Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee and a key player in the ongoing impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, died early Thursday of complications from longtime health issues, his office said in a statement. The Maryland Democrat was 68.
Cummings had missed roll call votes since Sept. 11 and said in a Sept. 30 statement that he expected to return to the House by mid-October after having a medical procedure, according to the Baltimore Sun.
The 12-term congressman died at approximately 2:30 a.m. on Thursday at Gilchrist Hospice Care, a Johns Hopkins affiliate, due to “complications concerning longstanding health challenges,” according to his office’s statement.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, honored his Maryland colleague on the House floor Thursday morning.
“In a time of confrontation and disagreement and anger and, yes, sometimes hate, he was a beacon of civility, of fairness, of justice,” Hoyer said. “He was loved in the city of Baltimore. At a time of great distress in the city of Baltimore, it was Elijah Cummings in the streets bringing calm and peace.
“We will miss Elijah Cummings,” Hoyer continued. “We are a lesser place for losing him. Like the prophet for whom he was named, he was taken from us too young, too soon, too suddenly.”
President Donald Trump, after first tweeting criticisms of congressional Democrats, posted one offering his “warmest condolences to the family and many friends of Congressman Elijah Cummings.” Trump tweeted that he “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!”
Trump had clashed with the Baltimore Democrat, firing off a string of tweets over the summer that called Cummings a “racist” and disparaging his home city as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”
“If racist Elijah Cummings would focus more of his energy on helping the good people of his district, and Baltimore itself, perhaps progress could be made in fixing the mess that he has helped to create over many years of incompetent leadership. His radical ‘oversight’ is a joke!” the president tweeted on July 28. Trump also on Aug. 2 mocked a burglary at Cummings’ Baltimore home; Cummings, in response, was mostly muted after the volley of rhetorical attacks.
Flags at the Capitol, the White House and office buildings were lowered to half staff in Cummings’ honor Thursday morning.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi paid her respects to her “dear friend” at her weekly news conference and said the Democrats’ prescription drug pricing bill, will be renamed after Cummings. She said House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal had suggested renaming it during a hearing on the measure Thursday morning.
Cummings’ widow, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, said that he worked “until his last breath.”
“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 in a statement.
Cummings was initially sidelined after receiving heart surgery to replace an aortic valve in May 2017. That procedure led to an infection, keeping him in the hospital through much of the summer session.
The Washington Post reported in September of that year that he told his staff members after returning to the Capitol that his recovery had given him a renewed focus on the importance of his work.
“I am thoroughly convinced, and you will never convince me otherwise, that what I have gone through was for a purpose,” he said.
He also told them, “Every time you look at your little children, ask the question, ‘What kind of future will they have?’”
Cummings carried that enthusiasm into the 116th Congress, where he was named the House Oversight chairman and has shepherded numerous committee investigations into the president and his administration.
In addition to other issues unrelated to the president’s alleged corruption — the rising cost of prescription drugs, voter suppression — the committee is probing Trump’s business conflicts of interest, his possible violations of the Emoluments Clause prohibiting the executive from personally profiting from his office, and allegations of illegal hush payments he dished out to two former paramours during the 2016 campaign.
Despite the explosive nature of some of his committee’s investigative work over the last 10 months, Cummings has remained widely popular on both sides of the aisle.
Oversight Committee ranking member Jim Jordan, who had butted heads with Cummings frequently during the current Congress, spoke of Cummings’ “unyielding passion and purpose” for his work.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Elijah Cummings, a man of great consequence and significance on the Oversight Committee for the last twenty years. As Ranking Member and then as Chairman, he injected an unyielding passion and purpose into his work on the Committee,” Jordan said in a statement. “Our prayers are with his wife, Maya, his children, and all his loved ones. Our thoughts are also with his staff, who are among the hardest working people on Capitol Hill. Their loyalty and affinity for him speaks volumes about his character.”
Georgia Republican Rep. Doug Collins described Cummings as a friend.
“Elijah Cummings was a fierce champion of civil rights and a dedicated public servant. It was my good fortune to know him as a friend.” Collins said in a statement. “My prayers are with his loved ones and the city of Baltimore.”
Born in Baltimore, Cummings was one of seven children of former sharecroppers who migrated from South Carolina.
“We did not have many opportunities,” he recalled of his childhood. “We did not play on grass. We played on asphalt.” But his “two very strong parents” set him on a productive course and saved to buy their own home in a city neighborhood that was integrating.
He graduated from Howard University in Washington, where he was student government president. He said his mother was hesitant about attending his graduation ceremony because she did not want to embarrass her son in front of “all those sophisticated people” at Howard. Cummings told her he would be honored to have her there.
While at Howard, Cummings worked the night shift at the Government Publishing Office, known at the time as the Government Printing office, to help pay for school. Four decades later, he would oversee the agency as a top Democrat on the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
On the eve of a hearing about the GPO in 2015, Cummings reflected on overseeing his old work place, telling CQ Roll Call, “Amazing. I have to pinch myself on that one.”
Running against 26 other Democrats in a 1996 special-election primary, Cummings garnered more than 37 percent of the vote. He easily dispatched his Republican opposition and has not come remotely close to defeat since then. He won reelection to his House seat in 2016 with 75 percent of the vote.