Senior US Democratic congressman Elijah Cummings, who was at the center of the Trump impeachment inquiry, died Thursday at the age of 68, his office said.
The veteran Baltimore representative passed away at a hospital in his home city “due to complications concerning longstanding health challenges,” a statement from his office said without giving the cause of death.
As the highly respected chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Cummings — a big man with a booming voice and gift for oratory — was at the center of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump and had clashed with him repeatedly in recent months.
The House panel is one of three probing whether Trump pressured Ukraine to dig up dirt on Democratic White House hopeful Joe Biden and help the president win re-election next year.
Cummings had also supervised probes into issues including the Trump administration’s treatment of migrants at the border with Mexico and its effort to include a question about citizenship in next year’s census.
Trump set aside his feud with the Democrats to extend condolences to Cummings’ family and friends.
“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!” he wrote on Twitter.
In July, the president described Baltimore as a “rat and rodent infested mess” unfit for humans and blamed it on the Cummings, who has represented much of the majority-black city in Congress since 1996. Trump suggested the African-American Democrat spend more time there.
Cummings wrote in response, “Mr. President, I go home to my district daily. Each morning, I wake up, and I go and fight for my neighbors. It is my constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch. But, it is my moral duty to fight for my constituents.”
‘We lost a giant’
One of seven children, Cummings was the son of South Carolina sharecroppers who moved north to improve their lot in life.
He earned a degree in political science and later a law degree, and went on to become one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress and a key ally of House speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The Baltimore Sun said he was “known for his devotion to Baltimore and civil rights, and for blunt and passionate speechmaking.”
It said he had particularly resented Trump’s tweet that four congresswomen of color should “go back” to their countries.
Since winning his seat in 1996, Cummings never faced a serious challenge for it. He was also an early supporter of Barack Obama’s drive to become America’s first black president.
Tributes to Cummings quickly poured in from Congress.
“We lost a giant today. Congressman Elijah Cummings was a fearless leader, a protector of democracy, and a fighter for the people of Maryland. Our world is dimmer without him in it,” Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris wrote.
“He was an amazing man,” said Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer.
“He had a combination of being strong when he had to be, and had to be quite often, but also being kind and decent and caring and humble,” Schumer said.