s rude to do that especially when you’re dealing with adults. Here you have people who have come to hear you speak. They are asking you a question, and it appears on the video like you’re not giving them their due. How do you explain that?
JACKSON LEE: I’m so glad you said it. It “appears” on the video. Maybe it’s a doctored video.
SANCHEZ: Do you think the video was doctored? Do you think the video may have been doctored?
JACKSON LEE: Let me say this—we who are members of Congress who believe in democracy are not going to focus on distractions. We’re really going to focus on giving the people the opportunity to express themselves in any way they desire.
SANCHEZ: Well, well, look at it. I mean—let’s—I’ll tell you what—let’s play it and you tell us if this is you or not you and if we’ve made a mistake by showing video—that may have been doctored—is there anything about this video that isn’t reflective of what happened?
JACKSON LEE I know nothing about the video. I know nothing about the video, Rick, and I’m not going to comment on it.
For an overview of Jackson Lee’s voting record on a number of key issues during her years in Congress, click here.