Archives for category: Character

Predictably, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos took a stand against the victims of sexual violence, and did it while the world was distracted by the pandemic. Count on her to identify with predatory lenders, for-profit colleges, and anyone who exploits students.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro called out DeVos’s latest regulatory guidance that affects rape victims.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 6, 2020

CONTACT:

Will Serio: 202-225-3661

DeLauro Statement on Secretary DeVos’s Final Campus Sexual Assault Rule

WASHINGTON, DC — Today, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-03), Chair of the House Appropriations Committee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, released the following statement after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued a final rule on how schools must handle and respond to campus sexual assault and harassment allegations.

“Secretary DeVos’s new rule to address incidents of sexual assault and harassment is clearly and predictably on the wrong side of history. Rather than protecting survivors, these changes requiring a higher burden of proof for survivors and narrowing the scope of misconduct that will be addressed puts fairness and accountability—for both perpetrators and for schools—further out of reach. When students return to classrooms and campuses, we must ensure that they return to an environment that is safe, and where they are protected from sexual violence and harm. Secretary DeVos made that more difficult today.”

“In the broader context, at a time when our nation’s students, schools, and institutions of higher education face unprecedented challenges, we need leadership that promotes unity rather than division. Secretary DeVos’s decision to issue these regulations during a global pandemic is astonishing. The Department of Education has mismanaged billions of dollars in Congressionally-allocated emergency coronavirus relief for students and schools—using it to fund divisive, ideologically-driven policy priorities such as voucher-like proposals called microgrants. The Department should have spent more time following the letter of the law under the CARES Act rather than putting out a rule that significantly undermines protections for victims of sexual assault and harassment. I will work with my colleagues and advocates to pursue all possible routes possible to block this harmful rule.”

Michael Hynes is the superintendent of schools in the Port Washington school district on Long Island in New York. He is one of the most creative, innovative, and unconventional thinkers in education today. His new book was just published, offering advice to school leaders and, frankly, to everyone, about what is most important in life.

Mike Hynes is my candidate for the next State Commissioner of Education in New York. He has fresh ideas, deep experience, and values the well-being of children more than test scores.

In this brief essay, he outlines what schools should do after the pandemic.

He writes:

Now is the time for our school leaders to generate a new compelling philosophy of education and an innovative architecture for a just and humane school system. We must refocus our energy on a foundation built on a sense of purpose, forging relationships and maximizing the potential and talents of all children. Let’s take advantage of the possibility that our nation’s attention can shift 180 degrees, from obsessing over test scores and accountability to an entirely different paradigm of physical, mental, and emotional well-being for students and staff.

It is our collective responsibility to foster engaging and meaningful environments when educating our children in the new era of a post pandemic education. As the great philosopher John Dewey stated over one hundred years ago, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” The first sentence in the 2018 World Bank Group’s Flagship Report- Learning: To Realize Education’s Promise states, “Schooling is not the same as learning.” I couldn’t agree more. The report continues to speak about that as a society, we must learn to realize education’s promise.

Now is this the time to revolutionize this antiquated system built on old structures and ideologies. I recommend we change the purpose of schooling to the following core values:

· Emphasize well-being. Make child and teacher well-being a top priority in all schools, as engines of learning and system efficiency.

· Upgrade testing and other assessments. Stop the standardized testing of children in grades 3-8, and “opt-up” to higher-quality assessments by classroom teachers. Eliminate the ranking and sorting of children based on standardized testing. Train students in self-assessment, and require only one comprehensive testing period to graduate from high school.

· Invest resources fairly. Fund schools equitably on the basis of need. Provide small class sizes.

· Boost learning through physical activity. Give children multiple outdoor free-play recess breaks throughout the school day to boost their well-being and performance. We observed schools in Finland that give children four 15-minute free-play breaks a day.

· Change the focus. Create an emotional atmosphere and physical environment of warmth, comfort and safety so that children are happy and eager to come to school. Teach not just basic skills, but also arts, crafts, music, civics, ethics, home economics and life skills.

· Make homework efficient. Reduce the homework load in elementary and middle schools to no more than 30 minutes per night, and make it responsibility-based rather than stress-based.

· Trust educators and children. Give them professional respect, creative freedom and autonomy, including the ability to experiment, take manageable risks and fail in the pursuit of success.

· Improve, expand and destigmatize vocational and technical education. Encourage more students to attend schools in which they can acquire valuable career/trade skills.

In short, if we learn anything at all from this pandemic, we should clearly recognize that we need our teachers more than ever before. It’s imperative that schools focus on a balanced approach to education, one that embraces physical, emotional, cognitive and social growth. We have an enormous amount of work to do, but our children deserve nothing less.

If you agree, please send his essay to every school board member you know and to anyone else who is interested in finding a new way to educate our children, one that develops their well-being and joy in learning, instead of subjecting them to an endless and useless series of standardized tests.

No U.S. Attorney General in history has ever turned the Department of Justice into a political tool belonging to the president. Until now. Bill Barr has totally politicized the Department.

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote today:

There has never been a better time to be a Hooker for Jesus.

Under Attorney General Bill Barr’s management, it appears no corner of the Justice Department can escape perversion — even the annual grants the Justice Department gives to nonprofits and local governments to help victims of human trafficking.

In a new grant award, senior Justice officials rejected the recommendations of career officials and decided to deny grants to highly rated Catholic Charities in Palm Beach, Fla., and Chicanos Por La Causa in Phoenix. Instead, Reuters reported, they gave more than $1 million combined to lower-rated groups called the Lincoln Tubman Foundation and Hookers for Jesus.

Why? Well, it turns out the head of the Catholic Charities affiliate had been active with Democrats and the Phoenix group had opposed President Trump’s immigration policies. By contrast, Hookers for Jesus is run by a Christian conservative and the Lincoln Tubman group was launched by a relative of a Trump delegate to the 2016 convention.

That Catholic Charities has been replaced by Hookers for Jesus says much about Barr’s Justice Department. Friends of Trump are rewarded. Opponents of Trump are punished. And the nation’s law enforcement apparatus becomes Trump’s personal plaything.

Federal prosecutors Monday recommendedthat Trump associate Roger Stone serve seven to nine years in prison for obstruction of justice, lying to Congress, witness tampering and other crimes.

Then Trump tweeted that the proposed sentence was “horrible and very unfair” and “the real crimes were on the other side.” And by midday Tuesday, Barr’s Justice Department announced that it would reduce Stone’s sentence recommendation. All four prosecutors, protesting the politicization, asked to withdraw from the case.

But politicization is now the norm. Last week, Barr assigned himself the sole authority to decide which presidential candidates — Democrats and Republicans — should be investigated by the FBI.

Also last week, the Department of Homeland Security, working with the Justice Department, announced that New York state residents can no longer enroll in certain Trusted Traveler programs such as Global Entry — apparent punishment for the strongly Democratic state’s policies on illegal immigrants.

On Monday, Barr declared that the Justice Department had created an “intake process” to receive Rudy Giuliani’s dirt from Ukraine on Joe Biden and Hunter Biden — dirt dug in a boondoggle that left two Giuliani associates under indictment and Trump impeached.

The same day, Barr’s agency announced lawsuits against California, New Jersey and King County (Seattle), Washington — politically “blue” jurisdictions all — as part of what he called a “significant escalation” against sanctuary cities.

On Tuesday, to get a better sense of the man who has turned the Justice Department into Trump’s toy, I watched Barr speak to the Major County Sheriffs of America, a friendly audience, at the Willard Hotel in Washington.

Even by Trumpian standards, the jowly Barr, in his large round glasses, pinstripe suit and Trump-red tie, was strikingly sycophantic. “In his State of the Union, President Trump delivered a message of genuine optimism filled with an unapologetic faith in God and in American greatness and in the common virtues of the American people: altruism, industriousness, self-reliance and generosity,” he read, deadpan.

Trump, he went on, “loves this country,” and “he especially loves you.” The boot-licking performance continued, about Trump’s wise leadership, his unbroken promises and even the just-impeached president’s passionate belief in the “rule of law.”

Then Barr turned to the enemy. He attacked “rogue DA’s” and “so-called social-justice reformers,” who are responsible for “historic levels of homicide and other violent crime” in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Chicago and Baltimore. Politicians in sanctuary jurisdictions, he said, prefer “to help criminal aliens evade the law.” Barr vowed to fight these foes with “all lawful means” — federal subpoenas to force them to turn over “information about criminal aliens,” dozens of lawsuits to invalidate statutes and attempts to deny them both competitive and automatic grants.

In response to a question, Barr railed against tech companies’ use of encryption: “They’re designing these devices so you can be impervious to any government scrutiny,” he protested.

Maybe people wouldn’t be so sensitive about government scrutiny if the top law enforcement official weren’t using his position to punish political opponents and reward political allies.

Instead, with Barr’s acquiescence, we live in a moment in which: Trump’s Treasury Department immediately releases sensitive financial information about Hunter Biden, while refusing to release similar information about Trump; Trump ousts officials who testified in the impeachment inquiry and even ousts the blameless twin brother of one of the witnesses; and Trump’s FBI decides to monitor violent “people on either side” of the abortion debate — although the FBI couldn’t point to a single instance of violence by abortion-rights supporters.

This week, the Pentagon released a new color scheme for Air Force One, replacing the 60-year-old design with one that looks suspiciously like the old Trump Shuttle.Surprised? Don’t be. Soon the entire administration will be able to apply for a Justice Department grant as a newly formed nonprofit: Hookers for Trump.

Bill Barr will be remembered by historians for his role in destroying the professionalism, morale, and ethics of the Department of Justice. He is Trump’s Joker.

 

Dana Miilbank is a columnist for the Washington Post. He wrote today what I have been thinking.

Character is the only secure foundation of the state.”

“It was all bullshit.”

From the birth of the Republic — indeed, from the birth of Athenian democracy — it has been an article of faith that self-governance cannot survive without leaders of character.

“Not much probity is needed for maintaining or sustaining a monarchical government or a despotic government,” wrote the Baron de Montesquieu, whose philosophy inspired the Framers. “But in a popular state, one more recourse is necessary, which is virtue.”

Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist 68, confidently predicted that the Constitution would prevent those with “talents for low intrigue” from reaching the highest office: “There will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters preeminent for ability and virtue.”

Washington, Emerson, Lincoln, even Richard Nixon spoke of the American experiment’s reliance on leaders of character. But this week, our leaders took a decided turn against that belief.

Though a majority of senators agreed that President Trump had done wrong, the Senate cleared him of wrongdoing. They acquitted him even though he expressed no contrition and even though his agent, Rudy Giuliani, had just stated that he, with Trump’s permission, would go on committing the same behavior that got Trump impeached.

The president had broken the law, cheated in his reelection, abused a vulnerable ally by withholding military aid, emboldened a foe and concealed the facts — and there would be no consequences. His fellow Republicans rejected even the symbolic sanction of censure.

It didn’t take long to see the consequences of acquittal: Trump’s blasphemy at the National Prayer Breakfast, his obscene rant in the White House, his move to evict from the White House a decorated military officer who testified during impeachment, his attorney general’s edict that he alone would decide which presidential candidates to investigate and his Treasury Department’s release of sensitive records about the family of a Trump political opponent even as it refuses to release similar records about Trump.

This is a man of the lowest character — and his partisans cheer. The Post identified more than 30 distortions in his State of the Union address Tuesday, where he announced he would award the nation’s highest civilian honor to a man who joined Trump in spreading the “birther” libel and who popularized the tune “Barack the Magic Negro” for his millions of listeners.

And the Republicans on the House floor chanted: “Four more years!

Of this?

After chronicling the impeachment proceedings over several months, I’m convinced the most enduring consequence of the depressing spectacle will be America’s loss of decency. Long after the details of the Ukraine scandal have faded, after Trump leaves the scene in one year or five, Americans will wrestle with the damage done by blessing the behavior of this vulgar man.

The menace of Trump has never been any one policy — his policies, after all, are constantly changing — but his shredding of dignity in public life and of our shared sense of right and wrong. “A man without character or ethical compass will never find his way,” Adam Schiff warned the Senate. “There is nothing more corrosive to a democracy than the idea that there is no truth. … Truth matters, right matters, but so does decency. Decency matters.”

Trump’s partisans in the Congress, because they fear him, or because they like his economic policies or his judicial nominations, stuck with him through “Access Hollywood” and Stormy Daniels; putting child immigrants in cages and assassinating the character of honorable public servants; his racist attack on a federal judge and the succor he gave neo-Nazis in Charlottesville; his lies by the thousand, his public vulgarity and misspelled insults; his relentless assaults on the free press, law enforcement and Muslims; and, now, cheating in the election.

Trump’s enablers will ask: What about Bill Clinton? He, too, had glaring character defects. The difference is Clinton, though acquitted, was forced to apologize for his conduct and was roundly denounced by fellow Democrats. In my articles from the time, I described him as a “lout and a liar” with a “strained relationship with the truth,” a weak “moral code,” “hypocrisy,” and an “unconvincing” claim that he didn’t commit perjury.

Now, the precious few Republicans willing to say Trump’s behavior was anything less than perfect — Lamar Alexander, Joni Ernst, Susan Collins, Rob Portman — somehow deceive themselves into thinking he will reform his ways. As if.

“I believe that in national life as the ages go by we shall find that the permanent national types will more and more tend to become those in which, though intellect stands high, character stands higher,” Theodore Roosevelt predicted more than a century ago. He, like Hamilton, imagined “disinterested and unselfish” leaders endowed with “a lofty scorn of doing wrong to others.”

Roosevelt, and Hamilton, didn’t imagine Trump.

Schiff, in his closing argument to the Senate this week, said this: “Truth matters little to him. What’s right matters even less, and decency matters not at all.” But, Schiff pleaded: “Truth matters to you. Right matters to you. You are decent. He is not who you are.”

With Republicans’ latest embrace of this man of the lowest character, they are becoming who he is.

And as our children see our feckless leaders tolerate a president without a fiber of virtue, I fear that we will all become who he is.

This is a short and powerful speech by Senator Mitt Romney explaining why he decided to vote to convict Trump. He knew that he was breaking ranks. He knew he would anger many in his party.

He voted his conscience.

Conscience over party. Remarkable.

Blogger Jack Hassard posted Rep.  Adam Schiff’s brilliant closing speech.

it is only four minutes.

Please watch.

And weep.

In the frontispiece to my new book SLAYING GOLIATH, I quoted four statements that represented different aspects of my book.

One of them is a quotation from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that is not well-known.

It comes from a speech called “The Drum Major Instinct,” which he delivered in the last spring of his life at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on February 4, 1968.

Dr. King said:

“Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”

I have no doubt that some readers will wonder why I included this quotation, since it seems to put down the academic learning that is so highly valued in society today.

I included it because Dr. King said that the highly educated person is no better as a human being than the person who did not receive an academic education and did not excel in school.

Dr. King said that all of us are equal in the eyes of God, no matter how many degrees some have.

Dr. King said that we must respect every other human being as our equal, regardless of their education or social status or income.

Dr. King said that greatness is available to anyone who has “a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”

To achieve that greatness does not require high test scores or a Ph.D.

Dr. King met many highly educated people who lacked the character that defined greatness. All of us have seen people in public life who tolerate hatred, bigotry, and violence.

His 1968 comment aligns with his 1963 statement at the March on Washington that he looked forward to the day when his children would be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

He wanted his children and all children to be judged by the content of their character, by “a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”

On this day, we remember the life and work of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is inspiring to read his speeches, and I urge you to do so.

Today you will hear politicians praise his legacy even while they betray that same legacy.

Dr. King was a champion of the weak and powerless. He fought for the rights and dignity of Black Americans, and he was a champion for all Americans whose basic needs had been ignored and whose rights had been trampled upon.

These days, one is likely to hear wealthy and powerful people claim that they are “leading the civil rights issue of our time” by pushing to eliminate public schools; Dr. King never, never opposed public schools. He wanted them to be desegregated and he wanted them to provide equality of educational opportunity to all children, so that every child had the ability to develop to his or her full potential. It is jarring indeed to hear Donald Trump declare (as he did in his first State of the Union Address) that “school choice” is the “civil rights issue of our time.” No, it is not. Dr. King never said that. His words should not be appropriated by billionaires, hedge fund managers, and those oppose Dr. King’s fight to eliminate poverty.

Steven Singer wrote this post about Dr. King’s education philosophy.

He writes:

When we think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we usually think of the towering figure of the Civil Rights Movement who gave the “I have a dream” speech during the March on Washington in 1963.

However, as a teacher, I find myself turning to something he wrote in 1947 when he was just an 18-year-old student at Morehouse College.

While finishing his undergraduate studies in sociology, he published an essay in the student paper called “The Purpose of Education.”

Two sections immediately jump off the page. The first is this:

“We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. The broad education will, therefore, transmit to one not only the accumulated knowledge of the race but also the accumulated experience of social living.”

So for King it wasn’t enough for schools to teach facts. It wasn’t enough to teach skills, math, writing, reading, history and science. The schools are also responsible for teaching children character – how to be good people, how to get along with each other.

It’s a worthy goal.

Singer goes on to analyze the kind of school–public, private, or charter–that is likeliest to achieve Dr. King’s goals.

 

 

On a flight yesterday, I watched a documentary that was a biography of Roy Cohn. It is called “Where Is My Roy Cohn?,” a phrase uttered by Trump when he was disgusted by his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who apparently had some scruples about destroying the Justice Department on behalf of the man who appointed him.

The biography is short. The story is compelling. It portrays a man who had absolutely no scruples, no ethical core, no moral values. He was willing to lie, cheat, steal, twist words, anything to win. Winning was everything. He was a closeted homosexual who gleefully collaborated with his mentor Senator Joseph McCarthy to find and expose other homosexuals. He died of AIDS, but never admitted that he had the disease (he preferred to call it “cancer of the liver”).

The loathsome Cohn was Trump’s attorney and his mentor. He defended the Trump Organization against federal charges that the Trumps excluded blacks from their federally-financed housing projects. He helped to prosecute the Rosenbergs and assure that they got the death penalty. He was the chief lawyer for the Mafia and helped many of its leaders avoid long prison sentences. He was disbarred for stealing from his clients.

It is contemporary history. If you can find it online, watch it. It explains a lot about the world we live in now.

The following story appeared in the Washington Post. Elijah Cummings was a man of conviction. We will miss him.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, Democratic leader and regular Trump target, dies at 68

His office cites ‘complications concerning longstanding health challenges’

Elijah E. Cummings, a Democratic congressman from Maryland who gained national attention for his principled stands on politically charged issues in the House, his calming effect on anti-police riots in Baltimore, and his forceful opposition to the presidency of Donald Trump, died early Thursday morning at Gilchrist Hospice Care, a Johns Hopkins affiliate in Baltimore. He was 68.

After undergoing an unspecified medical procedure, the Democratic leader did not return to his office this week, the Baltimore Sun reported. A statement from his office said that he had passed away due to “complications concerning longstanding health challenges.”

Born to a family of Southern sharecroppers and Baptist preachers, Mr. Cummings grew up in the racially fractured Baltimore of the 1950s and 1960s. At 11, he helped integrate a local swimming pool while being attacked with bottles and rocks. “Perry Mason,” the popular TV series about a fictional defense lawyer, inspired him to enter the legal profession.

“Many young men in my neighborhood were going to reform school,” he told the East Texas Review. “Though I didn’t completely know what reform school was, I knew that Perry Mason won a lot of cases. I also thought that these young men probably needed lawyers.”

In the Maryland House of Delegates, he became the youngest chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus and the first African American to serve as speaker pro tempore, the member who presides in the speaker’s absence.

In 1996, he won the seat in the U.S. House of Representatives that Kweisi Mfume (D) vacated to become NAACP president. Mr. Cummings eventually served as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and as ranking Democrat and then chairman of what became the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

He drew national attention as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s chief defender during 2015 congressional hearings into her handling of the attack three years earlier on U.S. government facilities in Benghazi, Libya. The attack killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

He was “the quintessential speaking-truth-to-power representative,” said Herbert C. Smith, a political science professor at McDaniel College in Westminster, Md. “Cummings has never shied from a very forceful give-and-take.”

The death of Freddie Gray

Baltimore’s plight informed Mr. Cummings’s life and work on Capitol Hill, a connection exemplified by his response to the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in April 2015 and the explosion of outrage that came after it.

Gray died of injuries suffered while riding, improperly secured, in a police van after he was arrested for carrying a knife, in his pocket, that police said was illegal. His death ignited rioting in Baltimore and elevated tensions nationally over perceived racism and excessive violence in law enforcement.

Speaking at the funeral, Mr. Cummings, who lived near where Gray was arrested, bemoaned the presence of media to chronicle Gray’s death without celebrating his life.

“Did you see him? Did you see him?” Mr. Cummings asked in his booming baritone. The church exploded with applause, and civil rights activist Jesse L. Jackson sat, rapt, behind him. “Did you see him?”

“I’ve often said, our children are the living messages we send to a future we will never see,” he said, his voice rising. “But now our children are sending us to a future they will never see! There’s something wrong with that picture!”

When looting began, hours after the funeral, Mr. Cummings rushed, bullhorn in hand, to a troubled West Baltimore neighborhood, where he worked to restore order and to assure residents that authorities were taking the case seriously. (Six officers would be charged in Gray’s death, although prosecutors failed to secure a conviction against any of them.)

Amid the unrest, he and a dozen other residents marched, arm in arm, through the streets, singing “This Little Light of Mine.”

Mr. Cummings was known for showing the same kind of commitment in the House. The bullhorn he wielded in West Baltimore was emblazoned with a gold label that read, “The gentleman will not yield.” It was a gift from his Democratic colleagues, bestowed after Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) silenced Mr. Cummings’s microphone at a 2014 hearing into complaints that the Internal Revenue Service had unfairly targeted conservative nonprofit groups.

The next year, while serving on the House Select Committee on Benghazi, he sparred with Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) during hearings Republicans convened to examine Clinton’s role in the Benghazi debacle.

When Gowdy interrogated Clinton about Libya-related emails sent from a longtime confidant of hers, Sidney Blumenthal, Mr. Cummings interjected: “Gentleman, yield! Gentleman, yield! You have made several inaccurate statements.”

Talking to reporters in the hallway later, Mr. Cummings said his primary purpose was not to defend Clinton but to seek “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

“Let the world see it,” he said.

The experience didn’t appear to sour Gowdy on Mr. Cummings.

“It’s not about politics to him; he says what he believes,” Gowdy told the Hill newspaper. “And you can tell the ones who are saying it because it was in a memo they got that morning, and you can tell the ones who it’s coming from their soul. And with Mr. Cummings, it’s coming from his soul.”

Dealing With Trump

The first two years of the Trump administration were agonizing for Mr. Cummings. While battling ill health, including heart surgery, and as many other democrats advocated a strategy of resistance to the divisive president, he made fruitless efforts to work with the newly elected Republican in the White House and found himself sidelined by his House colleagues in the GOP majority.

In a bipartisan gesture, he attended Trump’s inauguration and, at the luncheon afterward, raised an issue on which he felt they could find common ground, lowering prescription drug prices. In that and in future encounters, he urged the president to pursue policies that could unite the country and burnish his legacy. The congressman said that after a few promising meetings, he never heard from Trump again.

“Perhaps if I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have had a lot of hope,” Mr. Cummings later remarked. “He is a man who quite often calls the truth a lie and calls a lie the truth.”

As ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee, Mr. Cummings became a leading voice against the Trump administration’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, a change that critics contended would discourage participation by documented and undocumented immigrants alike.

He was also a forceful opponent of an immigration policy that separated thousands of children from their parents after they illegally crossed the southern U.S. border. He described the Trump White House as inhumane in its use of “child internment camps.”

After Democrats won control of the House in the November 2018 midterm elections, Mr. Cummings was elevated to chairman of the Oversight Committee, a position that he used to sound further alarms. He spearheaded probes into security clearances issued by the White House over the objections of career officials and payments made during the 2016 campaign to silence women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump.

Mr. Cummings had a combative streak, but he was adept at calming volatile situations, such as the sharp exchange between Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) during a hearing in February 2019.

The Oversight Committee was taking testimony from Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, and Tlaib accused Meadows of pulling a “racist” stunt by having a black woman, an administration employee, stand behind him. Meadows demanded that her words be stricken from the record.

Mr. Cummings called Meadows “one of my best friends” and prompted Tlaib to say that she was not calling Meadows a racist. By the next day, the conservative Meadows and liberal freshman Tlaib were hugging in public.

“Interaction, man,” Mr. Cummings said by way of explanation. “Human interaction, that’s all.”

Lawyer and lawmaker

Elijah Eugene Cummings was born in Baltimore on Jan. 18, 1951. His father worked at a chemical factory, his mother at a pickle factory and later as a maid while raising seven children. Both parents came from sharecropping families in South Carolina. Although they struggled to feed their family, his parents would can apples and peaches and give half the preserves to people in need.

The proprietor of a Baltimore drugstore where Mr. Cummings worked paid his application fee to Howard University and, during Mr. Cummings’s time as a Howard student, regularly sent him $10 with a note that read, “Hang in there.”

At Howard, he served as student government president, and he received a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1973. He received a law degree from the University of Maryland three years later and practiced law, mostly in private practice, for nearly two decades.

He also helped law students develop their oral and writing skills as chief judge on the Maryland Moot Court, a competition in which students submit briefs and present oral arguments in a hypothetical appellate case.

In the Maryland House of Delegates, where Mr. Cummings served from 1983 to 1996, he championed a ban on alcohol and tobacco ads on inner-city billboards in Baltimore — the first prohibition of its kind in a major U.S. city.

On Capitol Hill, Mr. Cummings was among the minority of House members and senators who voted in 2002 against authorizing a military invasion of Iraq. President George W. Bush’s administration, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, was alleging that Iraq continued to possess and develop weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Cummings said there was not sufficient evidence of such weapons to “send our young people off to war and thereby place their lives in harm’s way,” an opinion supported by subsequent investigations.

Also in 2002, Mr. Cummings was elected chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, a position he used to push for increased funding for public education and the Head Start program.

He was the only member of the House delegation from Maryland to oppose the release of the Starr Report, which contained salacious details of President Bill Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

His first marriage, to Joyce Matthews, ended in divorce after a long separation. In 2008, he married Maya Rockeymoore, a policy consultant. Besides his wife, survivors include a daughter from his first marriage; and two children from other relationships.

In the mid-1990s, he had financial difficulties. He was sued by creditors and owed $30,000 in federal taxes, which he eventually paid. He told the Baltimore Sun that during his time as a congressman, he endured two winters without heat because he could not afford to fix his furnace.

He has said the money problems stemmed from his struggles to keep his law practice afloat while running for Congress and also from helping to support his three children. “I have a moral conscience that is real central,” he told the newspaper. “I didn’t ask the federal government or anyone else to do me any favors.”

Mr. Cummings said he considered running to succeed Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who did not seek reelection in 2016, but decided that he was needed in Baltimore to help the riot-torn city.

A member of New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore, Mr. Cummings said he was driven by his faith and secure in his conviction that history would recognize his resolve to stand up for what he believed was right.

“In the city of Baltimore, there are over a thousand monuments, and not one monument is erected to memorialize a critic,” he once said in a speech. “Every one of the monuments is erected to memorialize one who was severely criticized.

Jenna Portnoy covers Virginia, Maryland and D.C. politics for The Washington Post. She previously worked for the Newark Star-Ledger and the Allentown Morning Call, and has been a newspaper reporter since 2001.

Antonia Noori Farzan is a reporter on The Washington Post’s Morning Mix team. She previously worked at the Phoenix New Times.

Democracy Dies in Darkness

© 1996-2019 The Washington Post