‘The conscience of our caucus’: Pa.’s U.S. House lawmakers pay tribute to Rep. Elijah Cummings

The Capitol Hill office of the late U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., is shrouded in black Thursday morning. (Capital-Star photo by Robin Bravender)

U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings’ Capitol Hill office was shrouded in black on Thursday.

The Maryland Democrat’s death at age 68 stunned and saddened his colleagues in Congress, some of whom had difficulty speaking about him on Thursday morning after his death was announced earlier in the day.

“Everybody’s shell shocked,” Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin told Maryland Matters Thursday morning.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) paid tribute to Cummings Thursday morning in the U.S. Capitol, calling him a “dear friend, revered and respected colleague,” and “my brother in Baltimore.” In Congress, she said, “Elijah was considered a North Star. He was a leader of towering character and integrity.”

As chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, Cummings was central to the House efforts to oversee the Trump administration, and he was a key player in the early stages of the impeachment inquiry against President Trump. Cummings had served in Congress since 1996.

The oversight committee will be led — at least temporarily — by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.,  who is the next most senior Democrat on the committee, Raskin said. She will lead the committee on an acting basis until the Democratic caucus meets to pick a permanent replacement, he said.

Raskin told the Capital-Star’s sister site, Maryland Matters last week that Cummings had been “an extremely engaged chairman in conducting oversight over the executive branch.”

But Cummings also thought “that a crucial role of his leadership is to recruit and train and promote the work of the junior members on the committee. I know he’s very proud of the work that all of us have been doing on the investigative side,” Raskin said.

U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-3rd District, the state’s only member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he’d “lost a friend & colleague. Baltimore, Maryland and America have lost a civil rights activist and tireless advocate and leader. Rest in Power, Chairman Cummings.”

Taking to Twitter, U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5th District, said she was “so saddened,” by Cummings’ death.

“Our country has lost a true patriot. My heart goes out to Rep. Cummings’ family and his staff. It was a privilege to know him and to serve alongside him,” she wrote.

U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4th District, in a tweet of her own, called Cummings the “conscience” of the House Democratic caucus.

U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-18th District, the dean of the Pennsylvania House delegation, said Cummings was “a strong voice calling for justice and a fierce advocate for equal rights. I have always admired his unfailing commitment to serving our country with the highest integrity. He will be missed. My condolences to his family.”

“Terrible,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., a senior Democrat on the Oversight and Reform Committee, said of Cummings’ death. “We’ve worked together side by side for 11 years.”

Maloney called Cummings’ death a “great loss to the country, to Maryland, and he was a great friend of mine — a great loss to me, too. He was an extraordinary, extraordinary person. My condolences to his family and all of his constituents.”

Raskin and Maloney said Thursday morning that there hadn’t yet been decisions about changes to the committee leadership.

“People are just thinking about the great loss that we’ve had,” Maloney said.

An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

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