US Representative Elijah Cummings dies at age 68

Friday, October 18, 2019

Early yesterday morning, United States Representative Elijah Cummings died while in hospice care. Cummings, the Democratic chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, was 68.

Cummings in 2012
Image: U.S. Congress.

Elijah Eugene Cummings, first elected to Congress in 1996, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1951. His parents, Robert Cummings Sr. and Ruth Elma Cummings, were sharecroppers. In grade school, Cummings expressed intent to become a lawyer. After receiving a bachelor's degree in political science from Howard University, he attended law school at the University of Maryland. Cummings passed the state bar exam in 1976, and went on to start his own law practice.

In 1982 Cummings successfully ran to be a state delegate, joining the Maryland General Assembly in 1983. He remained there for fourteen years, eventually serving as the speaker pro tem of the chamber. Cummings was the first African American to hold that office.

When Representative Kweisi Mfume of Maryland's seventh Congressional District announced his resignation in 1995, Cummings joined the race to replace him, winning the election. He went on to serve in the House of Representatives for twenty three years. He was among the Representatives who voted against the Iraq War in 2002, and in 2003 and 2004 served as the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. He was also a member of the United States House Select Committee on Benghazi.

Following Democratic victories in the 2018 midterm elections, Cummings became the chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. In that role, Cummings oversaw the committee's impeachment inquiry into President Trump, alongside the House Foreign Affairs and Intelligence committees.

The Baltimore Sun reported Cummings had been sick and was missing from Capitol Hill; his last roll call vote was on September 11. At 2:45 a.m. local time (0645 UTC), his office said, he died at Gilchrist Hospice Care. In a statement, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, his wife and the current chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party, said Cummings "worked until his last breath".

In response to Cummings's death, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, ordered the Capitol's flags be lowered to half staff. Flags at the White House were reportedly similarly lowered.

Politicians from across the political spectrum publicly mourned Cummings's death. Democrat Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, told MSNBC Cummings "was a great man," while Republican President Trump noted his "strength, passion and wisdom" on Twitter.

Representative Carolyn Maloney, the most senior Democrat on the Oversight and Reform Committee, has stepped into Cummings's role as the committee's acting chair. As of yesterday evening, the process to select the next permanent chair had not yet been announced, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Under Maryland state law, Republican Larry Hogan, the current governor, has until October 28 to release plans for a special election to fill Cummings's congressional seat.