Roll Call’s Kent Cooper reported Monday that – according to the House Committee on the Judiciary — Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Tex., “traveled around the world on an official trip in February that cost American taxpayers $23,646.
According to Democrat Acting Assistant Secretary for the Administration for Children and Families under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services George Sheldon, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption (CODEL) — led by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., — traveled first to Seoul and Hanoi in South Korea and then to Cambodia to explore ways they could “assist the region on child welfare reform and international adoptions.”
But as Cooper noted Monday, Lee didn’t travel with CODEL. While other members of the delegation traveled together for the Feb. 16-22 trip, Lee took separate commercial flights to the region, and then left early on another commercial fight through Frankfurt Germany.
The trip costs included $19,970 for transportation,” Cooper wrote, “$1,292 for per diem, and $2,385 for other purposes.”
This is not the first time Lee’s travel habits raised questions about excessive spending.
“As an airline Gold Card carrier with plenty of frequent-flier miles,” The Houston Press reported in May 1998 – while it’s “not an unusual arrangement” — “Lee routinely upgrades her airline seats to first class.”
According to Lee’s former Capitol office executive assistant and events scheduler, Rhiannon Burruss, Rebecca Cox, said the congresswoman “routinely demands three first-class reservations” with Continental “for Monday and Tuesday when she is in Washington, and then decides at the last minute which one to use.”
When the airline staffers became “fed up with the arrangement,” Lee was furious when she was told they would no longer guarantee her first-class seats.
Multiple blog sites also quoted a report by The Hill – which is no longer available on line – in which a passenger described Lee’s response after flight attendants told her she couldn’t upgrade to first class on one particular full Continental flight.
When she saw that she had to sit with other people, she started shouting that she was in Congress and worked hard. She was really loud. Everybody in the plane could hear.
Burruss also said Cox informed her that “Lee had come to expect other deluxe perks not always available” on Continental’s flights to “non-hub cities.”
Cox described to Burruss an incident that occurred when Lee had boarded a flight and became angry when she found the menu didn’t include a seafood special she wanted.
Burruss said Cox called her to report that the congresswoman had “screamed at the top of her lungs at least a minute,” embarrassing the flight attendants” and other passengers “in first class.”
Don’t you know who I am? I’m Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. Where is my seafood meal? I know it was ordered!
The Houston Press further reported that “a Continental source” confirmed that Cox did call Burruss to discuss the problems the airline’s staff had “in dealing with Lee.”
Burruss said that she had also been on the receiving end of Lee’s temper.
After Lee flew to Alabama and rented a car to participate in a re-enactment of the civil-rights march on Selma, Lee was livid with Burruss when she discovered that “a white male colleague had been personally chauffeured to the event by a Faith and Politics staffer” and she didn’t get the same treatment.
“You don’t understand,” Burruss quoted Lee screaming over the phone.
I am a queen, and I demand to be treated like a queen.
The Houston Press further reported that a Continental source confirmed Cox did call Burruss and discuss problems in dealing with Lee.
Curiously, just three days prior her $23,646 taxpayer-funded CODEL trip to South Korea and Cambodia, The Hill reported that Lee had urged lawmakers to stop the $85 billion sequester cuts – proposed by President Barack Obama and established by his Office of Management and Budget – arguing that government programs were already strapped for cash.
We’re at the bone almost, and sequester, that is across-the-board cuts, will literally destroy us and put us in a recession.
Lee also claimed that — because this Congress came together” on the president’s sequester deal — she was able to “stand” there and deliver her speech on the House floor as “a freed slave.”
As The Washington Times reported in January – with her long history of delivering “racially charged diatribes,” throwing cell phones and cursing at staff members, who are so afraid they resort to “hiding knives” from her — an average of half of Lee’s staff quits each year, and “one year, all but six of 23 staffers left.”
As The Houston Chronicle reported in 2002, Lee’s excessive travel schedule — “booked from early morning until late at night” — prevents her from adequately serving her constituents.
Records acquired under the Freedom of Information Act indicate that Jackson Lee has done a fraction of the casework — inquiries or intercessions with the federal government on behalf of residents — done by other Houston-area lawmakers.
“The American people want reform, not phony but real reform,” Sam Dealey quoted Lee saying in her 1995 debut House speech in a 2002 article for The Weekly Standard. “They want to know that the days of free meals and free trips and special privileges are over. . . . As Members of Congress, we should not be using public office for private gain.”
While the walk from Lee’s Capitol Hill apartment to her office in the Cannon House Office Building is only “about 200 paces,” Dealey noted that “Lee is routinely chauffeured the one short block to work– in a government car — by a member of her staff, at the taxpayers’ expense. And apparently in violation of House rules.”