The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Nancy Pelosi: Elijah Cummings was our North Star

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) died Thursday from complications of longtime health challenges.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) died Thursday from complications of longtime health challenges. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, is speaker of the House of Representatives.

This week, the people of Baltimore, the Congress and the United States lost a voice of unsurpassed moral clarity and truth: our beloved Chairman Elijah E. Cummings.

In the House, Elijah was our North Star. He was a leader of towering character and integrity, who pushed the Congress and country always to rise to a higher purpose, reminding us why we are here. As he said whenever he saw that we were not living up to our Founders’ vision for America and meeting the needs of our children for the future: “We are better than this.”

Elijah’s story was the story of the United States: A son of sharecroppers who became Baptist preachers, he dedicated his life to advancing justice, liberty, fairness and human dignity. He believed in the promise of America because he had lived it. As chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, he used his gavel to restore integrity, accountability and honesty to Washington so that government would be a force for good for working people, ensuring that all could experience the American Dream as he did.

Members of Congress reflect on the life and legacy of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings’s (D-Md.), who has passed away at age 68. (Video: Alice Li, Zoeann Murphy, Rhonda Colvin, Whitney Shefte/The Washington Post, Photo: Salwan Georges / The Washington Post/The Washington Post)

Firm in his principles, Elijah was also a peacemaker and a bridge-builder: passionate about what he believed in, dispassionate in his judgments about how to proceed. His clarion voice would cut through conflict, calming the waters and reaching out across the aisle, no matter how rough-and-tumble the debate.

He was a generous leader. He always shared credit and took the time to mentor younger members, both on his committee and throughout our caucus. This year, during the first weeks of the new Congress, when members were being added to his highly coveted committee, he said to me, “Send me as many freshmen as you can.” He wanted to help them succeed — and he wanted to learn from them, too.

He was a fighter for U.S. families in many respects, including lowering health-care costs. That was why members decided on the day of his passing to name our prescription drug price legislation H.R. 3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act. He was always touched by the stories he heard in his community about the toll that high health-care costs took on families’ economic security and well-being. He also saw this challenge through the prism of his own personal health challenges. Elijah recognized that he had a responsibility to make a difference for others. He understood that to whom much is given, much is expected.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) died at the age of 68 on Oct. 17. He will be remembered for his many powerful and poignant speeches. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

We all saw the great pride he took in representing the Baltimore area. He was truly of Baltimore. As a senior member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, he was always fighting for his district and the state of Maryland, and was a powerful voice for building the infrastructure of the United States to create good-paying jobs. As a member of the U.S. Naval Academy Board of Visitors, he took great pride in Maryland’s role in our national security.

Elijah knew that life was fleeting and precious; it was imperative for him to make the most of his time on Earth. Earlier this year, he proclaimed, “When we’re dancing with the angels, the question will be asked: In 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?”

Elijah’s leadership truly strengthened America, and his life and legacy will continue to inspire us all to go forth in a way that is worthy of the oath of office that we take to the Constitution, worthy of the vision of our Founders and worthy of the aspirations of our children. For, as he often said, “Children are the living messengers we send to the future we will never see.”

In Congress, we will miss his wisdom, his warm friendship and his great humanity. In Baltimore, we will miss our champion. May it be a comfort to his wife, Maya, his three children and his entire family that so many mourn their loss and are praying for them at this sad time.

God truly blessed the United States with the life and leadership of Elijah Cummings.

Read more:

The Post’s View: As long as he had breath, Elijah Cummings spoke out

Colbert I. King: Elijah Cummings was the keeper of the nation’s conscience

Trey Gowdy: Elijah Cummings and I were political opponents. We were also good friends.

Joe Scarborough: Elijah Cummings did more than serve Baltimore. He gave hope to the hopeless.

Donna F. Edwards: Elijah Cummings was a giant among legislators