Rep. Elijah Cummings’ House Democratic colleagues are increasingly eyeing him as a possible successor to Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.) in the Caucus’ elected leadership.
The Maryland Democrat — who earlier this month beat out Rep. Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.) for the ranking member spot on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee — is positioned to become one of the chamber’s most influential Democrats next year as he takes on the panel’s aggressive incoming Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).
Cummings, 59, is a former Congressional Black Caucus chairman who was elected to the Maryland legislature shortly after the departure of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and, like Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), is a Baltimore native.
He beat Maloney for the Oversight gavel with a resounding 119-61 vote with help from Hoyer and fellow Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen. The victory came even though Maloney had more seniority and the backing of outgoing Chairman Edolphus Towns (N.Y.) and the rest of the influential New York delegation.
Democratic Members and aides said Cummings could win a seat in leadership, particularly if the 70-year-old Clyburn — the No. 3 House Democrat and the highest-ranking African-American in Congress — were to retire.
“The Members gave him their trust ... and I think certainly that’s a very first step of recognition of the fact that he has the qualities and ... so he represents a very fine example of leadership if and when an opportunity comes forward,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), a fellow CBC member.
Incoming CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver said Cummings has already been viewed as a prime contender for leadership, but his new role on the Oversight panel could help him raise his profile.
“The members of the Democratic Caucus who don’t know the unique skills of this Baltimore legislator will learn quickly that he is always at the top of his game,” the Missouri Democrat said. “That inevitably will lead to people wanting to make sure that he’s in a position of greater influence within the Congress.”
Keeping an African-American in leadership has been a major goal of the CBC. A brief leadership tussle between Hoyer and Clyburn for the No. 2 slot after the midterm elections threatened to leave Clyburn and the CBC cut out of the Caucus hierarchy entirely, but the ensuing outcry from black Members forced Pelosi to create a new No. 3 position — Assistant Leader — for Clyburn.
A senior Democratic aide said Cummings has worked hard to remain active in the CBC since serving as its chairman and noted that he was an early supporter of President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, serving as chairman of Obama’s efforts in Maryland. Cummings also makes regular appearances on cable news shows defending the administration and the Democratic agenda.
The aide described Cummings as “really well-liked” among his fellow Democrats, both at the lawmaker and staff level.
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.