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Elijah Cummings’s Death and His Bipartisan Friendships

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Democrats had tapped Cummings to be their leader on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2010, after Republicans retook the House majority. He was not the next in line, but the party had pushed out veteran Representative Edolphus Towns of New York over concerns that he’d be too laid back at a time when Republicans were preparing an onslaught of investigations into the Obama administration.

The Oversight panel is a highly partisan committee in a highly partisan Congress, and Cummings had no illusions about his role. Still, he tried to forge relationships with each of his Republican counterparts, and some of those attempts were successful. As the combative Representative Darrell Issa of California was ending his run as chairman in 2014, Cummings traveled to Utah to bond with Chaffetz, his likely successor. “I want a relationship which will allow us to get things done,” Cummings said during a joint appearance the two made on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. After Chaffetz left, Cummings got along well—at least in private—with Gowdy and Meadows.

Yet time and again, the cordiality behind closed doors succumbed to rancor in front of the cameras. The relationships Cummings and his Republican counterparts had were no match for these deeply divided times; they yielded few legislative breakthroughs or bipartisan alliances in the midst of highly polarized investigations.

By early 2019, any hope that Cummings may have had for working with conservatives in Congress, or with the Trump administration, seemed to have given way to frustration, and occasionally anger. At the end of Cohen’s testimony, he delivered an emotional plea to his colleagues. “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?” he said, his voice booming. “C’mon now, we can do two things at once. We have to get back to normal!”

As for Trump, two years after their candid talk on race, the president was viciously attacking Cummings as a “brutal bully” and blaming him for Baltimore’s long-running struggle with poverty and crime.

Two months later, Cummings joined the growing chorus of Democrats calling for Trump’s impeachment. “When the history books are written about this tumultuous era,” he said at the time, “I want them to show that I was among those in the House of Representatives who stood up to lawlessness and tyranny.”

In truth, he had long since realized that the effort to work with the president had been futile. “Now that I watch his actions,” Cummings told Nicholas, “I don’t think it made any difference.”

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