When Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings emerged from a White House meeting with President Donald Trump more than two years ago, he told reporters that the two men found common ground on their shared interest in lowering drug prices.
Cummings also said he urged the President to rethink his language on African American communities after Trump repeatedly painted a grim picture of inner-city life on the campaign trail.
“I want you to realize that all African American communities are not places of depression and where people are being harmed,” Cummings told reporters, recalling his conversation with Trump. “When we hear those words about carnage and we are living in depressed situations, I told him it was very hurtful.”
Cummings, the chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Reform Committee, now finds himself the subject of Trump’s highly-charged rhetoric. Over the weekend, Trump tweeted disparaging remarks toward Cummings and his Maryland district, which includes much of Baltimore, calling the majority black district a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”
Responding to some of the President’s tweets over the weekend – in which Trump suggested the congressman needed to spend more time fixing his district – Cummings said on Twitter: “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.”
Cummings has spent decades fighting for the city that is home to his district. It’s also the same municipality in which Cummings was born and raised – and a fundamental part of his story. The son of former sharecroppers, Cummings was born in 1951 and graduated from Baltimore City College High School in 1969.
Cummings grew up in the Civil Rights era and recently discussed how, even at a young age, he was part of that movement to integrate parts of his neighborhood.
“We were trying to integrate an Olympic-size pool near my house, and we had been constrained to a wading pool in the black community,” Cummings told ABC’s “This Week” earlier this month. “As we tried to March to that pool over six days, I was beaten, all kinds of rocks and bottles thrown at me.”
The Maryland Democrat said Trump’s racist remarks regarding four other members of Congress echoed the same insults he heard as a 12-year-old boy in 1962, which he said were “very painful.”
“The interesting thing is that I heard the same chants. ‘Go home. You don’t belong here,’ ” he told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. “And they called us the N-word over and over again.”
Cummings graduated from Howard University in nearby Washington, DC, and University of Maryland School of Law.
He practiced law and served for 14 years in the Maryland House of Delegates, where, according to his congressional website, he became the first African American in Maryland history to be named Speaker Pro Tem.
In 1996, he was first elected to the US Congress. Over two decades later, Cummings was reelected last year in the 7th Congressional District with 76% of the vote.
As chairman of the Oversight Committee, Cummings oversees a range of investigations into the Trump administration, from the treatment of migrants at the southern border to the use of personal email for official use by White House officials to how the citizenship question was considered for the US census. And it was his committee that grilled Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, in a blockbuster hearing this past February.
Cummings served as the top Democrat on the committee for several years before Democrats won the majority in 2018, and he was a high-profile sparring partner of former Rep. Darrell Issa, who chaired the committee when Republicans were in power during the Obama era.
Cummings is well-respected among Democrats and has even forged friendships across the aisle, including his high-profile relationship with Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, one of the President’s closest allies.
He’s also earned a reputation for being an impassioned speaker who often makes headlines with his questioning from the dais during hearings. Cummings particularly drew attention when he grilled acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan earlier this month over the treatment of migrants at the border.
When McAleenan said they were “doing our level best,” Cummings interrupted and raised his voice: “What does that mean? What does that mean when a child is sitting in their own feces, can’t take a shower? Come on, man. What’s that about? None of us would have our children in that position. They are human beings.”
It was this exchange that prompted some of the President’s tweets against Cummings. Trump said Cummings “has been a brutal bully, shouting and screaming at the great men & women of Border Patrol about conditions at the Southern Border.”
Locally, Cummings serves on several boards, according to his website. He’s chairman of the New Era Academy Maritime Advisory Board, as well as a member of the US Naval Academy Board of Visitors, the Morgan State University Board of Regents, the University of Maryland Law School Board of Advisors, and the SEED School of Maryland Board of Directors. He’s also on the board of directors of the AFRO Charities, Inc., and he is an honorary board member of KIPP Baltimore Schools and the Baltimore School for the Arts.
His office said he’s received honorary degrees from The Johns Hopkins University, University of Maryland, Maryland Institute College of Art, Goucher College, and the University of Baltimore.
Cummings is married to Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who chairs the Maryland Democratic Party.
CNN’s Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report.