Texas has done a lot of good for this country: the King Ranch and Texas-style chili. Dr. Pepper and the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. Rick Perry and Ted Cruz. Patrick Swayze.
Texas also gave America Sheila Jackson Lee. So let’s call it even.
Since 1995, Jackson Lee (D.) has represented Texas’s 18th congressional district, which comprises much of inner-city Houston. Now at least one group on Capitol Hill is eyeing her for higher office: The Congressional Black Caucus is recommending that Jackson Lee replace Janet Napolitano as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
Jackson Lee is one of 32 House members who sit on the House Homeland Security Committee, which is her apparent qualification for heading up DHS. According to the CBC’s letter to President Obama recommending Jackson Lee, the congresswoman “understands the importance of increasing border security and maintaining homeland security” — which, if that is considered a qualification, sets the bar frighteningly low. Then the CBC adds that she would be a “voice of reason” at DHS.
Sheila Jackson Lee is many things. “Voice of reason” is not among them.
During the 2011 hearings on Islamic terrorism, held by Representative Peter King (R., N.Y.), Jackson Lee railed against them as “an effort to demonize and to castigate a whole broad base of human beings.” She then lamented that the committee was not spending its time on genuine terroristic threats: “the cold cases of the civil-rights movement,” for example. She encouraged the committee to hold hearings to determine “whether Klansmen still roam today and terrorize individuals in parts of this country.”
And she also quoted herself. In the third person.
In Jackson Lee’s ideal world, September 11 was caused by a group of white-nationalist southerners in hoods. Or, perhaps, by embittered former plantation owners — by whom she has, apparently, been personally victimized. Jackson Lee declared on the House floor earlier this year, “I stand here as a freed slave because this Congress came together.” No, that is not out of context. And there is no context in which that quote would make sense.
It is, though, representative of Jackson Lee’s style: Make sweeping and unfounded accusations of racism first; ask questions . . . well, never.
In 2011, Jackson Lee insinuated on the House floor that Republicans opposed raising the debt ceiling because of racism: “I am particularly sensitive to the fact that only this president,” she said, “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?” It is “because we elected the first African American president” that some states are now pushing for voter ID.
The House floor was apparently the proper platform from which to berate a Pepsi commercial that aired during the 2011 Super Bowl. In the ad for Pepsi Max, a black woman throws her soda can at her boyfriend or husband for glancing at an attractive white jogger; when he ducks, the can hits the jogger, and the couple scurries away. The ad “showed a demeaning role for African American women,” said Jackson Lee.
She even complained that devastating natural disasters are used to promote racism, telling the Hill in 2003 that hurricane names are too “lily white” and that “all racial groups should be represented.” She suggested more hurricanes named “Keisha, Jamal, and Deshawn.”
Beyond arguing that America should be directing its drone strikes at remaining grand wizards, Jackson Lee’s homeland-security expertise is scant, although she does have personal experience with one global hotspot: Jackson Lee was so impressed with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, she told the Houston Chronicle when she arrived home from a 2003 “fact-finding” mission in the Middle East, that she invited him to come speak in Texas. “Let’s see what he can do,” she said of the strongman who, she enthused, “even gave us a picture of him and his children.” A decade on, the world has seen exactly what he can do. In December of last year Jackson Lee called for his resignation. But that speaking invitation might still stand.
Jackson Lee has a soft spot for tyrants. In 2007, implying that she was among the “many friends” of Hugo Chávez in Congress, she encouraged the Bush administration to repair relations with Venezuela. An excellent way to do that, she suggested, would be to end the ban on selling F-16 fighter-jet parts to Venezuela.
In 2000 Jackson Lee called for the end of economic sanctions against Iraq.
And if it is not enough that she has been habitually seduced by brutal dictators and has opposed nearly every defense measure brought before Congress during her career, there are also Jackson Lee’s moments of Bidenesque folly.
In 2010 she took to the House floor to celebrate that “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.”
Five years earlier, during a visit to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, Jackson Lee asked a guide whether the Mars Pathfinder had managed to photograph the flag planted by Neil Armstrong in 1969. Needless to say, the rover missed it — by several million miles. At the time Jackson Lee was one of the handful of House members tasked with setting America’s space policy.
At an NAACP event in Kansas City in 2010, she compared the Tea Party to the KKK, remarking, “All those who wore sheets a long time ago have now lifted them off and started wearing [applause], uh, clothing, uh, with a name.” Which is an apt description for Jackson Lee. But along with such penetrating insights she would also bring to DHS a reputation as one of the worst bosses on Capitol Hill, according to Jonathan Strong, now a reporter with National Review Online. She is known to throw tantrums, regularly screaming and swearing at her staff. A few years ago she effectively replaced one employee’s name with “you stupid motherf***er.” “It’s like being an Iraq War veteran,” one staffer said.
Jackson Lee made her thoughts clear to her onetime Capitol-office executive assistant, Rhiannon Burruss, years ago: “I am a queen, and I demand to be treated like a queen.”
A gaffe-prone, race-baiting autocrat-appeaser who believes she’s royalty? On second thought, in this administration she’d fit right in.
— Ian Tuttle is an editorial intern at National Review.