Rep. Elijah Cummings’ death means Democrats House impeachment inquiry now has to scramble to find someone with his measured approach and political savvy to help lead the effort.
The Maryland congressman, who died early Thursday, was one of three committee chairmen leading the three-week old inquiry. He headed the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which is conducting the inquiry along with the Foreign Affairs and Intelligence committees.
Cummings’ replacement is likely to be someone who has the congressman’s ability to get along with most of his colleagues.
“Every member of our Congress respected Elijah Cummings. You can’t say that about many of the great people who pass through our chamber,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Democrat.
And just as important, “he was somebody who was close to the speaker,” said Darrell West, vice president and director, governance studies at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution. He said Cummings shared House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s passionate but methodical approach to impeachment.
Having such a leader of Oversight is crucial, lawmakers said.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat and a member of House leadership who supports impeachment, explained to McClatchy why Cummings’ replacement needs to have the mix of passion and collegiality that the late congressman brought.
“When this is over, we need people to say, as Rep. Cummings did, ‘I don’t like that he’s been impeached, but they were fair and did not enjoy it,’’’ Cleaver said.
The acting House Oversight Committee chair will be Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York City Democrat. It was unclear whether she will continue in that role, as others are expected to vie for the job.
“There’s no clear ascendant” to the oversight chair, said Aaron Scherb, director of legislative affairs at Common Cause.
Maloney could be hamstrung by geography because there are already two other New York Democrats in key positions in the inquiry. Its other leaders are Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel of New York. The Judiciary Committee is likely to write any articles of impeachment, and it’s headed by Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York.
The House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee will make a recommendation to the entire 235-member House caucus to fill the Oversight chairmanship. The full caucus will then vote, and does not have to accept the recommendation. No timetable has been set.
Such slots are often filled by seniority, and after Maloney, next up would be Eleanor Holmes Norton, delegate from Washington, D.C., and Reps. William Lacy Clay of Missouri and Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts. Also in the mix is Rep. Gerald Connolly of Virginia, currently seventh-ranking oversight member.
Connolly, who represents part of the Virginia suburbs outside Washington, is regarded as well-versed in government policy and politics. He has maintained close ties with the party’s liberal wing while working with moderates.
Democrats did agree Thursday that Cummings’ death would not slow the impeachment process.
“All of us who know Elijah know Elijah would not stand for one minute of delay,” Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass, D-California, told McClatchy.
“We will carry on. The inquiry will not miss a beat,” said Bass, a House Foreign Affairs Committee member.
“We will stay on track,” added Clay, a senior Oversight Committee member.
Until details of Trump’s phone calls to Ukraine’s president about Vice President Joe Biden and his son were revealed last month, the House Democratic Caucus had been split over whether to proceed with a formal inquiry.
There is still some division between more liberal members who want to expand the probe and move quickly and those who want to proceed narrowly and cautiously.
Thirty-one Democrats are up for re-election next year in congressional districts that Trump won in 2016, and many found in their town halls in recent weeks that constituents were more eager to talk about jobs, immigration, guns and other concerns.
As a result, “I’m gonna always encourage us to be as methodical, careful and slow as possible,” said Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a New Jersey Democrat. Trump won his district by 4 points in 2016.