Jesse Jackson Tones Down Racially Charged Challenge to Black Lawmakers

The Rev. Jesse Jackson on Thursday sought to soften his fairly stinging shots at a black lawmaker who voted against President Obama's health care overhaul.

Jackson on Wednesday night said a black lawmaker "can't vote against health care and call yourself a black man," The Hill newspaper reported.

The remark was clearly aimed at Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., the only member of the Congressional Black Caucus to vote against the House version of the legislation.

Jackson said he spoke to Davis and assured him of his admiration for him as a leader tackling "a huge challenge."

"I offer no challenge to his integrity as a leader," Jackson said in a written statement. "Representatives should all vote their conscience in the interest of their constituency."

Jackson added, "There is a growing disparity among the black and the poor and we desperately need voices and votes.

"Among the black and the poor, the infant mortality rate is higher, life expectancy is shorter, poverty is growing and unemployment is highest," he said.

"We need comprehensive healthcare that is more accessible and less expensive for all Americans. The historical Davis journey as a change agent continues and his latest quest deserves the support of the caring."

For his part, Davis refused to return fire against Jackson after his comments Wednesday night at a Congressional Black Caucus reception honoring the 25th anniversary of the civil rights leader's run for president,.

"One of the reasons that I like and admire Rev. Jesse Jackson is that 21 years ago he inspired the idea that a black politician would not be judged simply as a black leader," Davis said in a written statement to The Hill newspaper. "The best way to honor Rev. Jackson's legacy is to decline to engage in an argument with him that begins and ends with race."