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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1 year ago

I think what happened to the “old” Elijah Cummings is Barack Obama and his racist regime. Until Mr. Obama took office with his Alinsky theories in full force, the humans in our country were learning to live together with respect and, yes, even love for each other. Hate and its meanness which follows has been destructive to our nation and is evident in the last 3 1/2 years in the left’s constant looking for a crime with which to “impeach 45.” Look at the faces of the people on the left. They are full of hate and they wear it like makeup every day.

I was taken aback when Elijah Cummings was screaming at men testifying before his committee. His face was contorted in anger and I thought to myself, “I don’t recall Mr. Cummings being so obnoxious and mean.” I am sorry this happened to him and may have even hastened his death.

I hope we can get back to the time before Mr. Obama and learn to respect, if not yet love, each other as human beings created by a Loving God, not judging by skin color but by “the content of their character.” If we respond to the meanness of people with whom we disagree, it can make us mean and ugly too. Every time I catch myself doing that, I remind myself of neighbors of another race I’ve had who love the Lord and show His Love to others and that alone puts me in a better frame of mind. Now, hate and meanness, well that is another story. I don’t like that character flaw in anyone and I just have to work on not letting that invade my life.

1 year ago

We need term limits

Dale Hammond
1 year ago

Cummings, Pelosi, Schumer, the “Wicked Four” and most Dem politicians, in my opinion, really care about America, ONLY if they can control. Dictators and Socialists care more about control for personal comfort and temporary earthly wealth. Billionaires, millionaires, etc. take NOTHING with them.

James Nokes
1 year ago

They change alright. They line their pockets with government money. They pass laws that don’t apply to them. They manipulate their own salaries. They provide themselves with healthcare and retirement that the average American can only imagine. I’m sure I’ve miss many other Congressional perks, but I think I’ve presented a strong case for term limits. Oh, I forgot. Unless a Convention of States convenes to offer a solution to that problem it will not end. Congress could solve the problem. Wouldn’t you limit the time you served and give up all the perks listed above? That is the reason you have people like Cummins, McConnell, Cornyn and many others remaining in office for decades. Politics is not a life long profession, but a temporary service to the citizens of the state from where they were elected. It is not a Democratic or Republican issue, both parties are guilty of this injustice. They saw fit to limit the presidency for fear of to much power, but not limit their ability to gain power and fill their pockets with money from tax paying Americans, fraud (AOC), insider trading, bribes and graft. Contact your own congressional representative and see how many will promise to support term limits. Some have before they’re elected, but in most cases that changes the minute they are elected and learn the lucrative lesson of belong to the political elite. Contact your state legislatures and demand they take up the call for the Convention of States. God bless America and keep Her from the hands of Socialism.

Paula Conley
1 year ago


Paula Conley
1 year ago


Evans Winter
1 year ago

While Donald Trumps narcissistic critique of Baltimore was disgusting and unpresidential, neither it nor Mr cummings tirade of the day before contributed to the debate.or to help the city or existing conditions in any other. Trump was pursuing his usual political strategy of divisiveness, Cummings was simply posturing. I say, get rid of both.

1 year ago

Look no further than fame and fortune that comes with political power – Many sell their souls for it, depending on how hypocritical they are or have become. He’s a Democrat, the party awash in blatant hypocrisy. If he were to come to grips with that, he would be compelled to switch his loyalties. Not likely! He’s in the House no doubt by the misinformed who vote the color of their skin and he must convince them that Trump is a racist in order to keep his power.

Wayne D Peterkin
1 year ago

Good article. The change in elected officials is called “corruption by power”. It’s the primary argument for Term Limits.

1 year ago

He is not that much different. He still thinks that Government is the answer to every thing from Drug problems to health care. He disagrees with free markets and therefore disagrees with Trump. End the drug war and let the market fix the drug problems. That and education will end Drug cartels and abuse. Spend money on helping those who wish to be helped instead of incarceration. End the Drug war. It is costing lives, billions of dollars and it leads to the corruption of those who are supposed to be enforcing the Draconian laws. We are supposed to be the land of the free. Free men make their own decisions. Elijah, and apparently , Robert Charles, want a mommy state.

1 year ago

I didn’t used to be involved with or pay much attention to politics. Since all those years ago that I was 18 I of course had issues that I felt were important to me, my family and the country. But foolishly Im afraid I voted mostly for the person I liked and it wasn’t because of where they stood. The past 44 years I of course listened more but it still wasn’t Until the 2016 election that it all changed for me. I actually saw what the Democrats have been for a very long time and probably will forever be. :( And since then It has angered, saddened, surprised and shocked me. And over these last few years I have often thought again sadly, surely these people (Democrats/Liberals) haven’t always been like this? I find it hard to believe that their actions, their thoughts and especially their hearts have been so full of darkness and hatred. But I see with this article Cummings wasn’t always the angry old man he has become. So Im guessing many have become just like him over the years, for many reasons. And just like a cancer unseen and not taken care of, it grows. :( And also it makes me wonder how much of this darkness and hatred they have do they pass on to their children & grand children. :( So many have lost their way and left the path God has intended for them to follow. For all of us to follow. :(

1 year ago

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Sad but true.

beverly eads
1 year ago

I know this must have been a difficult article to write – but the time has come – for Mr. Cummings to “hang it up” and hope there is a kinder, gentler man in the wings – a man of deep faith and substance – that can bring normalcy back to this very influential position. Mr. Cummings is no longer the man.

R.S. Helms
1 year ago

I simply add this: With all the money HUD and others have given to Baltimore why is their concern over where that money went… It did not go to in any way, to help the people in the rat-infested poor areas of the city. something like 18 billion has gone down the dark political hole, and just how much has gone to the hidden coffers of the politicians both fed and local? & just how much has Cummings actually hid away? … Something is wrong here and the DOJ should look into it, not just the Oversight committee.

1 year ago

His most likely problem, “Money, money, money!” And also, power.

Lee B
1 year ago

It speaks of “familiar spirits” a number of times in the Old Testament. What happens is that we’re influenced by people we associate with and become attached to them, usually emotionally, but it can extend past that. Continuously dealing with people who lack morals, common sense, other characteristics, that normally might be abhorred, has a lasting negative impact…. . I Cor 15;23 “Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”

1 year ago
Reply to  Lee B

Absolutely right, the first time they sit down in those “Hallowed Halls” after being elected, they they look around at their Peers with flapping jaws, slippery palms, and think to themselves… Wow I really am special.. Im Now, part of the “ruling elite” its only UP, for “ME” now.

1 year ago

Robert Charles ? Are you saying the subject of discussion was once an intelligent functional public servant ? Hmmmm? Comes across now as a ignorant lying thief, which he is, which solidifies the need for term limits and “Probationary Periods” for elected officials.
You have been elected to serve. You shall be evaluated bi-annually for adhering to your oath (upholding the Constitution) and “proven” performance. Then your alleged accomplishments will be verified by your constituents, and a local review board (county commissioners & CPA) If you don’t produce for the districts you represent you are expelled as a public fraud ! NEXT…

1 year ago

Great article. I hope Cummings reads it.

B. Floyd
1 year ago

I am in Cumming’s district in Maryland. Thank God I’m in a planned city and there’s nothing much he can do to destroy it. Maryland is such a liberal state that even though I and most of my acquaintances don’t respect Cummings or the “job” he’s done, There’s virtually no way to get rid of him. He and all of the city officials in Baltimore are racists. In this case it’s black biased against whites and also their disrespect of policeman of any color that cause the problems in Baltimore.

1 year ago

This is what hatred for a person (Trump) will do to someone.

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