House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was left in tears Thursday by the death of House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md.
“He is now with the angels, out of pain,” Pelosi said before the House of Representatives observed a moment of silence. " ... I didn't realize it [his death] was this close. I thought he was coming back."
“No matter how rough and tumble things would be, he [Cummings] would calm the waters," the Speaker added. "... Personally I’m devastated by his passing.”
Cummings' office said in a brief statement that he died early Thursday "due to complications concerning longstanding health challenges." Cummings had been in ill health the past few years, navigating the Capitol in a motorized cart and using a walker. He was 68.
Cummings had hoped to return to Congress within about a week after a medical procedure for which he didn't offer details. He'd previously been treated for heart and knee issues.
“We have lost a wonderful human being … all of us in this House lost a respected colleague ... it was a painful shock to all who served with him,” added House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
Cummings' committee, authorized to investigate virtually any part of the federal government, is one of three conducting the House impeachment probe of Trump. Cummings was among the three chairmen to sign a letter seeking documents into whether Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate the family of Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden, the former vice president. The committees have issued subpoenas of witnesses after the Trump administration's refusal to cooperate with the impeachment probe and have jointly been meeting behind closed doors to hear testimony.
Separately, Cummings led an effort to gain access to Trump's financial records. His committee subpoenaed records from Mazars USA, an accounting firm that provided services to Trump. The panel demanded documents from 2011 to 2018 as it probed Trump's reporting of his finances and potential conflicts of interest. Last week, a federal appeals court ruled the records must be turned over.
Cummings was born on Jan. 18, 1951. In grade school, a counselor told Cummings he was too slow to learn and spoke poorly, and he would never fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer.
"I was devastated," Cummings told The Associated Press in 1996, shortly before he won his seat in Congress. "My whole life changed. I became very determined."
Hoyer also called Cummings “a prophet of God” who "was true to his name."
“A moment of silence is not enough to honor the life of Eljiah Cummings,” the Majority Leader said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.