Rep. Elijah Cummings’ Capitol Hill office was shrouded in black on Thursday.
The Maryland congressman’s death stunned and saddened his colleagues in Congress, some of whom had difficulty speaking about him on Thursday morning after his death was announced earlier in the day.
Cummings was 68.
“Everybody’s shell shocked,” Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin told Maryland Matters Thursday morning.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) paid tribute to Cummings Thursday morning in the U.S. Capitol, calling him a “dear friend, revered and respected colleague,” and “my brother in Baltimore.” In Congress, she said, “Elijah was considered a North Star. He was a leader of towering character and integrity.”
As chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, Cummings was central to the House efforts to oversee the Trump administration, and he was a key player in the early stages of the impeachment inquiry against President Trump. Cummings had served in Congress since 1996.
The oversight committee will be led — at least temporarily — by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who is the next most senior Democrat on the committee, Raskin said. She will lead the committee on an acting basis until the Democratic caucus meets to pick a permanent replacement, he said.
Raskin told Maryland Matters last week that Cummings had been “an extremely engaged chairman in conducting oversight over the executive branch.”
But Cummings also thought “that a crucial role of his leadership is to recruit and train and promote the work of the junior members on the committee. I know he’s very proud of the work that all of us have been doing on the investigative side,” Raskin said.
“Terrible,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), a senior Democrat on the Oversight and Reform Committee, said of Cummings’ death. “We’ve worked together side by side for 11 years.”
Maloney called Cummings’ death a “great loss to the country, to Maryland, and he was a great friend of mine — a great loss to me, too. He was an extraordinary, extraordinary person. My condolences to his family and all of his constituents.”
Raskin and Maloney said Thursday morning that there hadn’t yet been decisions about changes to the committee leadership.
“People are just thinking about the great loss that we’ve had,” Maloney said.
“He was a quiet man who did not seek the limelight, but he was not afraid to step out into the arena and fight hard for the causes in which he believed strongly,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.). “And as all of us know, those, of course, were justice, equality, opportunity, civil rights, education, children. He liked to say that children are the message we send to a future that we will never see.”
The House’s top Republican, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, hailed Cummings as a “respected adversary.”
When GOP leadership was selecting a lawmaker to work across the aisle from Cummings on a committee, McCarthy said, “We would look for somebody that was strong. And every time someone was selected, they’d come back to be a very best friend of Elijah Cummings.”
McCarthy added, “From this side of the aisle, no matter how hard of a debate we were in, I only heard respect for how he carried out the business. We respected him because he was good. We respect him because he beat us many a time. We respect him because what he fought for he believed in.”