Jim McDermott

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Jim McDermott (1936-) is a Democratic U.S. Congressional Representativefor the 7th Congressional District of Washington (U.S. state), which includes Seattle and parts of several neighboring communities. He was elected in 1988 to the 101st Congress and is currently serving his 11th term, and is recognized as a leading progressive member on the Democratic left.

He is a psychiatrist, who first entered politics after medical residency and military service, he made his first run for public office in 1970 and was elected to the State Legislature from the 43rd district in Washington State. In 1974, he ran for the State Senate, and subsequently was re-elected three times.

In 1987, after 15 years of legislative service, Rep. McDermott decided to leave politics and continue in public service as a Foreign Service medical officer based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, providing psychiatric services to Foreign Service, AID, and Peace Corps personnel in sub-Saharan Africa. When the 7th district Congressional seat later became open, he returned from Africa to run for the U.S. House of Representatives. [1]

While in the state legislature, he developed the Washington Basic Health Plan, the first state program in the country to provide low-cost health insurance to the unemployed and working poor. In the Congress, he is especially active in health care reform issues. He ntroduced the AIDS Housing Opportunities Act, for special housing assistance for people with AIDS. [1]

He is a strong supporter of single payer health care delivery.

First Amendment

Since 1999, McDermott has been involved in a complex legal battle with Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), which was sent back to the appeals court, in 2009, by the Supreme Court of the United States by a related case, Bartnicki v. Vopper[2]. It is quite unusual for members of Congress to sue one another.

On his website, McDermott describes this as a First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution issue.

As you may know, for over nine years I have been fighting to protect the First Amendment in a legal case brought against me by another Member. With the First Amendment--- free speech and freedom of the press--- at stake, the issue is of utmost importance, and it has attracted significant attention. (Almost 20 major news organizations have joined to support my position.)[3]

In the Bartnicki case, the Court held when a media outlet lawfully obtains information from a third party, publication by the press is protected by the First Amendment. This applies even if the information had been obtained illegally, as, in this case, by an intercept and disclosure of a cell phone call, in violation of the Communications Act of 1934. The court held "[i]n this case, privacy concerns give way when balanced against the interest in publishing matters of public importance."[4]

Boehner v. McDermott[5] differs in that McDermott, who received and disclosed an illegally intercepted cell phone call, was not acting in a press role, but obtained the material as a member of the House Committee on Ethics, in which he had a duty not to disclose information. McDermott obtained the tape and shared it with news media including the New York Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who published stories, not naming the source. When McDermott was named as the media's source, he gave the tape to the House Ethics Committee and resigned from it.

Boehner was a participant in the intercepted call, which was among Republican leaders discussing strategy to deal with ethics charges against then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia). Boehner sued in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking damages for disclosure of an illegally intercepted communication. According to the New York Times, he said, "“When you break the law in pursuit of a political opponent, you’ve gone too far. Members of Congress have a responsibility not only to obey the laws of our country and the rules of our institution, but also to defend the integrity of those laws and rules when they are violated." [6]

Foreign policy

He opposed the resolution authorizing U.S. participation in the Iraq War.


McDermott, with Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) authored a letter from 54 House Democrats to President Obama, calling for lifting sanctions on Gaza. The interest groups J Street and Americans for Peace Now cosponsored it.[7] Gaza is under the control of Hamas. The letter was critical of Israeli positions.


He was criticized by Rep. Mac Thornberry, in 2010, for introducing legislation that Thornberry called "blame America first", and a politically motivated action that would jeopardize American intelligence. [8] The McDermott wrote,

I thought of those who “blame America first” last week as the House of Representatives considered the intelligence authorization bill. Up to that point, the measure had languished for seven months, allowing the controversy sparked by Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s charge that the CIA misleads Congress all of the time to cool down. So, while most eyes were on the White House health care summit, the House leadership scheduled a vote on the intelligence legislation.

The scheduling of the vote, however, was just the precursor to an even more egregious maneuver. Assuming that no one was watching, the House leadership ordered that an alarming provision be included in a manager’s amendment, which is normally a compilation of technical and relatively noncontroversial items that are often routinely adopted.

One glance at this amendment, however, revealed that it was anything but routine. The amendment’s author, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Washington (U.S. state)), himself said the amendment defined specific acts that would be treated as cruel and degrading as a matter of law...The plain truth is that no county jail or state prison in the country could operate with such absurd restrictions.

Other intelligence professionals, however, below the director level, supported these disclosures and restrictions.


  • Ways and Means Committee
    • Chairman of the Income Security and Family Support Subcommittee
    • Subcommittee on Trade.

Groups and caucuses