- Congresswoman representing the 18th District of Texas
- Member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus
- Member of the Congressional Black Caucus
- Commonly accuses her political opponents of racism
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, 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.
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 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 ro 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.”
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.”
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 Julia Carson (D-Indiana), Barbara Lee (D-California), and Maxine Waters (D-California).
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 2003 Jackson Lee was invited by Syrian President Bashar 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 Assad, who had ruled Syria as a totalitarian dictator from 1971 until his death in 2000. Moreover, Jackson Lee invited the younger Assad to speak in Texas, even though the U.S. government had designated Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Also in 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 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 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.
Also 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.
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 in 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 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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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?”
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.”
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.”
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.
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 at 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.”
Jackson Lee was outraged when a 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant died of flu-like symptoms while in the custody of Border Patrol personnel who had apprehended him for illegally crossing the U.S. border near Hidalgo, Texas on May 13, 2019. During a House Homeland Security hearing soon thereafter, she said to 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.”
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. To view a host of examples of incidents where Jackson Lee has egregiously mistreated her staffers and others, click here.
For an overview of Jackson Lee’s voting record on a number of key issues during her years in Congress, click here.