Mfume Sworn In, Promises to Fight Inequality

Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.) said Republicans in statehouses and city halls would welcome the extra federal aid. Screenshoot

On his first day in his old job, Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.) pledged to use his regained power to help his constituents fight two crises that have hit his Baltimore-based district hard — the COVID-19 pandemic and near-collapse of the economy.

In brief remarks on the U.S. House of Representatives’ floor, Mfume highlighted struggles that define life now for many Americans, particularly those who live paycheck-to-paycheck even in more normal times.

“[T]here are now families and individuals who haven’t had a paycheck in weeks, as they struggle to buy food and to pay bills,” Mfume said, shortly after taking the oath.

“Madame Speaker, our challenges as a nation at this hour… are economic, educational, social and systemic — and they require both the courage of conviction and the unwavering resolve that the American spirit has always exhibited in order to solve them.”

Mfume won 74% of the vote in an April 28 special election to fill the post that became vacant with the death of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D) in October. Though the results of the contest are unofficial, the state Board of Elections is expected to certify the results next week.

He will serve until January, representing Maryland’s 7th District, which includes portions of Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County. He is also a candidate in the June 2 primary for a full two-year term.

Mfume’s swearing-in represented a return to an institution where he served from 1987 until 1996, when he left Congress to lead the NAACP.

Two prominent Maryland lawmakers played roles in the Tuesday’s ceremony. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a Baltimore native, administered the oath of office and Majority Leader Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), the dean of the state’s congressional delegation, offered welcoming remarks.

Mfume called Cummings, who died in October, “my friend of 42 years.” He and his staff will use Cummings’ old office, Room 2163 in the Rayburn House Office Building.

When lawmakers return to D.C. in the coming days they will decide whether Mfume’s nine years of prior service will count toward his seniority. His committee assignments have not been determined.

In his remarks, Mfume expressed optimism that the country will rally to fight the COVID-19 epidemic. And he spoke against intolerance.

“I believe that … racism, sexism and anti-Semitism are wrong, that black bigotry can be just as cruel and evil as white bigotry, and that gay-bashing, immigrant-bashing and union-bashing ultimately deplete us as a nation and rob us of our ability to make true and lasting change.”

In choosing Mfume to replace Cummings, 7th District voters chose men with similar strengths and values, Hoyer said.

“Their shared work has been to ensure that the promise of America is kept for all Americans equally, regardless of race or faith or gender or sexual orientation or national origin,” he said.

During a brief photo session, Pelosi said that Mfume served “with such distinction” during his first stint in Congress.

As lawmakers posed for photos, they stood several feet apart, because of social distancing guidelines. Hoyer wore a mask while he spoke on the House floor. All members of the Maryland delegation, except for Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) and Rep. Andrew P. Harris (R) attended the event, according to a House Democratic aide.

Mfume will have a district office in each of the three subdivisions he represents.

His Baltimore City office is located at 1010 Park Avenue. His Baltimore County office is at 754 Frederick Road in Catonsville. And his Howard County staff will work out of 8267 Main Street in Ellicott City.

Shortly after his swearing in, Mfume’s official website was up and running.

Danielle E. Gaines and Robin Bravender contributed to this report.