Former Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz returned to Washington on Wednesday to participate in a ceremony unveiling the official portrait of the late Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings.
“I am so honored you would invite me. I miss my friend,” Chaffetz said, choking back tears at the U.S. Capitol.
Chaffetz, who preceded Cummings as the chair of the House Oversight Committee, reflected on his unlikely friendship with the longtime Democrat from Maryland.
“We obviously disagreed on pretty much everything, but the way we did it, I think was the right way,” Chaffetz said.
Other speakers at the ceremony included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
In 2014, Cummings hosted Chaffetz for a tour of his congressional district in Baltimore. They visited an AIDS clinic and discussed food insecurity during a town hall at a senior center.
“I had the privilege of speaking with President Barack Obama shortly thereafter and told him the story of that visit. He asked if (Cummings) took me to a Baltimore Orioles game, and I said no. ‘Man, you got screwed,’ he said,” Chaffetz recalled, causing the attendees of the ceremony to laugh.
Chaffetz returned the favor by showing Cummings around some of the rural areas of Utah to familiarize him with issues unique to the West.
“I took him down to southern Utah, where he saw things he had never seen before. The Colorado River runs through Moab, which was part of my district. We took him on a boat ride at night. The stars were out, illuminating the red rocks. All he could say was, ‘I wish my wife were here. I can’t believe I didn’t bring my wife.’ I turned to him and said, ‘I’m here, Elijah,’” Chaffetz said to more laughter.
Chaffetz unexpectedly resigned from Congress in 2017 but says he kept his friendship with Cummings, often spending time with him during return trips to Washington before Cummings’ death in 2019. He points to their relationship as an example that bipartisan cooperation is still possible, even in the current hyperpolarized political atmosphere.
“I was blessed to know Elijah, and I was so fortunate to be the chairman while he was the ranking member. I hope this portrait will serve as a reminder that we all can do better,” Chaffetz said.
Chaffetz has been rumored to be eyeing a return to the political arena in 2024, possibly as a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Mitt Romney. He says he won’t rule out another campaign in the future, but he recently extended his relationship with Fox News, where he is a frequent contributor and guest host.