RIP Elijah Cummings — Maryland Congressman Dead At 68

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Who Is Elijah Cummings? New Details On The Congressman Trump Attacked And How Baltimore Is Fighting Back

This summer, Donald Trump once again targeted an African American Member of Congress in a series of negative tweets. Trump fired off a cavalcade of short posts about the Maryland Member of Congress, saying that his home district of Baltimore is “rat-infested” and “no human would want to live there.” The tweets were widely decried as racist and Democratic lawmakers, Maryland residents and Representative Cummings were quick to defend the largest city in Maryland.

Baltimore is home to almost three million people, two major league sports teams, the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, Johns Hopkins University and the affiliated hospital, a world-class aquarium, a science center, a thriving port and was the site where The Star Spangled Banner was written. Trump has never visited the city as President, though it is only a short drive from the White House. 

Cummings, meanwhile, has an impressive career as a legislator at the state and national levels and is widely respected as a leader among progressive Democrats.

Who is Elijah Cummings and why was he under attack from the President? We've got all those details and as well as a sad update to this story. On October 17, 2019, The Washington Post reported that respected civil rights leader and Congressman Elijah Cummings died. He was 68 years old. 

1. Early life

According to the biography on Cummings' official Congressional website, he was born in Baltimore in 1951. He resided there for most of his life though he attended Howard University in nearby Washington D.C., where he served in student government and was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society. He later went on to study law at the University of Maryland and received his JD in 1976. Since then, he has been awarded 13 honorary doctorate degrees from various universities including from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland.

 

Cummings recognizes the work of current leadership in Baltimore.

2. Maryland legislative career

Cummings began his legislative career in Maryland. He was elected to the House of Delegates in 1986 and served for 14 years. During his time in the General Assembly, he was the first African American in Maryland history to be named Speaker Pro Tem, the second-highest position on the House of Delegates. He was also Chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland.  

 

Cummings stands for Baltimore.

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3. Congress

Cummings was elected to Congress for Maryland’s 7th District in 1996. At this time, he is Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, the primary investigative committee in the House of Representatives. He also serves as a senior member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, sitting on the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation and the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials. His district of Baltimore is home to a major working port as well as being a rail hub.

 

Cummings chairs the House Oversight Committee. 

4. Oversight work

Cummings takes the work of the House Oversight committee very seriously. On his website, he says: “As the Committee’s Chairman, Congressman Cummings fights to hold the Presidential Administration to a high standard of excellence and to ensure efficiency and effectiveness in the actions of the government of the United States.” He has been an outspoken critic of the Trump administration and has directed the committee to investigate White House actions such as the attempts to put a question about citizenship on the 2020 census form, use of unauthorized personal email accounts by White House officials, and has voted to hold high ranking cabinet officials in contempt of Congress for failure to obey subpoenas.

This summer, he obtained subpoenas for records and documents related to the use of private texts and emails by White House aides Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and other administration officials, according to Bloomberg News.

 

The subpoenas affect members of the Trump family.

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5. Presidential Tweets

On Saturday morning, Trump went on one of his typical angry Twitter tirades, specifically talking about Cummings and Baltimore. WBAL-TV reports that he wrote: "Rep. Elijah Cummings has been a brutal bully, shouting and screaming at the great men & women of Border Patrol about conditions at the Southern Border, when actually his Baltimore district is FAR WORSE and more dangerous. His district is considered the Worst in the USA.”

In another tweet, he said “Cumming (sic) district is a disgusting, rat- and rodent-infested mess. If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place.”

He wrapped up the Saturday tweetstorm by saying “Why is so much money sent to the Elijah Cummings' district when it is considered the worst run and most dangerous anywhere in the United States? No human being would want to live there. Where is all this money going? How much is stolen? Investigate this corrupt mess immediately!”

Trump has not visited Baltimore as president; he had a visit scheduled in 2018 but canceled it at the last minute, according to the Washington Post. It is not clear if he has ever visited as a private citizen. Baltimore is only an hour drive from the White House.

Victor Blackwell of CNN blasted Trump.

6. Response

Cummings responded in kind, tweeting: “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.”

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Others from Maryland and beyond were appalled by the derogatory things the president said about a U.S. city. Legendary filmmaker and Baltimore native John Waters wrote: “Give me the rats and roaches of Baltimore any day over the lies and racism of your Washington, Mr. Trump. Come on over to that neighborhood and see if you have the nerve to say it in person!”

Baltimore mayor Bernard Young wrote: “It’s completely unacceptable for the political leader of our country to denigrate a vibrant American City like Baltimore, and to viciously attack U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings, a patriot and a hero.”

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, issued a tepid response through a spokesperson saying on Saturday:  “Baltimore City is truly the very heart of our state, and more attacks between politicians aren’t going to get us anywhere.”

 

7. Racism

The most scathing response came from the editorial board of the Baltimore Sun, which published an editorial titled “Better to have a few rats than to be one.” In it, the board says: “It’s not hard to see what’s going on here. The congressman has been a thorn in this president’s side, and Mr. Trump sees attacking African American members of Congress as good politics, as it both warms the cockles of the white supremacists who love him and causes so many of the thoughtful people who don’t to scream. President Trump bad-mouthed Baltimore in order to make a point that the border camps are “clean, efficient & well run," which, of course, they are not — unless you are fine with all the overcrowding, squalor, cages and deprivation to be found in what the Department of Homeland Security’s own inspector general recently called “a ticking time bomb.”

The article went on to talk about the many virtues of the place known as Charm City, then ends by saying “Finally, while we would not sink to name-calling in the Trumpian manner — or ruefully point out that he failed to spell the congressman’s name correctly (it’s Cummings, not Cumming) — we would tell the most dishonest man to ever occupy the Oval Office, the mocker of war heroes, the gleeful grabber of women’s private parts, the serial bankrupter of businesses, the useful idiot of Vladimir Putin and the guy who insisted there are “good people” among murderous neo-Nazis that he’s still not fooling most Americans into believing he’s even slightly competent in his current post. Or that he possesses a scintilla of integrity. Better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one.”

 

The Baltimore Sun wrote a scathing editorial.

No one in the Trump administration has offered any apologies to Representative Cummings or to the residents of Baltimore.

8. Death at 68

On Thursday, October 17, The Washington Post reported that Elijah Cummings had died. The eloquent obituary pays testament to the remarkable life he led. He passed away at a hospice center. His office issued a statement saying, in part that he cause of death was “complications concerning long-standing health challenges.” RIP and Godspeed, sir. 

Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog Stay at Home Pundit and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.