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 each day, in a government-leased car, back and forth between her Capitol Hill apartment and her congressional office one block away — 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!”