Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), AFSCME President Lee Saunders, and Democratic activist and pastor Leah Daughtry took to the stage to have a conversation about politics, voting, and political courage. Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) was scheduled to attend the Spirit of Democracy awards dinner, hosted by the National Coalition for Black Civic Participation (NCBCP) on October 16; he died just a few hours after the dinner concluded.
As Roland Martin led the three luminaries who received the Chairman’s award from NCBPC, it was clear that Cummings would have been right at home in the company of his colleagues. It would have been great to hear his passionate voice thundering about the need to speak truth to power. As Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, he was known for his powerful and scathing attacks on this administration. He never hesitated to use his investigative powers to check an administration replete with political chicanery and corruption. Indeed, he reportedly signed subpoenas from his hospital bed the evening before he made his transition.
I always enjoyed my interactions with Congressman Cummings. He was right-on and righteous, humble and honest, and ever faithful to his roots. He had no airs – and was proud to be the son of a sharecropping family. He loved Black people and loved the Baltimore neighborhood that he never moved away from, commuting daily from Capitol Hill to his home.
Cummings wielded a powerful influence, not only among other politicians regardless of political party, but also on his neighbors, taking to the street with a bullhorn to try to quell emotions in the wake of the police murder of Freddie Gray. And for all his power, Cummings was also often measured. When 45 attacked his city by calling it a “rat-infested” place where no one wanted to live, Cummings held his powder and allowed others, including many Baltimoreans, to respond. And while he could be scathing in his questioning, he could also be kind and collegial, which explains why so many Republicans issued acclamatory statements upon his death.
Cummings was guided by his faith and by his keen sense of right and wrong. He believed in our country and, more importantly, in our Constitution, which is why he was so very passionate about the need for those in power to adhere to it. The Maryland congressman was also passionate about children, or the “generations yet unborn.” He chafed at the administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the border, challenging his colleagues in a booming voice, “We are better than this.”
For all his passion, thunder, and pointed criticism, he was also a notably kind and considerate man. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) said of his colleague, “In a time of confrontation and disagreement and anger and, yes, sometimes hate, he was a beacon of civility, of fairness, of justice.” Many others echoed those sentiments, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi describing Cummings as “the conscience of the Congress.”
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R), must set a date for a special election for Cummings congressional seat. Until then, House Democrats will have to decide who assumes his chairmanship of the House Oversight Committee. Many say Cummings’ death will not slow the momentum for impeachment. Indeed, I hope that more members of Congress will emulate the Cummings’ passion for the Constitution and disdain for those who fail to honor it. Speaker Pelosi has pledged to move swiftly on impeachment, and not a day goes by without 45 providing more reasons for impeachment. On the same day that Congressman Cummings died, the President, after issuing unusually compassionate condolences for the Cummings family, announced that the G-7 meeting next year will be held at the Trump resort in Miami. This is a direct violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution and a reflection of the way the Trump family has used the White House as a cash machine. One can only imagine what Congressman Cummings would have to say about this matter.
Cumming’s death is a blow to the Congress, the Congressional Black Caucus, the African American community, and the nation. He will be sorely missed. While no one can fill his shoes, we must all be motivated by his legacy of speaking truth to power, being a voice for the voiceless, with compassion, dignity, and respect for the Constitution.