GameChanger: Kweisi Mfume

The politician, legislator, and advocate discusses the national political climate and the work at hand.
—Photography by Mike Morgan

Kweisi Mfume’s return to Capitol Hill after two-plus decades out of elected office is more than a second act. It’s like his fifth. Overcoming a troubled youth, Mfume was elected to the Baltimore City Council in 1978. Eight years later, he went to Congress, eventually giving up his seat to helm the NAACP. In 2013, he was named chair of the board at his alma mater, Morgan State University. We discussed the national political climate, and the work at hand.

With the presidential inauguration this month, it seems appropriate to ask how well you know President-Elect Joe Biden.
I know Joe well. I used to bump into him on the train [to D.C.] when I first got elected. A couple of years ago, at Morgan State University, he came and gave the spring commencement address. He’s just a good guy.

How has COVID-19 impacted working on the Hill for Congress?
Well, you can participate in one or two hearings at the same time. And oftentimes that will happen. But I
don’t know if it adds to the quality of the process.

Donald Trump is leaving the White House, but most likely not the national scene. How do you understand his appeal to a significant percentage of voters?
Donald Trump is an individual, who aside from being narcissistic, has the ability to stoke the fears of people, and to do it over and over again by pushing certain buttons, and people rally around that. Unfortunately, it’s because they think that they have something to lose and that he’s going to protect them. He is a master salesman, which is how, in my opinion, he was able to beat that large field of Republican candidates four years ago and become the nominee of the party. He is, in many instances, all about Donald Trump. And it’s unfortunate, because in a leadership position such as the President of the United States, you have to at least attempt to work with the other side of the aisle.

What do you consider an achievement from when you held this seat previously?
I was proud of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I was an original co-sponsor, and I helped to get it passed on the floor. We tend not to think about it now because it’s been so many years. It’s just the way we live. But there was a real struggle getting that out of committee onto the floor and becoming law. I’m proud of the ban on assault weapons that was in place for 10 years. Unfortunately, Congress did not reauthorize or renew it.

What are your goals for the 117th Congress?
As we deal with this wicked virus and all that it’s done to us over the last 10 months or so…we’ve got to get a stimulus package, a second one through. Cities and states are hurting, and there has got to be relief for them in this package. There’s got to be a one-time stimulus check for families. There’s got to be unemployment insurance. People who are essential workers deserve essential pay. They’re not getting that. In many instances, their pay has been cut. So, we’re trying to find a way to get money into the hands of people, which in turn will get it into society and buoy the larger business community…That’s my number one priority. I don’t understand how Mitch McConnell has slowed the process on the other side of the Capitol in the Senate, but we’ve got to find a way to do that. We can’t fight back with one arm tied behind us.