Elijah Cummings death: Senior Democrat at centre of Trump impeachment probe dies, aged 68

Chris Baynes
REUTERS

A senior Democrat who was a key figure in the Donald Trump impeachment probe has died.

Elijah Cummings, 68, was pronounced dead in the early hours of Thursday morning after suffering “complications concerning longstanding health challenges,” his office announced.

The congressman, who chaired the Democratic House Oversight and Reform Committee chair, had been admitted to hospital for a “medical procedure” last month.

The Maryland representative said at the time he expected to be “back in the office in a week or so”.

Cummings died at Baltimore’s John Hopkins Hospital at 2.45am on Thursday, his office said. No further details were given, but he has previously been treated for heart and knee problems.

In a statement released following his death, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings paid tribute to ”an honourable man who proudly served his district and the nation with dignity, integrity, compassion and humility.”

She said her husband “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”.

Cummings was a powerful orator who passionately advocated for disadvantaged communities in his district, which encompassed a large portion of Baltimore.

As chairman of the House oversight committee, he led multiple probes into Mr Trump’s governmental dealings and played a central role in the congressional inquiry into the president’s attempt to pressure Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden.

As Mr Trump raged over the investigations, he launched repeated attacks on Cummings and his city, which the president derided as a “rodent-infested mess” where “no human being would want to live”.

The Democrat responded by calling for an end to “hateful, incendiary comments” that only served to divide the nation.

“Those in the highest levels of the government must stop invoking fear, using racist language and encouraging reprehensible behaviour,” he said in a speech at the National Press Club in August.

Cummings had continued to work on investigations into the president despite in his last weeks being forced to miss congressional votes due to his health problems.

Last week he announced plans to issue subpoenas to the heads of US immigration agencies for testimony and documents relating to the Trump administration’s policy of deporting critically ill children.

The Democrat’s House whip, James Clyburn, said Cummings’s “calm but firm hand will be missed on the Oversight committee as it proceeds with the difficult work ahead”.

Cummings, first elected to the House 23 years ago, had served as chair of the committee since January after Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives in 2018.

During a decades-long career in politics, he rose through the ranks of the Maryland House of Delegates before winning his congressional seat in 1996 in a special election to replace Kweisi Mfume, who stepped down to lead the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Throughout his career, Cummings used his fiery oration to highlight the struggles and needs of inner-city Baltimore residents. He championed progressive approaches to help the poor and people with addictions, such as needle exchange programmes as a way to reduce the spread of Aids.

Following the announcement of his death, the Baltimore archdiocese said Cummings had “generously shared his God-given gifts and talents with the people of his beloved city, state and nation for so many years”. It added: “We give thanks for his dedicated service.”

Maryland Senate president Mike Miller called Cummings an “icon” and a “giant of a man with a gentle soul”, while Baltimore mayor Jack Young said the congressman was a gifted social crusader who “never forgot his duty to fight for the rights and dignity of the marginalised”.

Tim Murtaugh, director of communications for Mr Trump’s 2020 campaign, said Cummings was “an American icon for sure”. He tweeted: “At times like this you put differences aside. Our heartfelt condolences go to his family and friends.”

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