WASHINGTON — Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who has been recovering from a heart procedure for nearly two months, says he plans to return to work during next month's congressional recess.
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. At the time, his office said he expected to be in the hospital for "a few days," but the congressman has not cast a vote since May 23.
In an interview Thursday with The Baltimore Sun, Cummings said that the surgery went well but that he developed an infection that forced him back into the hospital. He said he was discharged again this week.
"Part of my healing process has been an extensive and painful therapy, but thank God I'm beginning to see a turn in the right direction," said Cummings, who said he will return to his district office for a few days each week when the House breaks for its August recess.
"I'm coming along," he said.
Still, it's not clear when Cummings will return to Capitol Hill.
Cummings, 66, has been recovering as questions about interactions between President Donald Trump's campaign and Russia have consumed Washington — an issue the oversight panel had been probing.
Cummings has continued to request information about that and other issues. His office sent a letter Monday to the Secret Service asking how it screened members of a meeting at Trump Tower requested by a Russian attorney attempting to pass on negative information about Democrat Hillary Clinton.
An attorney and former state lawmaker, Cummings has become an outspoken critic of the Trump administration — and has repeatedly been called out by the president in public. In April, Trump said Cummings told him during a private meeting that he'd go down as "one of the great presidents in the history of our country." Cummings later said his point was more nuanced: That Trump could be a great president if he sought to represent "all Americans."
Cummings' surgery, which repaired his aortic valve, came just days after former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III was appointed as a special prosector to investigate the Trump campaign. During his absence, Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, the former chairman of the oversight committee, resigned from Congress and Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina stepped in to replace him.
A committee spokesperson said that Cummings and Gowdy have spoken frequently by phone and that some of those conversations have been personal and others have involved committee business.
"First and foremost, the chairman … wants to make sure that Mr. Cummings takes care of his health," the spokesperson said.
Cummings said he remains closely involved with the committee's business and is carefully monitoring the news from Washington. He said he plans to deliver a series of speeches when he returns to address a question Trump posed to African-American voters during his campaign: "What do you have to lose?"
Cummings said the speeches will focus on what he feels are answers to that question, such as "our destiny as a great country" and "our education opportunities," among others.
"This has taught me more about health care and more about empathy and more about our need to lift up our most vulnerable than anything that I've ever experienced," Cummings said of his ordeal. "Not that I wasn't already empathetic, but you cannot go through this kind of experience and not be moved by the needs of the American people to have affordable and accessible health care."
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.
Earlier this week, Cummings' wife, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, announced she is exploring a run for Maryland governor in 2018. A well-known political operative in Washington in her own right, Rockeymoore Cummings told The Sun she wants to "to step up and consider a bid."
Cummings, who rarely discusses personal matters in public, was eager to steer the interview with The Sun back to policy, though he has also clearly lamented his time away from Washington.
"One of the most painful things I'm experiencing is not being able to be on the floor," he said at one point.
But his voice perked up when discussing his plans to return.
"That would make my life joyous."