Congressional Oversight, America’s Drug Crisis – and the Elijah Cummings I Knew

Elijah Cummings

People change, never more than after elected to Congress.  In 1996, I got to know a newly-elected Democratic Congressman from Maryland, Elijah Cummings.  As Republican staff director and counsel for the Oversight Committee’s largest subcommittee, I worked closely with Elijah, who was invariably thoughtful, kind and humble.  His biggest concern was America’s drug crisis, on which we worked tirelessly, collaboratively and to good effect.  I miss that Elijah.

Today, the man I knew seems gone, replaced by an arch-partisan, more interested in impeachment than ending the drug crisis.  Throughout the late 1990s, Cummings was respectful, hard to spin up, inherently reflective, slow to anger, and possessed a rare quality, asking more questions than telling.   

After 9-11, he addressed the National Narcotics Officers, reminding them that we have more in common than what divides us, describing the drug crisis as a shared concern, one that deserved non-partisan focus.  His speech was so compelling, leadership on the issue so earnest, I took off my “One America” tie and gave it to him – he accepted it with hallmark decency.

Somehow, whatever the catalyst for his abrupt shift, that non-partisan, problem-solving, legislatively-inclined and respectful congressman – is nowhere to be found.  Serving now as Chairman of the Oversight Committee, the same man who focused as a ranking minority leader on the drug crisis, has led three hearings out of 60 on that topic.  Instead, everything he does is aimed at the President.

The same man who once respected all testifying witnesses, and spoke supportively to law enforcement officers, now literally yells at them – excoriating senate-confirmed federal law enforcement officers who come before his committee, the way his Democratic colleagues yell at line agents on the border.

The same man who once led the US House bipartisan drug policy working group, which I also staffed, now seems to disdain bipartisanship, wheeling his committee away from legislation, using its considerable jurisdiction to push impeachment.  His committee has issued more subpoenas in his first five months than we did in five years and issued his first less than a month into his term.

While a member of Congress cannot single-handedly change the economic status of a district, it is true that his district needs help.  Major parts of the Baltimore-centric 7th Maryland district are less “safe” than 90 percent of America, according to FBI data.  The need for economic revitalization is undisputed. 

But that is not where this one-time collegial colleague has put emphasis, not what his committee is being used to promote, and not what the old Elijah would – I think – have imagined doing.

Why not ask the heads of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), US Coast Guard, national prevention, treatment and law enforcement personnel to come before you – helping resolve a crisis robbing us of more than 70,000 young lives year?      

The old Elijah would have done what we did more than 20 years ago.  He would have held hearings respectful of law enforcement officials, focused on using oversight for non-partisan purposes, to lift America, love America, insist on outcomes tied to accountability for federal dollars, saving young lives.  

Goodness knows that his district, and most districts, need this kind of help, willingness by members to engage bipartisan leadership, and focus on generating solutions to this problem – and to others of significance – more than we need more haranguing on impeachment, a pile of senseless, go-nowhere, partisan subpoenas.

Congressman Cummings – old and new – is right about one thing.  The US House Oversight Committee is entrusted by the American people and empowered by the US Constitution to conduct serious, credible, programmatic oversight into how federal dollars appropriated by Congress – are spent.  

The old Elijah cared about this, and about using oversight to save young lives in the midst of the last drug crisis.  The new one – hailing from a congressional district in need of solutions and oversight in this area – seems more interested in scoring political points than working the way we used to. 

People change, never more than when they have been in Congress too long, forgetting why they came.   Maybe the President should offer to visit Elijah’s district with him, bringing the Drug Czar, heads of DEA and SAMHSA, work together to turn things around.   

Maybe the head of the Oversight Committee should consider talking with the President, instead of at him, sitting respectfully with agency heads instead of shouting at them.  Maybe he should set aside impeachment-mania and his subpoena machine for problem-solving of a kind he was once known for.  This would be a good time.  The drug crisis hasn’t gone away – in his district or anywhere else.  I do miss the old Congressman Cummings.  People change, never more than in Congress. 

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Glen H
11 months ago

This man and his hate squad are the perfect example of a need for term limits! He’s a disgrace to his office and his community. I pray the Maryland voters wise up and get rid of him. Same goes for all the other “Do Nothing but Hate” politicians in congress and senate. God bless America!

11 months ago

I agree with DR, Snyder. hatred. it all started before the re distribution of wealth theory by our last president. political correctness has torn up our society badly and spurred more hatred. this all starts with the family too. why did they have to send in therapists to grammar schools when Trump won?? did you care who won when you were in grammar school?? parents did this to their kids. how many go to a church today?? How many parents are the original bullies their kids learn from?? I really believe most of this all goes back to the home.… Read more »

Dr. Jed Snyder
11 months ago

Hatred does a lot of emotional and intellectual damage. He is blinded by his hatred for Trump.

11 months ago

Cummings, like many other pandering politicians, sees the winds of change that have relentlessly pushed the Democrat party farther and farther leftward over the decades. Since he wants to keep his office, to maintain the taxpayer-funded pay and benefits to which he has long been accustomed to and to which he would be hard pressed to find in the private sector given his skill set, he adopted the style and mannerisms more in tune with his evolving voter base. Which now expects him to behave exactly as he is doing today. It really is that simple Mr. Charles. Seriously, what… Read more »

Stephen Dwyer
11 months ago

Great article. The impeachment hoax has cost the American public too much. Staying in Congress so long causes members to loss touch with the people who elect them. Elijah should remember we have no royalty in America and get back to the People’s business or he can leave.

Michael Cajohn
11 months ago

An excellent article. The underline is, we need term limits for congressional personnel. They need smaller and more efficient staffs. They need less time off and they need to do their constitutional duty of passing bipartisan budgets. Finally, they get no retirement rather they get a 401 and contribute to that. No more raises for them unless the general population votes for it. That would mean congress is working with all three branches.
All house of reps get four terms (8 years) and all senators get two terms (12 years).

John C. D'Amico
11 months ago

Term limits as others describe will never happen. They are already in place! They are called elections. The problem is: “we have met the enemy! They are us!”

Morris Hewitt
11 months ago

I would like to know what happened to the $16.7 billion that was poured into that district. There is no accountability. It lined the pockets of the politicians. Cummings just one of them.

11 months ago

This congressman is part of the problem … MAN. He seems so full of hatred. Rep. Cummings looked like fool yelling at our HS secretary, about border conditions, when the secretary testified in front of congress. Then, when Elijah was confronted with the inexcusable living conditions in his Maryland district compared to the border, he had no answers and even his comments were unassociated. Twenty years ago this Congressmen, Elijah Cummings, spoke of his district’s conditions calling them “rat infested” and federal funding has been allocated to Baltimore for years … but living conditions have not improved. We have so… Read more »

Josephine pooley
11 months ago

So sad! It’s almost like these politicians have become demon possessed!

Joseph Kiesznopski
11 months ago

He is one of the most useless politicians.

Mike B.
11 months ago

This is just another manifestation of the hate exhibited by Democrats. They call President Trump and his supporters hate mongers yet the hate speech is always coming from their side and the media.

Rick J.
11 months ago

There is no fool like a old fool.

General Patton
11 months ago

Cummings is a stinking HYPOCRITE and a disgrace to our country. He is only concerned with enriching himself, as evidenced by the current investigation into his wifes charity that was getting donations from people/cpocompanies with business before his committees. Lock this guy up!!!!!!!!!

11 months ago

It is apparent that E. Cummings has been “bought off” to join the Liberal Left fakes that pretend to care about America but are hellbent on tearing this country down.

Brenda Blunt
11 months ago

The monkey do syndrome! A person who does not respect another person or their views, need not be in charge of anything or be calling out anyone! This double standard has got to stop!! He needs to look in his backyard and do something about it!

Stephen Russell
11 months ago

Purge HOC, Congress (save newest members IE NOT AOC, allies)
Ask him hey Cummings what changed?
Your hurting your cause, Baltimore & nation like McCain.
U Lose & city loses
Choose Cummings, quit being a Fool
Make changes or Nothing changes

11 months ago

There is an evil, insidious, creeping cancer infecting every arm of our government! Good men and a few good women have been elected to go to D. C. Their job is to work for their constituents but once there, no matter how good of character they were, they get pulled into the Mire of the Swamp with payoffs, votes sold, lies, greed until they do not even resemble their original selves! People at home think”well they are doing the best they can” and re-elect them until they have been there 40 years, are billionaires and hate America because they have… Read more »

11 months ago

great article – great but true – great but sad

11 months ago

The Golden Rule should apply…

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