Elijah Cummings, Democratic chairman and powerful Trump critic, dies at 68

Longtime Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsBaltimore unveils plaques for courthouse to be named after Elijah Cummings GOP leaders encourage retiring lawmakers to give up committee posts Pelosi taps Virginia Democrat for key post on economic panel MORE (D-Md.), the son of a sharecropper who rose to become chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Reform Committee and was a key player in the impeachment probe into President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump denies telling Bolton Ukraine aid was tied to investigations Former senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Title, release date revealed for Bolton memoir MORE, has died at the age of 68, his office said in a statement early Thursday.

Cummings died at 2:30 a.m. at Gilchrist Hospice Care, a Johns Hopkins affiliate, “due to complications concerning longstanding health challenges,” according to his office.

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In the past year, Cummings relied on the use of a walker and motorized scooter to get around even as he continued at a frenetic pace in the Capitol, leading televised committee hearings and giving interviews to reporters.

The Baltimore Sun noted, however, that Cummings had not participated in a roll call vote in the past month, adding that his office said recently he had undergone a medical procedure.

“Today we have lost a giant. Elijah Cummings was a public servant to his core. He served his constituents in Maryland with dignity and grace, while defending our democracy with a sense of duty and steady strength,” House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), a close friend and the highest-ranking African American lawmaker in Congress, said in a statement.

“Elijah’s calm but firm hand will be missed on the Oversight Committee as it proceeds with the difficult work ahead. His dedication to fairness and his ability to navigate the choppy waters of partisanship were the hallmarks of his leadership. There will not be another leader like him.”

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Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiFormer senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Democrats step up pressure over witnesses after Bolton bombshell Texas AFL-CIO endorses Cuellar's primary challenger MORE (D-Calif.) said she was “personally devastated” by Cummings’s passing.

“In the House, Elijah was our North Star,” she said in a statement. “He was a leader of towering character and integrity, whose stirring voice and steadfast values pushed the Congress and country to rise always to a higher purpose.”

For decades, Cummings was a respected and well-known figure in Washington, D.C., and in his beloved native city of Baltimore, with close friends on both sides of the aisle. But he was thrust into the national spotlight this past year as he and newly empowered House Democrats repeatedly clashed with Trump and his administration.

As Cummings’s committee probed Trump’s policies, businesses and family members, the president lashed out at the Maryland Democrat by calling his Baltimore-based congressional district a “rat and rodent infested mess.”

The president’s attacks came days after Cummings's committee authorized subpoenas for records from the White House regarding aides’ use of personal email and text applications for official business.

Several Democratic lawmakers, including city officials, labeled Trump’s disparaging comments about Cummings’s majority-black district as racist.

Earlier in the summer, Cummings had blasted the Trump administration's treatment of migrant children at U.S.-run facilities as “government-sponsored child abuse.”

But in recent weeks, the biggest story in Washington — impeachment — had consumed Cummings and his Oversight and Reform Committee. Cummings, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffWhite House spokesperson: Media's 'obsession' with impeachment 'won't let up' Trump rips Chuck Todd for 'softball' Schiff interview Democrats, Republicans tussle over witnesses as vote approaches MORE (D-Calif.) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelUS officials, world leaders arrive in Israel for World Holocaust Forum  House Democrats may call new impeachment witnesses if Senate doesn't Overnight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request MORE (D-N.Y.) are the three committee chairmen leading Democrats’ three-week-old impeachment inquiry into Trump, and their panels have been interviewing key players in the investigation on an almost daily basis.

Trump in a tweet on Thursday offered his “warmest condolences” to Cummings’s family and friends.

“I got to see first hand the strength, passion and wisdom of this highly respected political leader,” Trump said. “His work and voice on so many fronts will be very hard, if not impossible, to replace!”

It is unclear who will permanently step into the role of Oversight chairman as the impeachment inquiry reaches a critical stretch. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.), now the most senior Democrat on the committee, will assume the role of acting chairwoman under House rules. But the Democratic Steering Committee will likely meet soon to recommend a permanent replacement to the full caucus.

Born on Jan. 18, 1951, in Baltimore, Cummings said his parents had to drop out of school in South Carolina at a young age to help provide for their families. Cummings himself would go on to earn his a college degree at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and then a law degree at the University of Maryland.

“Both of my parents emphasized education because they had been deprived of one. My dad was pulled out of school at an early age to plow the fields and pick strawberries,” Cummings said after his mother died last year.

After working in law, Cummings in 1982 won a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates, serving in Annapolis for 13 years. He was elected to Congress in 1996 and later served as chairman of the influential Congressional Black Caucus.

After Republicans took control of the House in the 2010 midterms, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders successfully championed Cummings as the top Democrat on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, helping him leapfrog over the more senior Rep. Ed Towns (D-N.Y.). Leaders believed the younger, more aggressive Cummings would match up better with then-Chairman Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaDuncan Hunter to plead guilty to campaign finance violations Why the GOP march of mad hatters poses a threat to our Democracy Elijah Cummings, native son of Baltimore, gets emotional send-off from Democratic luminaries MORE (R-Calif.), who had vowed to investigate every aspect of the Obama administration, from the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking scandal to IRS targeting of certain groups.

Cummings and Issa clashed on these issues and more, but they also developed an unlikely friendship that The Washington Post and other outlets described as a “strange bromance.”

In fact, Cummings would develop other bizarre, bipartisan "bromances" with unlikely conservative figures. When then-Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzThe myth of the conservative bestseller Elijah Cummings, Democratic chairman and powerful Trump critic, dies at 68 House Oversight panel demands DeVos turn over personal email records MORE (R) succeeded Issa as chairman, he hosted Cummings in his conservative, rural Utah district. Cummings then repaid the favor, hosting Chaffetz in urban Baltimore.

This year, Cummings’s friendship with conservative House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsSunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for week two of impeachment trial Meadows says Trump told him he didn't threaten senators on impeachment vote Impeachment trial to enter new phase with Trump defense MORE (R-N.C.) was put on display. During a heated televised hearing, freshman Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibBiden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements Sanders wants one-on-one fight with Biden Democrats press Trump administration to stop DNA collection from detained migrants MORE (D-Mich.) suggested that Meadows’s decision to call an African American witness to defend Trump was a “racist act.” Meadows took exception, and in a powerful moment, Cummings stepped in to broker a peace and defend the North Carolina conservative as one of his best friends in Congress.

“I am heartbroken. I will miss him dearly,” Meadows, a strong Trump ally, said in a text message to The Hill on Thursday morning.

One of Cummings's most moving lines came during that same February hearing when Trump's former lawyer and personal fixer, Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenCNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group The Hill's 12:30 Report: Democrats turn to obstruction charge Juan Williams: Counting the votes to remove Trump MORE, testified to lawmakers that the president is a "racist" and a "con man" who broke the law.

An incredible orator, Cummings's voice boomed out in the committee room that day: “When we’re dancing with the angels, the question will be asked: In 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact? Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?”

Cummings held other prominent roles in the Capitol. When Republicans and a handful of Democrats voted to form a special select committee to investigate the deadly 2012 terror attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) named her trusted ally, Cummings, to be the top Democrat on the panel, pitting him against then-Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdySunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for week two of impeachment trial Green says House shouldn't hold impeachment articles indefinitely Trump golfs with Graham ahead of impeachment trial MORE (R-S.C.).

The investigation eventually led to the discovery of former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP senator says idea that Ukraine interfered in US election is 'not a conspiracy theory' Cotton: Democrats are 'upset that their witnesses haven't said what they want them to say' Trump's troubles won't end with a Senate acquittal MORE’s private email server, which had far-reaching consequences for her failed 2016 White House bid against Trump.

Cummings is survived by his wife, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who was elected chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party after her unsuccessful bid for governor in the 2018 election.

“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,” his wife said in a statement. “It’s been an honor to walk by his side on this incredible journey. I loved him deeply and will miss him dearly.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, will have 10 days to announce when a special primary and general election will be held, according to the law. It is unclear if Maya Cummings will run for the seat.

Updated at 1:25 p.m.