Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the longtime Maryland Democrat and a key figure leading investigations into President Donald Trump, has died, his office announced early Thursday morning. He was 68. Cummings died of "complications concerning longstanding health challenges," his office said in a statement.
After undergoing an unspecified medical procedure, Cummings did not return to his office this week, the Baltimore Sun reported. The Washington Post reports that he died early Thursday morning at Gilchrist Hospice Care, a Johns Hopkins affiliate in Baltimore.
The congressman represented Maryland's 7th Congressional District since 1996 and served as the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which is one of the committees involved in the impeachment inquiry of Trump. Following the Democratic takeover of the House majority after the 2018 midterm elections, Cummings was a prominent Democrat leading investigative efforts into the President.
Born to a family of Southern sharecroppers and Baptist preachers, Cummings grew up in Baltimore in the 1950s and 1960s. At 11, he helped integrate a local swimming pool while being attacked with bottles and rocks. Perry Mason, the popular TV series about a fictional defense lawyer, inspired him to enter the legal profession.
He told the East Texas Review that although "many young men in my neighborhood were going to reform school ... I knew that Perry Mason won a lot of cases. I also thought that these young men probably needed lawyers."
Cummings became the youngest chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus in the Maryland House of Delegates, as well as the first black person to serve as speaker pro tempore, the member who presides in the speaker's absence.
In 1996, He won the seat in the U.S. House of Representatives that Kweisi Mfume (D) vacated to become NAACP president. Cummings eventually served as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and as ranking Democrat and then chairman of what became the House Oversight and Reform Committee. Last year, he was reelected in the 7th Congressional District with 76 percent of the vote.
He drew national attention in 2015 as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's chief defender during congressional hearings into her handling of the 2012 attack on U.S. government facilities in Benghazi, Libya, which killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Cummings also clashed publicly with Trump. Earlier this year, Trump tweeted disparaging remarks toward Cummings and his Maryland district, which includes much of Baltimore, calling the district a "disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess." Cummings responded to some of the President's tweets: "Mr. President, I go home to my district daily. Each morning, I wake up, and I go and fight for my neighbors. It is my constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch. But, it is my moral duty to fight for my constituents."
But the two did not always disagree, dispute that high-profile feud and his leadership into investigating Trump and his administration. Nearly three years prior, Cummings emerged from a White House meeting with Trump and told reporters that the two men had found common ground on their shared interest in lowering drug prices. He also told reporters that he urged Trump to rethink his language on African American communities after Trump painted a grim picture of inner-city life on the campaign trail.
"I want you to realize that all African American communities are not places of depression and where people are being harmed," Cummings told reporters at the time. "When we hear those words about carnage and we are living in depressed situations, I told him it was very hurtful."
Another high-profile moment from this year saw Cummings stand up for Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, one of Trump's closest allies in Congress, in the face of racism accusations. He referred to Meadows as one of his "best friends."