Elijah Cummings Dances With The Angels | WYPR

Elijah Cummings Dances With The Angels

Oct 17, 2019

Congressman Elijah Cummings
Credit AP PHOTO/PATRICK SEMANSKY

Baltimore, Maryland and the nation are mourning the death of a congressional veteran who became a national leader in the cause of civil rights.

Elijah Cummings lost his months-long fight for life Thursday at the pinnacle of his lengthy political career.

As chairman of one of three congressional committees leading the impeachment inquiry against President Trump, Cummings ignored his declining health to play a lead role in asserting the power of the legislative branch of government.

The Baltimore Democrat also took advantage this year of his party’s newly-won House majority to pass a series of bills—ignored by the Republican-led Senate--aimed at dealing with the high cost of prescription drugs. His Montgomery County colleague Jamie Raskin said there was a clear sense of urgency in Cummings’ final months in office.

“He’s very direct and outspoken,” Raskin said recently. “He doesn’t feel he’s got time to fool around. And God Bless Him.” 

Cummings, 68, died after months of battling a variety of health problems. At a committee meeting earlier this year, he seemed most worried about leaving behind a nation in the throes of political turmoil.

“When we’re dancing with the angels,” he said, “the question will be asked, in 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?”   

In mostly Democratic Maryland, Cummings built one of his strongest relationships with former Republican Congressman Wayne Gilchrest.

Cummings represented the very urban west side of Baltimore while Gilchrest hailed from the very rural Eastern Shore. But they traveled together to visit each other’s districts, Gilchrest recalled.

“That was one of the highlights of my time in Congress when Elijah came over to Kent County to visit the county commissioners, businesses, farmers, dairy farmers, schools, eating at the local fooderies,” he said. “And, of course, when I went to Elijah’s district.  It’s really, very, very different.”

Gilchrest said Cummings’ bipartisan approach could have been a good model for President Trump.

“One of the best friends Donald Trump could haver ever had after he got elected was to be friends with Elijah. Elijah could have turned this administration around,” the former congressman and environmental advocate said. “But I guess it’s hard to turn someone like Donald Trump around.”

As it happened, Trump chose instead to attack Cummings and his district as rat and rodent infested.

The congressman was furious at the insult, but turned out to have larger concerns. By September, he required both a walker and outside help to get around. He’s been absent from the Capitol for the past month, when Congress has been largely on break.

But his committee on government oversight kept up its watch dog role, Raskin said.

“Cummings has always embodied moral courage in my eyes and now he is becoming an example of physical courage.”