Among the things people have been recalling about Rep. Elijah Eugene Cummings, as news broke of his death this morning, is the passion he brought to the podium.
An attorney and a descendant of sharecroppers, the Baltimore Democrat had a penchant for cutting through the mealy-mouthed equivocating of Washington and unleashing fiery blasts of plain-spoken condemnation.
“I guess you feel like you’re doing a great job, right?” Cummings said to a Trump administration official at a July hearing on conditions at U.S. facilities holding children suspected of crossing the border illegally.
“We’re doing our level best in a very challenging situation,” Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan began.
“Come on, man”
“What does that mean?” Cummings said, cutting him off.
“What does that mean? When a child is sitting in their own feces? Can’t take a shower? Come on, man! What’s that about?”
“None of us would have our children in that position!” he boomed, punching out that “none” with a throat-rattling roar.
Cummings, who was playing a key role in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump as chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, died at 2:45 a.m. at Gilchrist Hospice Care, an affiliate of Johns Hopkins, a spokeswoman said.
She attributed his death to “complications concerning longstanding health problems.” Cummings was 68.
Speaking for the City
Baltimore-born Cummings has been a fixture in Maryland politics for decades.
He served 14 years representing the 39th District in the Maryland House of Delegates before he went to Congress in 1996, winning a special election to fill the 7th District seat that opened up when Kweisi Mfume resigned to become president of the NAACP.
(The district includes most of West Baltimore and extends into the suburbs north and west of the city, including in Baltimore and Howard counties.)
Since then, Cummings has represented his constituents, among them some of Maryland’s poorest residents, by campaigning for stricter gun control laws, advocating for those addicted to drugs, and pushing for lower prescription drug prices.
“We’re better than that”
An early supporter of Barack Obama for president and later an ally of Baltimore-born Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Cummings acquired a national profile as Congress moved to investigate Trump and his administration.
His committee engaged in a protracted court battle over subpoenas of Trump’s personal and financial records.
When the president took aim at Baltimore last July, tweet-calling it “a disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess,” Cummings responded with heat. Stop “using racist language and encouraging reprehensible behavior,” he chided.
And after the president’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, testified before his committee, calling Trump “a con man” and “a racist” and “a cheat,” Cummings responded with an impassioned plea – “We have got to get back to normal!” – that went viral.
“The president called you a rat,” Cummings said.
“We’re better than that. We really are. I’m hoping that all of us can get back to this democracy that we want, and that we should be passing on to our children so that they can do better than what we did.”