Virginia is halfway through a whirlwind legislative session. How are new laws going to change the lives of Virginians? And Montgomery County Public Schools are taking the first steps toward redistricting, making some parents and students hopeful and others angry. How might the process end?
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland, 7th District) died early Thursday morning due to complications from longstanding health problems. He was 68 years old.
Cummings, who served his district since 1996, was the head of the House Oversight and Reform Committee and took a lead role in investigating President Donald Trump.
He served as the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus in 2003 and 2004. Before his role as a U.S. Representative, Cummings served the Maryland House of Delegates for 13 years, and was named the first African-American speaker pro tem.
Cumminngs was a Baltimore native. He received his Bachelor’s degree from Howard University and a law degree from the University of Maryland.
We’ll remember Rep. Cummings on today’s show.
Produced by The Kojo Nnamdi Show staff
KOJO NNAMDIYou tuned in to the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Later in the broadcast, the foods and flavors we seem to crave in the fall and where we find them. But first Elijah Cummings, a giant of Maryland and national politics died today at the age of 68. He represented Baltimore in Congress for more than 22 years. He chaired the Congressional Black Caucus and he recently served as the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee where he led inquiries into the Trump administration. He clashed at times with the president particularly in defense of derogatory comments towards his beloved Baltimore.
KOJO NNAMDIBefore his time in the House of Representatives, Elijah Cummings served in the Maryland House of Delegates where he became the first African American to become speaker pro tem in Maryland history. He leaves behind a legacy as a champion of civil rights and as a man of integrity. Joining me by phone to remember him is Jeff Barker, Washington column correspondent for the Baltimore Sun. Jeff, thank you for joining us.
JEFF BARKERThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIJeff, Congressman Cummings was a Baltimore native, who spent his time in public service representing the city on both local and national stages. What did he mean to Baltimore?
BARKERWell, he meant so much. I don't think he got on the national stage until he became chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, but Baltimoreans knew him well, because he was one of the rare members of Congress who kind of really was able to straddle two worlds. You know, he'd would come to Washington every day and then he would drive home, and he, you know, lived in Baltimore, was very much of a Baltimorean. Now part of that, obviously, is because Baltimore is just in proximity is as close to Washington, but part of it is because that's who he was and that's when you saw him. When Baltimore had riots following the death of Freddie Gray, you say Elijah Cummings out in the streets of Baltimore trying to keep the peace. That's where he was well known.
NNAMDIIndeed. Those remembrances of him walking the streets after the death of Freddie Gray are very strong. Are there other iconic moments central to understanding his relationship to the city?
BARKERYou know, I think it's just that he was well-known over time. That these days you see people running for president. I mean, President Trump is like this, who did not come up through the ranks of elected politics. But, you know, you cited you know Cummings biography. But he was well-known, because he grew up in Baltimore. He went to City College High School. You know, he worked for a small Baltimore law firm. And as you mentioned he was in the General Assembly. And that's sort of an old school path. But that's what he followed and consequently when he got to Congress he was known from the ground up. He wasn't just somebody, who had appeared in a campaign commercial. He was somebody that everybody knew.
NNAMDIOne also got the impression that he was a neighborhood kind of guy in the community where he lived.
BARKEROh, no doubt. I mean, it's kind of ironic, because there was actually a report on Fox & Friends not that long ago that talked about how you couldn't find him in the District. And really nothing could have been further from the truth, because we would send reporters, Kojo, when we wanted to talk to him. We would go to his church. And he told me in his office recently he said, "If you ever want to find me don't come to the late service. Come to the early service at New Psalmist Baptist Church." And sure enough he was always there. And we'd always find him there. And in fact we knew that something was amiss recently, because we sent a reporter there and he wasn't there. And it was one of the first times that he hadn't been there and that's of course because he had a serious illness.
NNAMDIYes. And he had not been on the hill for more than a month. Joining us now by phone is Congressman Jamie Raskin. He is the representative from Maryland's 8th district. Congressman Raskin, thank you for joining us.
JAMIE RASKINThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIWhat kind of impression did Elijah Cummings make on Capitol Hill? How did his peers perceive him?
RASKINWell, everybody loved him. And he was somebody, who always called back to the moral center of everything that we're doing, you know. And you meet a lot of power politicians on Capitol Hill and then there's some justice politicians. And he was the quintessential justice politician. For him it was all about making the government an instrument for the people and for improving the wellbeing of the people. And as a committee chairman he was amazing, because he commanded the respect of everybody.
RASKINThe Oversight Committee has a lot of partisan fire brands and we could get into some serious brawls in the committee. And then Elijah would bang his gavel and he would say, "Now listen up." And everybody would stop. And he would say, "Here's what we're going to do." And if we were talking about the separation of kids from parents at the border, which was something that really agonized him. He said, "We are better than this and we are going to get through this. And we're going to come up with solutions to put an end to what's happening there." And he would just cut through the nonsense and say, "We've got to respond to the moral requirements at the time." And, you know, that will be his legacy for me.
RASKINYou know, in the Jewish tradition it's said that the memory of the righteous is blessing. And to remember Elijah Cummings is a blessing and it will be a blessing every single day for people who got to work with him and be represented by him or see him. And he also was deeply invested in young people and in children. And, you know, that was another one of his famous aphorisms that the children are messengers from us to a future that we're not going to see. So how we treat our children, how we educate them, how we take care of them will be a message to the future about what kind of society we are. And he was a joy to watch.
RASKINI always thought he was especially good to me when I joined the Oversight Committee when I first got elected in 16, because I was from Maryland. But what I saw in this term in 2018 was him really take such a nurturing and protective role towards the new members of our committee Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And he made it very clear from the beginning that he was not going to let anybody demonize them or vilify them. And he always worked to bring them together with the conservative Republicans on the committee.
NNAMDII was about to say he also was able to reach across the aisle and that goes to the core of the justice aspect of his character that you were talking about. After one he did exchange on the Benghazi hearings. His Republican counterpart Congressman Trey Gowdy told the press, quoting here, "It's not about politics to him. He says what he believes." Inspiring that kind of bipartisan respect that's pretty unique on Capitol Hill these days, isn't it, Congressman Raskin?
RASKINIt is. I mean, he saw the humanity in every situation and in every problem and bill that we were looking at. And he knew that these are very tough times. And, you know, he would repeatedly say to us that future generations will look back on us today to see what we did to fight for our democracy and for our constitutional values, but he never gave up on anybody. And there was one moment where there was kind of an exchange between Rashida Tlaib and Mark Meadows where there may have been some suggestion that he had said some racist things. And he said, you know, that he knows Mark Meadows and Mark Meadows is a very close friend of his. And he is not a racist. And he wanted him and Rashida Tlaib to get to know each other and they exchanged mutual apologies, and I think they got together afterwards.
RASKINI mean, if there's any hope for us, it's going to be bringing people together at that level and seeing through just the partisan fervor and all the ideological combat to find the humanity in the situation. And Elijah, he had very strong proud views, but he never gave up on anybody. And he thought that politics was about trying to rescue all of us together.
NNAMDICongressman Jamie Raskin on his colleague Congressman Elijah Cummings, who died this morning at the age 68. Congressman Raskin, thank you for joining us.
RASKINMy pleasure, Kojo.
NNAMDIJeff Barker you did a lengthy interview with the congressman earlier this summer. What did you get from that interview about him?
BARKERYeah, boy, I mean, looking back I'm so glad I had the time to do that. But, I mean, what I understood from that was how he never forget his experiences growing up as a kid. He talked very passionately about trying to integrate a group of African-American kids including himself trying to integrate a pool in Baltimore and being taunted and seeing one of the leaders of that integrations movement struck by a bottle.
BARKERAnd he brought that moment forward and he said that when President Trump made a comment about people -- you know, some members of Congress, on his committee needing to quote, "go back where they came from." He said that instantly, he said, "I was transported, you know, back those 50 years to that moment." He never forgot. And I think that that sort of propelled him. I mean, it gave him even more of a sense of mission than he already had.
NNAMDICongressman Elijah Cummings gone, but clearly not forgotten. Jeff Barker, thank you for joining us.
BARKERThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIJeff is the Washington correspondent for the Baltimore Sun. We're going to take a short break. And when we come back it's fall, we'll talk about the foods and flavors we seem to crave at this time of year and where we find them. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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