House Oversight Chairman Cummings, Nemesis of Trump, Dies at 68

Bookmark

(Bloomberg) -- House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings, a key figure in Democrats’ impeachment inquiry and a fierce critic of President Donald Trump, has died.

Cummings, 68, passed away Thursday at Johns Hopkins Hospital due to complications concerning long-standing health challenges, according to a statement from his office.

House Oversight Chairman Cummings, Nemesis of Trump, Dies at 68

The Maryland congressman was chairman of one of the three panels that has been leading the House impeachment investigation focusing on Trump’s Ukraine activities.

While the Democratic chairmen of the other two, Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff and Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel have been present at the Capitol this week, Cummings has been notably absent.

Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York, the second-most senior Democrat on the Oversight panel, will become acting committee chair under House rules until the Democratic caucus elects a successor, according to a leadership aide. The other senior Democratic members of the panel include William Lacy Clay of Missouri, Jim Cooper of Tennessee, and Gerald Connolly of Virginia.

Census Questions

Even before the focus on Ukraine, Cummings’s committee was looking into a wide range of other matters, including the administration’s failed effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census, as well as the use by Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and others of private texts and emails for official business.

During an August speech at the National Press Club, Cummings called for “those in the highest level” of government to stop using “racist language” that divides Americans, referring to Trump’s rhetorical attacks on his hometown of Baltimore without naming the president.

“Unbalanced criticism can be self-reinforcing, causing us to doubt our ability to improve,” Cummings said. “Time is precious, and I will not waste it on anything trying to distract me from my purpose and my mission.”

Trump had earlier trained his ire on Cummings after Fox News showed the Maryland Democrat criticizing the administration’s immigration policy, especially the treatment of migrants seeking asylum at the southern border. Trump began tweeting on July 27 and continued for several days, describing Baltimore, part of which is in Cummings’s district, as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”

On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered flags at the Capitol lowered to half-staff, and Trump joined lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in lauding Cummings with tributes. “I 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 tweeted.

Mark Meadows, a leading conservative in the House often at odds politically with Cummings, said on Twitter, “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.”

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, who is leading the impeachment inquiry tweeted that Cummings was “the heart and soul of our caucus, a dignified leader with a voice that could move mountains. He was our moral and ethical North Star.”

Russian Election Meddling

Cummings was among the first to call for a congressional investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. He also sought information on Trump and his business and whether the president could run afoul of the emoluments clauses of the Constitution, which bar presidents from taking money from a foreign government or accepting any domestic compensation except a salary.

House Oversight Chairman Cummings, Nemesis of Trump, Dies at 68

Born in 1951 in segregated Baltimore, Cummings said he was among the first black children to integrate the city’s Riverside Park swimming pool in the summer of 1962.

His political career started in 1982 when he won election to the Maryland state House. He served there for seven terms, and was the first black lawmaker in the state to become speaker pro tem, before being elected to Congress in 1996.

Wall Street Bailout

Cummings had been a vocal early opponent in 2008 of the federal bailout package for Wall Street. While he argued for a strong federal response to the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression, he often pointed to the needs in Baltimore, where he said neighborhoods were falling apart, homes were boarded up, unemployment lines were long, and prices at the gas pumps and grocery stores presented challenges.

House Oversight Chairman Cummings, Nemesis of Trump, Dies at 68

“Congress simply cannot bail out Wall Street while at the same time bailing on Main Street,” he said. “I am deeply concerned that there is no requirement that Wall Street take responsibility for the mess it helped to create.”

In the end, however, Cummings joined 56 other House members in switching from his opposition to vote in favor of a revised version of the financial bailout. He said then he had done so after talking to President Barack Obama.

He called it “one of the most difficult votes” of this then-12 year congressional career, but said he had come to believe something had to be done to deal with the financial crisis, even if he still thought the bill did would do too little to help working-class constituents facing possible foreclosures and other difficulties.

More recently, Cummings was at the helm of other efforts to investigate Trump and his administration before the House opened its impeachment inquiry.

A subpoena he issued from his committee chair earlier this year for Trump’s accounting firm to turn over several of pre-presidential financial records has been upheld over challenges by Trump’s lawyers in early court decisions.

House Oversight Chairman Cummings, Nemesis of Trump, Dies at 68

‘Constitutional Crisis’

His committee also voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for not complying with subpoenas to turn over documents. He had called the administration’s refusal to provide information to his and other congressional panels “a constitutional crisis.”

And while he publicly backed Pelosi’s reluctance much of this year to launch a formal impeachment inquiry against Trump, he vigorously supported her decision last month to do so after a whistle-blower complaint alleged that Trump had sought to pressure Ukraine’s president to launch investigations against former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

“When the history books are written about this tumultuous era, I want them to show that I was among those in the House of Representatives who stood up to lawlessness and tyranny,” he said on Sept. 24 after Pelosi announced the House would begin an impeachment inquiry.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.