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‘A giant of integrity and knowledge has fallen’: Washington reacts to the death of Rep. Elijah Cummings

Following the news of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings’s (D-Md.) death on Oct. 17, politicians, television hosts and community leaders paid tribute to the civil rights cham (Video: Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

Reactions poured in from across the political spectrum following the death on Thursday of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Maryland Democrat who served as chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Reform Committee — and who became better-known in recent years for his forceful opposition to President Trump.

Democrats remembered Cummings as “a principled leader,” “a champion for justice” and “a giant.” While Cummings was revered by his fellow Democrats, many Washington Republicans also offered condolences and spoke of Cummings with admiration. Trump paid tribute to Cummings as a “highly respected political leader.”

Flags at the White House, the U.S. Capitol, and in Maryland were lowered to half-staff Thursday in Cummings’s honor; flags at the White House would remain at half-staff through Friday.

The son of South Carolina sharecroppers, Cummings was a lawyer and a civil rights advocate before entering what would ultimately be a nearly 40-year career in public service — first in the Maryland House of Delegates and later the U.S. House. Over the decades, he earned a reputation for being formidable but also kind and compassionate.

“Chairman Elijah E. Cummings and I shared a city, an alma mater, a love of the law and a life of public service,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said in a statement. “I am deeply saddened by his passing, and my prayers today are with his family and loved ones — and the people of Baltimore.

“The death of Chairman Cummings leaves an irreplaceable void in our hearts, in our Maryland and in our Congress. Quite possibly no elected official mattered so much to his constituents. Chairman Cummings guaranteed a voice to so many who would otherwise not have one, and stood as a symbol for the heights one could reach if they paid no mind to obstacles, naysayers and hate. His commitment to his city and country was unwavering, as will be my lasting respect for him.”

Former president Barack Obama, a friend of Cummings, said he was “heartbroken” over the congressman’s death.

“As Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, he showed us all not only the importance of checks and balances within our democracy, but also the necessity of good people stewarding it. Steely yet compassionate, principled yet open to new perspectives, Chairman Cummings remained steadfast in his pursuit of truth, justice, and reconciliation. It’s a tribute to his native Baltimore that one of its own brought such character, tact, and resolve into the halls of power every day. And true to the giants of progress he followed into public service, Chairman Cummings stood tallest and most resolute when our country needed him the most,” the statement read in part.

“When our nation can ill-afford to lose such a kind, principled leader, one of my dearest friends and mentors has left us,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said in a statement. “My heart is broken, as I weep personally and for his family and community. Elijah Cummings’ unmatched integrity and leadership leaves a remarkable legacy. But I know his struggle for justice and freedom lives on, as so many — like me — stand on his shoulders to carry on his courageous fight. May his memory be for a blessing.”

“Our Congress & our country has lost a champion for justice, a fighter for good, an honorable and zealous leader,” tweeted Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Tex.).

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said in a statement, “We are deeply saddened by the passing of Congressman Elijah Cummings, who was a fierce advocate for civil rights and for Maryland for more than three decades.

“Congressman Cummings leaves behind an incredible legacy of fighting for Baltimore City and working to improve people’s lives. He was a passionate and dedicated public servant whose countless contributions made our state and our country better.”

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Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) wrote, “At a time of chaos and division, our friend Elijah Cummings stood strong as a man of principle, unity, dignity, and compassion. His insatiable thirst for justice was rooted in his core. Maryland has lost a beloved son and our nation a hero of our times.”

Maryland Democratic Party Chair Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, Cummings’s wife, issued a statement from her office, saying: “Congressman Cummings was an honorable man who proudly served his district and the nation with dignity, integrity, compassion and humility. He worked until his last breath because he believed our democracy was the highest and best expression of our collective humanity and that our nation’s diversity was our promise, not our problem. It’s been an honor to walk by his side on this incredible journey. I loved him deeply and will miss him dearly.”

Former vice president Joe Biden said Cummings “always knew exactly where he was supposed to be.”

“He knew the fights that needed a champion, and he never hesitated to jump into the fray,” Biden said in a statement. “He was a true public servant, his life defined by the love of his community and a fierce commitment to ensuring truth wins over power. Whether facing a hail of bottles and insults as a young man marching to integrate a swimming pool, or giving voice to the frustrations of so many communities demanding to be treated with dignity, or rushing to calm the city’s streets, bullhorn in hand, after the funeral of Freddie Gray, Elijah’s life of action was synonymous with the history and progress of modern Baltimore. The city he loved shaped his consciousness, and he, in turn, helped shape the conscience of our nation.”

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)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Cummings was beloved, and “a voice of unsurpassed moral clarity and truth.” In a statement, she said:

“In the House, Elijah was our North Star. 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. His principled leadership as Chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform was the perfect testament to his commitment to restoring honesty and honor to government, and leaves a powerful legacy for years to come.”

Pelosi announced Thursday during her weekly news conference that the proposed H.R.3 drug bill will be named after Cummings, who was a longtime advocate of lowering prescription drug costs.

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, whom Cummings defended during 2015 congressional hearings into her handling of a deadly attack on U.S. government facilities in Benghazi, Libya, three years earlier, remembered Cummings as a “giant.”

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D) said Cummings’s death means the loss of a “powerful voice and one of the strongest and most gifted crusaders for social justice.”

“Rep. Cummings, the son of sharecroppers whose ancestors were slaves, wasn’t afraid to use his considerable intellect, booming voice, and poetic oratory to speak out against brutal dictators bent on oppression, unscrupulous business executives who took advantage of unsuspecting customers, or even a U.S. President,” Young wrote. “He was, put simply, a man of God who never forgot his duty to fight for the rights and dignity of the marginalized and often forgotten.”

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who chairs the House GOP conference, called Cummings’s death “a sad day”: “Elijah’s passion for serving his beloved city was easy to see in everything that he did, and his determination to fight for equality and civil rights will never be forgotten. He was a friend to all and sought to use his position in Congress to bridge divides, not widen them,” Cheney said in a statement.

Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.) said Cummings “brought out the best in Congress and appealed to our better angels over our worst impulses.”

“A Giant of integrity and knowledge has fallen. He defended the Constitution and acted with grace,” tweeted Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.).

“The country and Congress lost a great man this morning,” Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) wrote on Twitter. “May his memory be for a blessing, and his kindness and fierce pursuit of justice inspire a rising generation of public servants.”

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Joe Scarborough, the former GOP congressman from Florida whose wedding to MSNBC co-host Mika Brzezinski was officiated by Cummings, called the Democratic lawmaker “a good man, a great leader, and a dear friend. We worked closely together in Congress and I was honored that he married Mika and me. Elijah was a member of our family whom we loved. May God bless his own family now in these troubled times.”

Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) said Thursday: “Elijah Cummings refused to be told what he could become or where his dreams might end. He refused to accept injustice in his community or inequality in his country. His towering presence will be missed but his legacy will live on with us all.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) called Cummings a friend and a “giant of public service” in Congress. “His presence, passion and moral clarity will be missed and my heart goes out to his family and constituents,” Nadler said.

“Elijah Cummings was a fighter for Baltimore, our region, and the nation. He never shied away from standing up for that which is right,” D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser said in a statement.

“The Congressman holds a special place in the hearts of Washingtonians — not only as an alumnus of Howard University, where he served as Student Government President — but for helping us forge ahead on our path to DC Statehood. His work to make every community he touched a better place is one we should all emulate, and we know he will rest in peace and in power.”

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) issued a lengthy statement, praising Cummings for his commitment to justice and equity throughout his career:

“As the son of sharecroppers, Elijah grew up understanding the challenges of poverty and fought throughout his career in elected office to bring hope and relief to those in need, particularly the youth, in whom he had great faith and was dedicated to empowering and lifting up. A former Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, he made voting rights, equality, justice, and access to opportunity hallmarks of his career. He was also committed to ensuring that the next generation of Americans had access to greater opportunity and a better future. As Chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, he was the House’s crusader for making government work better and holding public officials accountable when they failed the American people. His memory will long guide us in that pursuit.”

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) called Cummings “a universally respected leader who brought profound insight, commitment, and moral fortitude to Congress.

“His guidance and vision was an enormous gift. I will forever cherish his example. May he rest in power.”

Michael Steele, a former Republican National Committee chairman and former lieutenant governor of Maryland, tweeted Thursday: “My heart is saddened at the loss of a colleague and friend. Elijah cared deeply about public service and the importance of ‘representing your people.’ Rest In Peace good and faithful servant."

U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called Cummings “a leader for both parties to emulate.” In a statement, he wrote:

“We share this service with remarkable people. Elijah Cummings and the journey he forged was among the most remarkable and consequential. From age eleven he began working to right the injustices that surrounded him and were present in communities across the country. As a member of the House of Representatives, Elijah was a leader for both parties to emulate, and someone to share a laugh with even amongst the most contentious times. His presence will be deeply missed.

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Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R) said in a statement that Cummings was “a trailblazer who was unafraid to speak up for what he believed in and the people he represented. His passing will undoubtedly be felt by the people of Baltimore and by people all across our state and nation.”

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) tweeted: “Chairman Cummings was an honorable man who came from humble beginnings and earned respect from both sides of the aisle. We will miss him in Congress. May he Rest In Peace.”

Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), the top Republican on the Committee on Oversight and Reform, said in a statement: “We are deeply saddened by the passing of Elijah Cummings, a man of great consequence and significance on the Oversight Committee for the last twenty years. As Ranking Member and then as Chairman, he injected an unyielding passion and purpose into his work on the Committee. Our prayers are with his wife, Maya, his children, and all his loved ones. Our thoughts are also with his staff, who are among the hardest working people on Capitol Hill. Their loyalty and affinity for him speaks volumes about his character.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who chairs the Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, said Thursday, “it is hard to measure the enormity of the loss we have just suffered. Elijah was the beloved favorite son of Maryland and the prophetic voice of moral integrity and social rebuilding that America needs so desperately.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) tweeted, “I already miss him. He believed in the possibility of better from this institution. He understood that our squad was big & embraced the presence of a new era of social justice. I will always remember him as my Chairman. His presence was iconic & I’m humbled I got to serve w/ him.”

Sen. Jim Rosapepe (D-Md.), chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus who served with Cummings in the Maryland House of Delegates for 32 years, wrote in a statement, “You didn’t have to know Elijah personally to know he was a good, not just a great, man. What a gift he was to all of us."

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) described hearing the news of Cummings’s death as being “like a gut punch.”

“He was an amazing man,” Schumer said during a Thursday morning appearance on MSNBC. “He was not just a great congressman; he was a great man. He had a combination of being strong … but also being kind, and decent and caring and honorable.”

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