Oct. 17 (UPI) — Rep. Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the House oversight committee that’s one of three panels driving the impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump, died early Thursday from complications from longstanding health challenges, his office said. He was 68.
The Baltimore Democrat died at John Hopkins Hospital at about 2:45 a.m. EDT.
Cummings had minimally invasive heart surgery in 2017, which led to an infection that kept him in the hospital longer than expected. He was hospitalized again for a knee infection, but said earlier this year his health was fine. He’d been absent from Capitol Hill in recent weeks and hadn’t attended a roll call since Sept. 11.
“Congressman Cummings was an honorable man who proudly served his district and the nation with dignity, integrity, compassion and humility,” his wife, Maryland Democratic Party Chair Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, said. “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.”
The 12-term congressman challenged Trump at every turn after he took office in early 2017, seeking subpoenas in court as well as Trump’s personal and financial records. He resented Trump’s comments this year that four Democratic congresswomen of color should “go back” to other countries. On that occasion, Cummings publicly recalled memories of white mobs taunting he and other African American community leaders who tried to integrate a swimming pool in South Baltimore in 1962.
“Tremendously saddened to learn of the passing of Elijah Cummings,” Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia tweeted Thursday. “This is a loss for Baltimore, Congress and the country.”
“My heart is saddened at the loss of a colleague and friend,” former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele added. “Elijah cared deeply about public service and the importance of ‘representing your people.’ Rest In Peace good and faithful servant.”
McDaniel College political professor Herbert Smith called Cummings “the quintessential speaking-truth-to-power representative.”
“Cummings has never shied from a very forceful give-and-take,” he said.
In July, Trump tweeted a series of attacks against Cummings and his home town of Baltimore, calling it “rat and rodent infested.” Cummings chose not to respond, saying only that he didn’t approve of Trump’s “racist language.”
Cummings was one of seven children of Robert Cummings Sr. and Ruth Elma Cummings, who were sharecroppers on the same land where their ancestors had worked as slaves. They moved to Baltimore in the late 1940s.
Cummings became oversight committee chair in January after the Democrats took over the House majority, and previously served on the chamber’s transportation committee. Before his special election to the House in 1996, Cummings was a Maryland state delegate for 13 years and a trial attorney.
Cummings became a central figure in 2015 amid looting and rioting in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray.
“I’ve often said, our children are the living messages we send to a future we will never see,” Cummings said at Gray’s funeral. “But now our children are sending us to a future they will never see! There’s something wrong with that picture.”
Cummings famously used a bullhorn to assure rioters that authorities were taking the case seriously. The bullhorn was a gift from Democratic colleagues after California Rep. Darrell Issa once switched off a microphone so Cummings couldn’t speak. It bore a gold label that read, “The gentlemen will not yield.”