Rep. Elijah Cummings, who died Thursday after longtime health complications, threaded a needle that few recent chairmen and chairwomen of high-profile investigative committees have been able to manage: He remained widely popular among his colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
As chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform over the last 10 months and a key player in the ongoing impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, Cummings has been on the receiving end of a stream of invective from a frustrated White House.
He refused to be dragged down into a personal war of words with Trump this summer.
When the president pushed out a series of tweets in July calling Cummings’ Baltimore-based congressional district a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and later appeared to sarcastically relish news of burglars breaking into the congressman’s home, Cummings invited him to the district and appealed to him to help him pass legislation to lower prescription drug prices, a longtime goal of his.
Trump on Thursday tweeted condolences to Cummings’ family and friends.
“I got to see first hand the strength, passion and wisdom of this highly respected political leader,” the president wrote. “His work and voice on so many fronts will be very hard, if not impossible, to replace!”
Former President Barack Obama said Cummings showed the importance having good people stewarding the checks and balances in democracy.
“Steely yet compassionate, principled yet open to new perspectives, Chairman Cummings remained steadfast in his pursuit of truth, justice and reconciliation,” Obama said in a statement. “It’s a tribute to his native Baltimore that one of its own brought such character, tact and resolve into the halls of power every day.”
House Majority leader Steny Hoyer served with Cummings as part of Maryland’s delegation for more than two decades.
“He taught us patience and fortitude when confronted with malice from opponents, which he answered with ‘charity for all,’” Hoyer said.
“I learned many lessons from observing Elijah at work,” including “how to persevere in the face of adversity” as he “[labored] through health challenges in recent years out of a love for serving his constituents and country,” Hoyer said.
Cummings was “one of the great ones,” Virginia Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, Cummings’ right-hand man when Democrats were in the minority last Congress and a potential replacement for the late chairman, said in a statement on Thursday.
“His passion, eloquence and decency were hallmarks of a leadership style that was born of humble roots” in the Baltimore neighborhoods he represented since 1983 at the state level and 1996 at the national level, Connolly said. “It was my deep honor to call him friend. His passing leaves a void at a time of national crisis and a void in our hearts.”
Though Cummings was a staunch liberal from urban Baltimore with an oft-aired disdain for the current president, his relationships in Congress with even the most conservative members of the Republican party endured.
When Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan accused Rep. Mark Meadows of racism at an Oversight Committee hearing earlier this year, Cummings intervened to ably defuse tensions, calling Meadows, a hardline conservative from North Carolina who previously chaired the House Freedom Caucus, “one of my best friends.”
Meadows often returned the sentiment.
“There was no stronger advocate and no better friend than Elijah Cummings,” Meadows tweeted Thursday. “I am heartbroken for his wonderful family and staff — please pray for them. I will miss him dearly.”
There was no stronger advocate and no better friend than Elijah Cummings. I am heartbroken for his wonderful family and staff—please pray for them.I will miss him dearly. — Mark Meadows (@RepMarkMeadows) October 17, 2019
As chairman this year, Cummings used his personal charm and outsize personality to build new relationships and earn the respect of younger Republicans, such as Rep. Chip Roy of Texas.
“He was upfront, gracious, [and] caring,” the freshman congressman and former staffer for Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted on Thursday, along with a picture of his son smiling alongside Cummings that the chairman had requested.
Saddened to learn of the passing of @RepCummings this morning. In my time working with him, he was upfront, gracious, & caring. Here, in July after a typical debate with @OversightDems, he asked me to see my son & I am so grateful. God bless you, faithful servant. RIP pic.twitter.com/QG29U2ftAh— Chip Roy (@chiproytx) October 17, 2019
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries tweeted Thursday that he was “deeply saddened” at Cummings’ passing.
“He spoke truth to power, defended the disenfranchised and represented West Baltimore with strength and dignity,” the New York Democrat and chairman of the House Democratic Caucus wrote.
Deeply saddened by the passing of Chairman Elijah Cummings.He spoke truth to power, defended the disenfranchised and represented West Baltimore with strength and dignity. Congress has lost a Champion. Heaven has gained an Angel of Justice. May he forever #RestInPower. pic.twitter.com/3pg555ijFG — Hakeem Jeffries (@RepJeffries) October 17, 2019
Members of House Republican leadership also shared their condolences with Cummings’ family on Thursday.
“Very sad to learn that my colleague Rep. Elijah Cummings has passed away,” Minority Whip Steve Scalise tweeted. “He leaves a legacy as a determined public servant and strong fighter for civil rights,” the Louisiana Republican wrote.