- The Washington Times
Thursday, October 17, 2019

Elijah E. Cummings, the longtime congressman from Baltimore who was a key Democratic figure in the impeachment inquiry against President Trump, died Thursday. He was 68.

Mr. Cummings died as a result of “complications concerning long-standing health challenges,” his office said.

Mr. Trump offered his condolences to Mr. Cummings’ family.

SEE ALSO: Carolyn Maloney to take helm as acting chair of Oversight and Reform Committee

“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!” he tweeted.

In Mr. Cummings’ honor, Mr. Trump ordered all flags to be flown at half-staff through Friday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued the same order for the Capitol.

The veteran lawmaker was remembered with respect by members of Congress from both sides of the aisle.

SEE ALSO: Elijah Cummings mourned by Republicans as friend, statesman

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, also a Maryland Democrat, served with Mr. Cummings for more than two decades and praised his longtime friend as a moral leader for the country.

“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,” he said in a statement.

Elected to Congress in 1996, Mr. Cummings ascended to chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, one of the most active committees investigating the president and his family.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the ranking Republican on the oversight committee who at times sparred with Mr. Cummings, offered his condolences.

“He injected an unyielding passion and purpose into his work on the committee,” Mr. Jordan said. “Our prayers are with his wife, Maya, his children, and all his loved ones. Our thoughts are with his staff, who are among the hardest-working people on Capitol Hill. Their loyalty and affinity for him speaks volumes about his character.”

Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican who also serves on the oversight committee, often clashed on issues with the Democrat but shared true camaraderie with Mr. Cummings.

“There was no stronger advocate and no better friend than Elijah Cummings,” he tweeted. “I will miss him dearly.”

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, New York Democrat, will serve as acting chair of the oversight panel, a committee aide confirmed to The Washington Times.

The process to determine a permanent replacement will be announced later, the aide said.

The oversight committee was among the three committees that subpoenaed State Department diplomats and other officials over Mr. Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The committee also probed whether the president was involved in obtaining a security clearance for his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, and investigated whether Kellyanne Conway’s television appearances violate the Hatch Act.

Earlier this year, Mr. Trump pushed back against Mr. Cummings, a fierce critic. The president labeled the congressman’s district “a rodent-infested mess” where “no human would want to live.”

Mr. Cummings responded by denouncing the president’s comments as “hateful, incendiary.” He said they distracted from real issues facing the country.

“Those in the highest level of government must stop invoking fear, using racist language and encouraging reprehensible behavior,” Mr. Cummings said in response.

Mr. Cummings’ wife, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who is the chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party, called her husband “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. “I loved him deeply and will miss him dearly.”

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, said Mr. Cummings’ passing “leaves an irreplaceable void in our hearts.”

“Chairman Cummings guaranteed a voice to so many who would otherwise not have one and stood as a symbol for the heights one could reach if they paid no mind to obstacles, naysayers and hate,” he said. “His commitment to his city and country was unwavering, as will be my lasting respect for him.”

Mr. Cummings had not returned to Congress since undergoing a medical procedure that he said would keep him away for about a week, The Baltimore Sun reported.

The congressman missed two roll call votes Tuesday as the House reconvened after a recess. He had not participated in a roll call vote since Sept. 11.

A sharecropper’s son, Mr. Cummings became a formidable player in the House, passionately advocating for Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, which encompassed Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods and well-to-do suburbs.

Mr. Cummings’ career spanned decades in Maryland politics. He rose through the ranks of the Maryland House of Delegates before winning a congressional seat in a 1996 special election to replace former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who left the seat to lead the NAACP.

Mr. Cummings was an early supporter of Barack Obama’s presidential bid in 2008. By 2016, Mr. Cummings was the senior Democrat on the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which he said was “nothing more than a taxpayer-funded effort to bring harm to Hillary Clinton’s campaign” for president.

Throughout his career, Mr. Cummings used his fiery voice to highlight the struggles and needs of inner-city residents. He was a firm believer in some much-debated approaches to help the poor and addicted, such as needle exchange programs as a way to reduce the spread of AIDS.

Mr. Cummings was born on Jan. 18, 1951. In grade school, a counselor told Mr. Cummings he was too slow to learn and spoke poorly, and that he would never fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer.

“I was devastated,” Mr. Cummings told The Associated Press in 1996, shortly before he won his seat in Congress. “My whole life changed. I became very determined.”

Mr. Cummings was determined to prove that counselor wrong. He became not only a lawyer, but also one of the most powerful orators in the State House, where he took office in 1983. He rose to become the first black House speaker pro tem. He would begin his comments slowly, developing his theme and raising the emotional heat until it became like a sermon from the pulpit.

Mr. Cummings was quick to note the differences between Congress and the Maryland General Assembly, which has long been controlled by Democrats.

“After coming from the state where, basically, you had a lot of people working together, it’s clear that the lines are drawn here,” Mr. Cummings said about a month after entering office in Washington in 1996.

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

He cruised to big victories in the overwhelmingly Democratic district, which had given Maryland its first black congressman in 1970 when Parren Mitchell was elected.

⦁ Gabriella Muñoz contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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