Congressman Elijah Cummings passes at 68

October 24, 2019

An iconic and honorable member of Congress has passed away.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the son of sharecroppers who rose to represent parts of Baltimore, the city where he was born and raised, died early Thursday, October 17, 2019, at age 68.

The Maryland Democrat died at Gilchrist Hospice Care, which is affiliated with Johns Hopkins Hospital, at about 2:30 a.m. EDT from “complications concerning longstanding health challenges,” his office confirmed in a statement.

He underwent a medical procedure in September that had kept him from returning to work. On Sept. 30, he had told The Baltimore Sun that he expected to be back in Congress by mid-October.

Cummings, as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, had recently sparred with President Donald Trump as the 23-year veteran of Capitol Hill led multiple investigations into the president and his administration. Those investigations also involved the president’s family members serving in the White House – his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-inlaw Jared Kushner.

A school counselor once told Cummings that he was too slow a learner and too poor a speaker to ever fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer. In 1996, Cummings told The Associated Press those comments left him “devastated.”

“My whole life changed. I became very determined,” said Cummings, who went on to become not just a lawyer, but also a judge.

Cummings was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1983, where he served until 1996. In 1995, he became the first African American to serve as speaker pro tempore in the Maryland Legislature.

He was elected to the House of Representatives in a 1996 special election to fill the seat vacated when Rep. Kweisi Mfume left Congress to head the NAACP.

His widow, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, is chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party.

“Congressman Cummings was an honorable man who proudly served his district and the nation with dignity, integrity, compassion and humility,” she said in a statement.

“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. It has been an honor to walk by his side on this incredible journey. I loved him deeply and will miss him dearly,” she said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office announced Thursday that flags at the Capitol would be flown halfstaff to honor Cummings. The speaker said America “lost a voice of unsurpassed moral clarity and truth” with Cummings’ passing.

“In the House, Elijah was our North Star,” she said. “He was a leader of towering character and integrity, whose stirring voice and steadfast values pushed the Congress and country to rise always to a higher purpose.”

A former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Cummings was outspoken on civil rights and voter access.

In 2004, he called on then-President George W. Bush to send troops to Haiti as part of an international force to restore order and protect democracy there. And he was a leading voice among the caucus members last year who called for congressional hearings to examine the fatal shootings of Black people by police officers.

In July, Trump lashed out at Cummings after the congressman criticized the administration’s handling of migrant detention centers and his committee authorized subpoenas for senior White House officials’ electronic communications. The president called Cummings a “brutal bully” and said Baltimore was a “rodent-infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.”

“Mr. President, I go home to my district daily. Each morning, I wake up, and I go and fight for my neighbors,” Cummings said in response. “It is my constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch. But, it is my moral duty to fight for my constituents.”

He called on Trump to help the majority-Black city address its problems with poverty and crime, rather than “trash” it.

Trump’s remarks were condemned as racist by many, including Pelosi. The president denied being racist and called Cummings “racist” in turn.

After Trump told four minority congresswomen to “go back” to their countries of origin, Cummings told The Baltimore Sun the president’s rhetoric took him back to the racial animosity he felt during the civil rights era.

“I don’t think these Republicans or Trump fully understand what it feels like to be treated like less than a dog,” Cummings said. “I’m feeling the same things that I felt when these white folks down in South Baltimore were throwing rocks and bottles at me. But now, I feel like it’s the president of the United States doing it.”

He was a passionate promoter of Democratic policies and a fierce critic of the Trump administration, but Cummings was also noted for his fair and respectful treatment of his Republican counterparts.

For example, when Rep. Rashida Tlaib(D-MI), appeared to accuse Rep. Mark Meadows(R-NC), of racism during a hearing centered on Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, Cummings came to Meadows’ defense.

Cummings said Meadows was one of his best friends on the Oversight Committee.

“I can see and feel your pain. I feel it. And I don’t think Ms. Tlaib intended to cause you that, that kind of pain and that kind of frustration,” Cummings told Meadows.

In his closing remarks after Cohen’s testimony, Cummings bemoaned the divisions within the country and the president’s remarks attacking his former personal fixer as a “rat.”

“We’re better than that! We really are. And I’m hoping that all of us can get back to this democracy that we want, and that we should be passing on our children so they can do better than what we did,” Cummings said.

“When we’re dancing with the angels, the question we’ll be asked: In 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact? Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?” he asked.

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