Elijah Cummings, a long-serving Democratic congressman who was a central figure in efforts to impeach US President Donald Trump, has died at the age of 68.
Cummings, a popular and well-respected former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, passed away at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital “due to complications concerning longstanding health challenges”, his office said on Thursday. The congressman had been unwell in recent weeks and missed a series of votes on the House floor.
A member of Congress for more than two decades, Cummings was chairman of the House oversight committee, which is one of the panels overseeing the impeachment inquiry into Mr Trump, at the time of his death. This year, Mr Trump sued Cummings in an effort to conceal his business records.
Cummings and Mr Trump frequently clashed, and became locked in a war of words this summer as House Democrats stepped up their attacks on the president. In response, Mr Trump lashed out at the lawmaker’s district, which includes much of the city of Baltimore.
Mr Trump called Cummings “a brutal bully” and his largely African-American district a “rat and rodent-infested mess”.
In response, the congressman said he was a strong advocate for the area he represented: “It is my constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the executive branch. But, it is my moral duty to fight for my constituents.”
On Thursday, in a marked change of tone, Mr Trump praised Cummings, saying: “I got to see first hand the strength, passion and wisdom of this highly respected political leader. His work and voice on so many fronts will be very hard, if not impossible, to replace!”
Cummings, the son of sharecroppers from South Carolina, was born and raised in Baltimore. An attorney, he graduated from Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, and the University of Maryland School of Law. He was a member of the Maryland state legislature before being elected as a US congressman in 1996.
News of Cummings’ death prompted an outpouring of praise from Democratic and Republican leaders in Washington.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, ordered all flags at the US Capitol be flown at half-staff in honour of Cummings, and said she was “personally devastated” by his passing.
“In the House, Elijah was our North Star,” she said. “He was a leader of towering character and integrity, whose stirring voice and steadfast values pushed the Congress and country to rise always to a higher purpose.”
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Hakeem Jeffries, the chairman of the House Democratic caucus, said Cummings “spoke truth to power, defended the disenfranchised and represented West Baltimore with strength and dignity”.
Kevin McCarthy, the Republican minority leader of the House, said Cummings worked his “whole life . . . to right injustices present in communities across the country”.
Cory Booker, the senator from New Jersey who is running for president, said the US had “lost a true leader”.
“Congressman Elijah Cummings was a friend, a passionate fighter for justice, and a powerful voice of moral conscience in our government who served his country for decades with dignity and integrity,” Mr Booker said. “I’m blessed to have known him.”
Cummings had became a leading voice among Democrats pursuing impeachment proceedings against Mr Trump. This year, after former special counsel Robert Mueller testified before Congress, Cummings called on Americans to “pay attention to what is going on”.
“This is not about not liking the president. It’s about loving democracy. It’s about loving our country,” he said. “I am begging the American people to pay attention to what is going on, because if you want to have a democracy intact for your children and your children’s children, and generations yet unborn, we have got to guard this moment. This is our watch.”