JUDY WOODRUFF: And veteran Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland died early today after longstanding health problems. The Baltimore Democrat was a highly regarded figure in both political parties and had been playing a central role in the impeachment inquiry. Amna Nawaz looks at his life and career.
AMNA NAWAZ: Elijah Cummings spent a lifetime advocating for civil rights in his native Baltimore and beyond. After 13 years in the Maryland Statehouse, he came to Congress in 1996.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): My mission is one that comes out of a vision that was created long, long ago. It is a mission and a vision to empower people, to make people realize that the power is within them, that they too can do the things that they want to do.
AMNA NAWAZ: Cummings pursued that vision as a vocal advocate for causes ranging from gun reform to immigration, and always racial justice. In 2015, he worked to restore calm when riots erupted in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray, a young black man, in police custody. And at Gray's funeral, he gave an impassioned eulogy.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: I have often said that our children are the living messages we send to a future we will never see. But now our children are sending us to a future they will never see! There is something is wrong with that picture!
AMNA NAWAZ: This year, Cummings was equally fierce condemning the conditions in which migrant children were being detained at the U.S.-Mexico border.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: We are the United States of America. We are the greatest country in the world. We are the ones that can go anywhere in the world and save people, make sure that they have diapers, make sure that they have toothbrushes, make sure that they're not laying around defecating. Come on. We're better than that.
AMNA NAWAZ: As chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Cummings also launched investigations of President Trump. The president struck back, calling Cummings racist and branding Baltimore a rat-infested mess. Today, Mr. Trump tweeted condolences, saying "His work and voice on so many fronts will be very hard, if not impossible, to replace". In Congress, Cummings' colleagues paid tribute, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): In the Congress, Elijah was considered a North Star. He was a leader of towering character and integrity. He lived the American dream. And he wanted it for everyone else.
AMNA NAWAZ: That sentiment crossed the political aisle to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): He counted close friends and admirers from all across the political spectrum.
AMNA NAWAZ: Cummings' death deprives House Democrats of a leading voice in the impeachment inquiry. But he left behind a legacy of clear-eyed views on Congress' duty.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: 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? Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?
AMNA NAWAZ: For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Amna Nawaz.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Elijah Cummings was 68 years old.