Cummings set to return to Washington next week

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who has been recovering from a heart procedure for months, told The Baltimore Sun on Monday he expects to return to Capitol Hill next week.

The Baltimore Democrat, the ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, underwent what his office described as a “minimally invasive” heart procedure in May. Cummings said in July that an infection prolonged his recovery.

Sounding more like himself than he has in months, Cummings said he would have to make more time to take care of himself — no more 20-hour days, he said — but said he believes the experience will ultimately make him a better lawmaker.

Cummings will not return to Washington on Tuesday, when his colleagues arrive on Capitol Hill after the August recess to begin a punishing to-do list that includes approving government funding, raising the debt ceiling and voting for emergency spending for Hurricane Harvey recovery.

Instead, Cummings said, he expects to return Sept. 11.

"I think it has given me a stronger sense of empathy for people who may be going through difficulty, and I think it has made me a better person and a stronger person," said Cummings, 66, who has been working in his district office during the recess.

"My being there simply renewed my passion and my commitment," he said of his time in the hospital.

Asked if he would retain his position on the oversight committee, Cummings laughed: "Please," he said, dismissively. Cummings, a former state lawmaker and attorney first elected to the House in 1996, indicated he will seek reelection in next year's midterm.

But the months long recovery has clearly offered the congressman some time for introspection.

"This caused me to stop, pause and look at my life," said Cummings. "People need to really think about what would happen if they got sick — who would be there for them. I saw a lot of people in there who had nobody."

He also said the experience has reinforced his policy positions, particularly on the need to retain the 2010 health care law known as Obamacare. Cummings and other members of Congress are covered under that system, though Cummings also has coverage through Medicare.

"I'm beginning to look at the bills — and that's almost enough to make me sick in itself," he said. "I was fortunate enough to have insurance...It has taught me to be even a stronger advocate for things like Medicare and Social Security and caregivers."

Cummings repeatedly praised Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he was treated: "I feel so fortunate that we have Hopkins in our neighborhood," he said.

A lot has changed in Washington since Cummings’ surgery, which repaired his aortic valve. The procedure came just days after former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III was appointed as a special prosecutor to investigate the Trump campaign. During Cummings’ absence, Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, the former chairman of the oversight committee, resigned and Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina stepped in to replace him.

Cummings said he has been closely following that news, and members of his committee have said he has remained in close touch by phone. The congressman has continued to send out press advisories and statements throughout the ordeal.

An outspoken critic of President Donald J. Trump, Cummings reiterated a promise to deliver a series of speeches when he returns to address a question Trump posed to African-American voters during the campaign: “What do you have to lose?” The congressman previously said he would fame those speeches around themes he thinks provides an answer, such as "our destiny as a great country” and “our education opportunities."

The procedure Cummings underwent repairs the aortic valve without removing the old one, according to the American Heart Association. Similar to a stent placed in an artery, the procedure delivers a fully collapsible replacement valve through a catheter, according to the association's website.

Cummings’ wife, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, announced in July that she is exploring a run for Maryland governor in 2018. A well-known political operative in her own right, Rockeymoore Cummings told The Sun this summer that she wants to “to step up and consider a bid.”

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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