WASHINGTON — Maryland Democrat Kweisi Mfume rejoined the House on Tuesday to replace the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, taking his oath of office with a protective mask in his left hand, the latest symbol of how Congress and the country are adjusting to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mfume will represent a majority-black Baltimore-area district that has been hit hard by the virus and its near shutdown of the economy and that President Donald Trump insulted last year as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”
Mfume, 71, raised his right hand and took the oath from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., a week after he was easily elected to complete Cummings’ two-year term. Cummings, who was 68, died last October during his 12th term in office.
In brief remarks on the House floor, Mfume said that bigotry and criticizing immigrants “ultimately deplete us as a nation.” He said the country is going through “its greatest economic collapse,” citing people who “haven’t had a paycheck in weeks.”
Mfume served in the House from 1987 until 1996, when he left to become chair of the NAACP. He led the civil rights organization until 2004.
Cummings was chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which was investigating Trump in several areas when the president aimed a Twitter broadside at the district. Trump called it a place where “no human being would want to live.”
Mfume is expected to be reelected this fall for a full two-year term that would begin in January. The district is overwhelmingly Democratic.
Mfume’s swearing in leaves the House with 233 Democrats, 196 Republicans and one independent. There are five vacancies.