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Just sworn in, U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume says he’ll ‘have a conversation’ with late friend Elijah Cummings

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a ceremonial swearing-in for Democratic Rep. Kweisi Mfume of Baltimore.

Kweisi Mfume took the oath of office and accepted congratulations from mask-wearing Maryland colleagues. Then the state’s newest congressman said it was time to retreat, close the door and “have a conversation with Elijah.”

Swearing-in ceremonies can feel personal, and Mfume said his was especially so.

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The Democrat was sworn in Tuesday on the mostly empty U.S. House floor to take the Baltimore-area congressional seat long held by his close friend — the late Elijah Cummings — and by Mfume before that.

Mfume, 71, was assigned — at least through the end of the year — to the same Rayburn House Office Building suite held by Cummings, who had a rare form of cancer and died in October at age 68. Mfume’s arrival returns Maryland’s congressional delegation to full strength (eight representatives and two senators) for the first time in more than six months.

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Mfume had a close bond with Cummings, the civil rights icon from Baltimore who chaired a House committee that helped lead the impeachment inquiry of Republican President Donald Trump.

On the February night Mfume won a special primary for the Democratic nomination to fill the balance of Cummings’ 7th District term, he looked at two of Cummings’ sisters in the crowd, pointed upward and said, “This one is for Elijah.”

Mfume won a mostly vote-by-mail special election on April 28 over Republican commentator and nonprofit founder Kimberly Klacik to reclaim the seat he held before leaving to head the NAACP. Cummings won a 1996 election to succeed him.

State election officials have until Friday to certify the results of the election, but Mfume led 74% to 25% as of Tuesday morning in the canvass, and the elections administrator notified the House last week that it appeared Mfume was the winner according to the unofficial results.

On Twitter, Klacik criticized Mfume for taking office before the count was final. “I mistakenly said @Mfume4Congress had integrity. Anyone that is sworn into office before ballots are counted doesn’t have any," she wrote.

Mfume and Cummings were friends for 42 years. At Cummings’ funeral, Mfume recalled joking with him about who would “go” first and which would eulogize the other.

“He and I often talked about life and death,” Mfume said Tuesday. “That may sound crazy, but Elijah always understood his human frailty and always understood the moment that he was in.”

After his swearing-in, Mfume said: “I’m going to go over to his office for a little while and just kind of close the door and have a conversation with Elijah.”

Earlier, Mfume was read the oath of office by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat and Baltimore native.

Removing his mask to speak, Mfume acknowledged the unusual circumstances surrounding the ceremony due to the coronavirus pandemic that has closed much of the nation’s economy, caused record unemployment and forced many Americans to take shelter in their homes.

Overcoming such challenges, he said, will require “the courage of conviction and the unwavering resolve that the American spirit has always exhibited.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of southern Maryland said 7th District voters “to their credit, replaced great intellect with great intellect."

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For the benefit of his colleagues and the media, Pelosi — with a pink mask matching her pink suit — later conducted a ceremonial swearing-in of Mfume in the Capitol’s elegant, walnut-paneled Rayburn Room. Ceremonial swearing-ins are common in Congress.

The six other Democratic members of the state’s U.S. House delegation attended.

Rep. Andy Harris, the delegation’s lone Republican, issued a statement saying: "Unfortunately, I was invited but didn’t have the time to attend since I have to spend almost all my time trying to save the small businesses in my district from a prolonged lockdown which is driving many of them out of business.”

Mfume’s wife, Tiffany, and campaign manager Eric Bryant also came to Washington for the ceremonies.

“It feels normal now that I’m here,” Mfume said. “There’s a part of me that’s always belonged to this place. And so to come back in here now, it’s kind of made me whole again, politically.”

Mfume was to meet privately later with Pelosi. He and the Democratic leadership soon will determine which committees he will join.

Mfume has said often that his previous tenure will allow him to regain at least some congressional seniority, helping him move up the ladder toward leadership positions. House Democratic leaders have not responded to questions about on how much seniority Mfume will receive.

Mfume also is running in a June primary to try to win a full, two-year term beginning in January representing the district, which includes parts of Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County. Klacik is on the Republican ballot, and Cummings’ widow, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, and state Sen. Jill P. Carter, are among the candidates on the Democratic side.

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