Lawmaker has cancer, takes leave


By Kelly McCormack

April 18, 2007


Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.) has been diagnosed with cancer and will take a leave of absence from Congress until May 25, well-placed staffers told The Hill yesterday.


There are no details yet about what type of cancer the lawmaker is suffering from, or what stage it is in. Her office would not comment.


On Monday, Millender-McDonald, who is chairwoman of the House Administration Committee, requested a leave of absence from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), according to one source.


Millender-McDonald’s absence puts her panel’s agenda and leadership in doubt; 92 bills have been referred to the committee this Congress.


Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.), the second-highest Democrat on the committee, is involved in a Philadelphia mayoral race but is likely to take over as interim chairman. He is chairman of the committee’s Capitol security subcommittee.


“Chairwoman Millender-McDonald is my leader and my dear friend,” Brady wrote in an e-mail to The Hill, confirming that he knew about his colleague’s illness, and adding, “[My wife] Debbie and I are keeping her and her family in our hearts and in our prayers. I am eagerly awaiting her return to Congress and to her work on behalf of the people of California’s 37th District and of the entire United States.”


If Brady declines the interim chairmanship, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) would be next in line for it until Millender-McDonald returns. Lofgren is chairwoman of the committee’s election panel. Her office did not return calls for comment.


There are no committee hearings scheduled, the aide said.


One of the aides said of Millender-McDonald’s return, “Obviously, we can’t speculate [as to] how long it will be,” adding that “the Speaker and chair will work … out” the interim panel leadership.”


The Speaker’s office told The Hill that Brady would automatically become chairman of the Administration Committee in Millender-McDonald’s absence.


The committee’s ranking member, Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), also expressed his sympathy for Millender-McDonald, saying, “I am very much saddened by the recent news of Juanita’s illness. She has been a dear friend and a well-respected colleague for a number of years, especially during the time we have spent working closely together on this committee. My thoughts and prayers are with her and her family during these difficult times.”


Millender-McDonald, serving her seventh term in Congress, is the first African-American woman to chair the House Administration Committee. She has five children and several grandchildren.


Last year, Millender-McDonald’s son R. Keith McDonald, who was serving a 41-month prison sentence for political corruption charges, cited her illness as reason to grant a furlough, according to local news reports. The District Court judge granted him a six-month emergency release to care for his mother, wife and children.


At the time, Millender-McDonald would not comment on her condition.


In 2005, her office confirmed that she had undergone major surgery, but would not disclose her illness, news reports stated.


She missed votes the week before recess, and last voted on March 23.


The House Administration Committee’s leader is sometimes referred to as the Mayor of Capitol Hill. The position confers authority over salaries and expenses for committees and staff, the Franking Commission, benefit and retirement structures, and many other administrative issues.


Capitol Hill is not immune to cancer, which has recently stricken several members and former members of Congress.

Former Rep. James Jontz (D-Ind.) died of colon cancer late last week.


Rep. Charles Norwood (R-Ga.) also recently passed away after suffering from cancer.


Elizabeth Edwards, wife of presidential hopeful and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), has battled cancer and is undergoing treatment.


Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-Va.) returned to the House yesterday after weeks of treatment for breast cancer.


The National Cancer Institute estimates that more than 1.4 million men and women will be diagnosed with cancer in 2007.


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