Representative Elijah Cummings, a sharecropper’s son who became chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, died early Thursday in Baltimore. His office said he died of “complications concerning long-standing health challenges.” Cummings was 68.
Cummings, a Democrat, was first elected to Congress in 1996. His district encompasses much of Baltimore, and throughout his career Cummings was a passionate advocate for its inner-city residents. In 2015, when riots broke out in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray, a young black man who died in police custody, Cummings took to the streets with a bullhorn, calling for calm and urging crowds to go home. Cummings had spoken at Gray’s funeral hours earlier, asking lawmakers to stand up and promise to seek justice for his killing.
Cummings’s initial efforts to work with the Trump administration on bipartisan measures were ignored by the White House, and as the ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee he eventually became one of Trump’s biggest foils in the House. He led multiple investigations into the president, and called Trump’s obstruction of these efforts “far worse than Watergate.” This led to Trump lashing out at the congressman on Twitter in July, calling Baltimore “a disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess” and “the worst run and most dangerous” city in the United States. Cummings vigorously defended his city, and continued probing the administration in his final months as he battled health issues.
“I’m begging the American people to pay attention to what is going on. Because if you want to have a democracy intact for your children, and your children’s children, and generations yet unborn, we’ve got to guard this moment … This is our watch,” Cummings said in July, after former special counsel Robert Mueller testified before Congress. “It’s not about liking the president, it’s about loving democracy.”
In a statement, the representative’s widow, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, chairwoman of Maryland’s Democratic Party, said, “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.”