Representative Elijah Cummings. a Powerhouse on Capitol Hill, Has Died

October 17, 2019 by Dan McCue
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) asks questions during a hearing about FEMA trailers July 9, 2008 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON —Rep. Elijah Cummings, D- Md., who started life as a sharecropper’s son and  went on to become the chairman of one of the U.S. House committees leading an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, died on Thursday in Baltimore.

His death was confirmed by a spokeswoman, Trudy Perkins, in a statement that said he died of “complications concerning longstanding health challenges.”

No other details were given. Cummings was 68.

He was known as a powerful orator who passionately advocated for the poor in his district, which encompasses a large portion of urban Baltimore and some of its more affluent suburbs.

An important ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Cummings spent his final months as chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform investigating the president and his administration, and often locking horns with Trump himself.

Among Cummings’ numerous investigations was an inquiry into Trump family members serving in the White House.

Trump, miffed, responded last summer by criticizing the Democrat’s district as a “rodent-infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.”

The comments came weeks after Trump drew bipartisan condemnation following his calls for Democratic congresswomen of color to get out of the U.S. “right now,” and go back to their “broken and crime-infested countries.”

Cummings responded by saying government officials must stop making “hateful, incendiary comments” that only serve to divide and distract the nation from its real problems, including mass shootings and white supremacy.

“Those in the highest levels of the government must stop invoking fear, using racist language and encouraging reprehensible behavior,” Cummings said in a speech at the National Press Club.

Cummings, who was born Jan. 18, 1951, rose through the ranks of the Maryland House of Delegates before winning his congressional seat in a special election in 1996 to replace former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who left the seat to lead the NAACP.

Cummings was an early supporter of Barack Obama’s presidential bid in 2008, and he later served as the ranking  Democrat on the House Benghazi Committee, a panel he dismissed as “a taxpayer-funded effort” to prevent Hillary Clinton from being president.

Cummings chaired the Congressional Black Caucus from 2003 to 2004, employing a hard-charging, explore-every-option style to put the group in the national spotlight.

In 2015, when the death of black Baltimore resident Freddie Gray sparked the worst riots the city had seen in decades, Cummings took to the streets with a bullhorn, urging crowds to go home and respect a curfew.

He spoke at Gray’s funeral, asking all lawmakers in the church to stand up to show Gray’s mother they would seek justice for her son.

“I want justice, oceans of it. I want fairness, rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want,” Cummings said.

A key figure in the Trump impeachment inquiry, Cummings had been hoping to return to Congress after a medical procedure he said would only keep him away for a week. His statement then didn’t detail the procedure. He had previously been treated for heart and knee issues.

Cummings’ committee, authorized to investigate virtually any part of the federal government, is one of three conducting the House impeachment probe of Trump.

Cummings was among the three chairmen to sign a letter seeking documents into the formal inquiry into whether Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate the family of Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden, the former vice president.

The committees have issued multiple subpoenas of witnesses in the face of the Trump administration’s refusal to cooperate with the impeachment probe and have jointly been meeting behind closed doors to hear testimony.

Separately, Cummings led an effort to gain access to Trump’s financial records. His committee subpoenaed records from Mazars USA, an accounting firm that has provided services to Trump. The panel demanded documents from 2011 to 2018 as it probed Trump’s reporting of his finances and potential conflicts of interest.

Last week, a federal appeals court ruled that the records must be turned over to the House.

Cummings’ widow, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, chairwoman of Maryland’s Democratic Party, said of her husband Thursday morning, “Congressman Cummings was an honorable man who proudly served his district and the nation with dignity, integrity, compassion and humility.

“He worked until his last breath because he believed our democracy was the highest and best expression of our collective humanity and that our nation’s diversity was our promise, not our problem,” she said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said he was shocked and saddened to learn the news Thursday morning of Cummings’ passing. 

“Elijah Cummings was a man of principle, patriotism, and conviction, whose loss will be deeply felt throughout the State of Maryland and our country,” Hoyer said.

“For over two decades, we served together in the House, and I learned many lessons from observing Elijah at work,” the majority leader continued. “He taught his colleagues how to persevere in the face of adversity, laboring through health challenges in recent years out of a love for serving his constituents and country.

“He taught us patience and fortitude when confronted with malice from opponents, which he answered with ‘charity for all.’ And his faith in democracy served as a lesson to us all. When talking about the times we fell short of our Founders’ vision, Elijah would say ‘we are better than this.’ Elijah Cummings was better than most. He led the charge to make our democracy better by being better than those who would bring it low and leading by example,” Hoyer added.

President Trump tweeted “My warmest condolences to the family and many friends of Congressman Elijah Cummings. I got to see first hand the strength, passion and wisdom of this highly respected political leader. His work and voice on so many fronts will be very hard, if not impossible, to replace!”

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