Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight Committee and longtime congressman from Baltimore, died early Thursday morning of health complications, his office confirmed. He was 68.
Cummings, who had represented Maryland’s 7th District in Congress since 1996, was one of the most powerful members of the House of Representatives, chairing the Oversight Committee that had been investigating President Donald Trump regarding a number of issues.
But his health had deteriorated in the weeks prior to his death. He was often seen with a breathing tube on the House floor, took frequent trips to the hospital, and had delegated a large portion of his work as Oversight Committee chairman. He had not taken part in a House roll-call vote since September 11th, and was absent from his office this week after undergoing an unspecified medical procedure, according to the Baltimore Sun. The statement released by his office Thursday morning described the cause of death as “complications concerning longstanding health challenges.” He died just after 2:30 a.m. in a hospice care center affiliated with Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
Throughout his career Cummings was known as a staunch advocate for inner-city Americans, particularly those living in his hometown of Baltimore. He served as a guiding voice for the city for more than two decades, perhaps most notably in 2015 following the death of Freddie Gray and the resultant protests. He was also known as one of the most effective orators in Congress. In February, he delivered a moving address as Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen testified before the Oversight Committee. “When we’re dancing with the angels, the question we’ll be asked: In 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?” he said. “Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?”
In the wake of his death, many have shared the first speech he gave on the House floor, in 1996, which received a standing ovation. In it, Cummings quotes a poem that stresses how we “only have a minute” to exact change on the world.
Wow. From Rep. Elijah Cummings' first floor speech: "I only have a minute, only sixty seconds in it… Just a tiny little minute, But eternity is in it." 4/25/96 #RIPElijahCummings pic.twitter.com/SV85PV74c0
— Tommy X-TrumpIsARacist-opher (@tommyxtopher) October 17, 2019
More recently, Cummings was one of Trump’s fiercest opponents in Congress. The investigations he led into Trump’s corruption drew the ire of the president, who trashed Cummings’ home of Baltimore as “disgusting” and “rodent-infested,” and later mocked the burglarization of the congressman’s house. Cummings responded with aplomb. “Those in the highest levels of the government must stop invoking fear, using racist language, and encouraging reprehensible behavior,” Cummings said in a speech at the National Press Club.
Trump tweeted his condolences Thursday morning.
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. His work and voice on so many fronts will be very hard, if not impossible, to replace!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 17, 2019
Several House representatives of both parties have paid their respects, as well.
Elijah 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. Now we will be guided by his powerful memory and incomparable legacy.
Rest In Peace, my friend.
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) October 17, 2019
Elijah Cummings and the journey he forged was among the most remarkable and consequential. His whole life, he worked to right injustices present in communities across the country. Judy and I pray for his family and all who were touched by Elijah throughout his incredible life.
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) October 17, 2019
Deeply saddened by the passing of Chairman Elijah Cummings.
He spoke truth to power, defended the disenfranchised and represented West Baltimore with strength and dignity.
— Hakeem Jeffries (@RepJeffries) October 17, 2019
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.
— Mark Meadows (@RepMarkMeadows) October 17, 2019
Such sad news this morning. @RepCummings was my friend and a giant of public service and the U.S. Congress. His presence, passion and moral clarity will be missed and my heart goes out to his family and constituents. https://t.co/FmwLkwaYIe
— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) October 17, 2019
So too did Cummings’ widow, Maryland Democratic Party chair Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings. “Congressman Cummings was an honorable man who proudly served his district and the nation with dignity, integrity, compassion and humility,” she wrote in a statement. “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’s been an honor to walk by his side on this incredible journey. I loved him deeply and will miss him dearly.”
This story is developing.