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Rep. Jackson Lee relinquishes top posts amid lawsuit fallout

POLITICO logo POLITICO 1/23/2019 By Melanie Zanona and Rachael Bade
Sheila Jackson Lee et al. holding wine glasses: Senior Democratic lawmakers told Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee she must relinquish her prized subcommittee gavel on the high-profile House Judiciary Committee. If she refused, lawmakers told her they would vote against her, an embarrassing prospect for the 13-term member. © J. Scott Applewhite, File/AP Photo Senior Democratic lawmakers told Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee she must relinquish her prized subcommittee gavel on the high-profile House Judiciary Committee. If she refused, lawmakers told her they would vote against her, an embarrassing prospect for the 13-term member.

House Democrats are sidelining Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee as she battles a lawsuit claiming that she retaliated against and fired a former employee who alleged rape by a colleague.

The Texas Democrat agreed to resign from chairing the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the Congressional Black Caucus, after coming under fire from fellow board members and outside groups, sources confirmed to POLITICO. Initially, Jackson Lee refused to give in to demands that she resign, prompting one board member to step down in protest and others to look at how they could force her out.

Over the weekend, however, Jackson Lee changed her mind after the board threatened to vote to forcibly remove her, according to two sources familiar with those conversations.

Likewise, senior Democratic lawmakers told Jackson Lee she must relinquish her prized subcommittee gavel on the high-profile House Judiciary Committee. If she refused, lawmakers told her they would vote against her, an embarrassing prospect for the 13-term member.

Jackson Lee obliged both requests, moves first reported by The New York Times.

"[G]iven the Foundation’s pending legal matter, I have decided to step aside as Chair and allow the CBCF the opportunity to pursue this matter, which is independent of the congressional matter pertaining to an employer/employee relationship," Jackson Lee wrote to fellow CBCF members Wednesday, officially resigning her post.

Jackson Lee is being sued by an ex-staffer who claims Jackson Lee fired her because she was planning to report an alleged rape by a former employee of the nonprofit. Jackson Lee has denied the allegation.

Jackson Lee agreed to give up her gavel on the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime after facing pressure from CBC members and outside groups like the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. Jackson Lee has been a longtime supporter of legislation protecting women from violence and sexual abuse. But the outside groups didn’t want her associated with their legislation championing such issues.

Other Judiciary panel members were uncomfortable with the optics of having a lawmaker mired in a messy legal battle heading a panel with jurisdiction over crime.

Democratic leadership also got involved in the discussions, agreeing to allow Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) to temporarily chair Jackson Lee’s Judiciary subcommittee as well as a subcommittee of a different panel — a move that requires a waiver. Democratic Caucus rules bar members from chairing two subcommittee panels. But leadership agreed that Jackson Lee needed to step back from her position, so is planning to back a waiver for Bass.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the highest ranking African-American in Congress, also leaned on Jackson Lee to step back from the subcommittee chairmanship, according to Democratic sources.

“Congressman Clyburn and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee have had discussions about the situation and he shared with her his feelings and recommendations,” said a Democratic aide with knowledge of the situation. “However, he won’t comment on the specifics of their private conversations.”

Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) put out a statement on Wednesday saying it was Jackson Lee’s decision to "voluntarily and temporarily" to step back from her subcommittee gavel. Former CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.) said Jackson Lee made the announcement during a caucus meeting earlier in the day.

Heather Caygle contributed to this report.

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