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Return uncertain for 2 Illinois members of Congress

Published: Monday, Sept. 10, 2012 9:27 a.m. CST

WASHINGTON (MCT) — Congress gets back to business Monday after a five-week recess, but the prospects are uncertain for two Illinoisans struggling with health problems.

Sen. Mark Kirk’s plans are unknown because the senator and his aides won’t comment. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s status is unclear because his people are saying plenty — but disagreeing with each other.

Rick Bryant, Jackson’s chief of staff, said Friday that the congressman had left the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where he was treated for depression. The aide said he was “hopeful” that Jackson would return to work Monday.

But Jackson’s wife, Sandi Jackson, cast doubt on his return in a text message reported late Friday by a Chicago television station. “Gonna be home under his doctor’s care until further notice,” she wrote. “Won’t be back to work until the doctors give the green light.”

The congressman’s father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, said his son would not be back Monday.

“I hope he’s not moving too early,” he said in a radio interview Saturday. “The disorder he has faced does not lend itself to a set timetable. ... There was some report he’d be back to work Monday. That is not true.”

Aides to Kirk, who had a stroke in January, did not answer requests last week for comment on his plans.

A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Friday that he did not have new information on Kirk. “I haven’t heard anything beyond what their (Kirk’s) office has said,” McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said. “They’ve kept us updated, because Sen. McConnell talks to Sen. Kirk, but I just don’t have anything new on that.”

Kirk, who has not made a public appearance since he fell ill, has issued three videos describing his medical condition and rehabilitation. The last was shown to Illinois delegates at the Republican National Convention last month.

Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., visited Kirk Aug. 24, and found the senator “in good spirits, and really engaged on policy, politics, the whole thing. It was a great conversation,” said Roskam spokeswoman Stephanie Genco, who was not present for the meeting.

Bryant, Jackson’s spokesman, said that as far as he knew, the South Side Democrat would continue to stand for re-election Nov. 6. Kirk is not up for re-election campaign until 2016.

Kirk, whose stroke occurred Jan. 21, has missed all 189 roll-call votes in the Senate this year. Jackson has missed 178 roll call votes, 32 percent of this year’s House total.

One issue Jackson will confront when he gets back to Capitol Hill is an ongoing probe by the House Ethics Committee over whether he acted improperly in his bid to succeed Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate late in 2008 after Obama won the presidency. Jackson has denied wrongdoing.

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(Tribune reporter Kristen Mack contributed to this report.)

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