Baltimore Congressman Elijah Cummings has served in Washington for more than two decades, and he’s witnessed a lot of turmoil and upheaval over those years. But he says that all pales in comparison to what he’s witnessed in the past two years under President Trump.
And he says the GOP controlled Congress shares the blame for merely rubber stamping most everything the president has done.
Now, Cummings is preparing to chair the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform as Democrats take control of the House of Representatives in January. And he’s already shipped off more than 50 letters to the administration and others in Trump’s orbit requesting answers to tough questions.
“Over the past two years we have not had that,” Cummings says, “because our Republican colleagues refused to make President Trump accountable.”
But Andy Harris, Maryland’s only Republican in Congress begs to differ. Harris, whose district includes the entire Eastern Shore and parts of Baltimore and Carroll counties, dismisses the charges that his party was a mere lapdog for Trump.
“I think the American people sent us here to get things accomplished,” he says. So, we had to get the economy going, so we did that. We passed the tax reform bill. You know unemployment is at historically low levels.”
Harris and others in the GOP are trying to paint Cummings with the same brush Trump paints Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as a man on a witch hunt. And for them the 2020 election is already underway.
“The bottom line is that if the American people look at the new Congress and all they see is an attempt to overturn the 2016 election I think they’ll fire the Democrat majority,” Harris said, echoing a theme he used during his re-election campaign last fall.
Cummings says his party can conduct stout oversight while also passing a positive, progressive agenda.
“There’s a false presentation of the question,” he says. “We’ll deal with both.”
Maryland Democrat Jamie Raskin, a constitutional lawyer who serves on Cummings’ oversight committee says he wants his party to address tough issues like climate change and gun-control. But he says Cummings and their committee would be shirking their responsibility if they didn’t look into some of Trump’s dealings.
“That also is a part of our mandate and it’s a part of our constitutional responsibility,” he says. “But we can’t let our defensive work protecting the rule of law and the Constitution interfere with the substantial policy progress that needs to made.”
And Raskin shrugs off Republican accusations that Democrats are merely fishing around, looking for a way to impeach Trump.
“We’re not judging ourselves based on a GOP standard,” he says. “On those standards we would have impeached Trump a long time ago. They impeached Bill Clinton for telling one lie about sex, and we’ve seen far, far worse from this presidency. No, we’re trying to focus on the issues of the American people and we will defend the Constitution and the rule of law at the same time.”
Maryland’s Senator Chris Van Hollen, who ran the Senate Democratic campaign arm during the mid-terms, says he heard people throughout the nation calling for this administration to be held to account, and he thinks Cummings is the right man for the job.
“The public wants transparency and they want accountability, and I’m confident that that’s what the House will do,” he says.
Cummings, who had heart surgery in May of 2017 and knee surgery last winter, missed nearly six months in Congress. When he first returned he was zipping around the Capitol on a scooter, but now he’s been given the green light to use a cane, which he calls “a tremendous development” because “it provides me with more independence, thank God.”
But the 67-year-old Cummings says he don’t worry about his health.
“Just because I may have a pain in my knee does not mean that I’ve lost my voice and my mind is abundantly clear.”
And, he says, he has a lot of fight left in him.