Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah Cummings says he wants to defend the Obama administration against unfair attacks, but mostly he believes he is defending the committees traditions and integrity.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee may be known as a forum for political street fighting, but ranking member Elijah Cummings is trying to be more strategic with his punches.
Nearly six months into his role as Democrats’ lead defender, the Maryland lawmaker brings a quiet strength to his effort to blunt House Republicans’ attacks against President Barack Obama.
Cummings said he believes the panel must wield its power carefully, operating one step below the courts.
“We have a very rare problem: That is we can subpoena anybody in this country to that place and we can swear them in and they have to testify or plead the fifth,” Cummings said.
For him, that means that every investigation meets three criteria: integrity, thoroughness and fairness.
“That’s all I ask for and that’s all I have asked for and that’s all I’m going to continue to ask for,” Cummings said.
While he has increased visibility as the ranking member of the high-profile panel, he dismissed suggestions that he is using it as a launching pad for a future elected leadership post or to seek a statewide office.
“I’m not trying to be anything but a good chairman of this committee, and I really mean that,” Cummings said. “This job right here, this job is not a full-time job, it is a double-time job.”
Still, Cummings, who is the son of sharecroppers, did not rule out seizing an opportunity for higher office if it presents itself, noting that his parents taught him to “always be prepared for the moment because opportunities will come.”
Cummings is seizing opportunities on the Oversight panel by outlining his own three-page oversight agenda that addresses the welfare and safety of middle-class Americans and making government work.
Cummings said he took the unusual step of formalizing proactive goals in the minority because he and his fellow Democratic members of the panel believe they must stand for principles and not just be against his Republican counterpart, Chairman Darrell Issa (Calif.).
“I think we have to push and push and push the things that we believe in and the things that go to the hearts of the American people,” Cummings said. “This is bigger than Elijah Cummings. This is bigger than Darrell Issa. This is bigger than this committee. This is bigger than the Congress. All we do, all we ask, is that we hold to this standard to take care of these people.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.