Elijah Cummings, the Maryland congressman who chaired the House Oversight Committee, dies at 68

As head of the Oversight panel, Cummings was one of three congressmen leading the impeachment inquiry into Trump

By Matthew Rozsa
Published October 17, 2019 10:08AM (EDT)
House Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Elijah Cummings (D-MD) (AP/Jose Luis Magana)
House Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Elijah Cummings (D-MD) (AP/Jose Luis Magana)

House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., died Thursday morning after longtime complications with his health. He was 68.

The longstanding Baltimore congressman passed away shortly after 2 a.m. ET, according to the Associated Press. His widow, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, issued a statement calling her late 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.”

In his final years Cummings, achieved national attention as the chairman of one of the three committee leading the inquiry into President Donald Trump. Cummings' oversight role incurred the wrath of Trump, who in July tweeted that his district was “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and a “very dangerous & filthy place.” Cummings did not hold back from criticizing the president either, such as by saying in the same month that Trump’s rhetoric reminded him of the discrimination he experienced during the segregation era as a child.

"My warmest condolences to the family and many friends of Congressman Elijah Cummings. I got to see first hand the strength, passion and wisdom of this highly respected political leader," the president tweeted Thursday morning. "His work and voice on so many fronts will be very hard, if not impossible, to replace!"

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fl., responded to the news of Cummings’ death by writing on Twitter, “My condolences to the family of Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland who went to be with the Lord early this morning at 68 years of age. May God grant his family strength & peace in these difficult moments & his soul eternal rest.”

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.., tweeted that “today our country lost a true leader. Congressman Elijah Cummings was a friend, a passionate fighter for justice, and a powerful voice of moral conscience in our government who served his country for decades with dignity and integrity. I’m blessed to have known him.

After being told as a child that he spoke too slowly and struggled too much in school to become a lawyer, Cummings rose up from poverty to become the first African-American speaker pro tem in the Maryland General Assembly. Cummings was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1996. From 2003 to 2004, he chaired the Congressional Black Caucus. He was an early advocate of former President Barack Obama as he sought the nation's highest office in 2008.

In 2015, Cummings publicly pushed for justice for Freddie Gray, an African-American Baltimore resident whose death in police custody sparked protests and riots throughout the city. During Trump’s presidency, he emerged as one of the president’s most-outspoken critics in Congress, launching numerous investigations from his position as chairman of the House Oversight Committee.

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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