Cum­mings could move into pow­er­ful po­si­tion

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

CUM­MINGS, the Novem­ber elec­tions, Cum­mings is in line to as­cend to the chair­man­ship of a com­mit­tee with the au­thor­ity — so far un­tapped — to de­mand doc­u­ments re­lated to Trump’s per­sonal fi­nances and poli­cies, as well as pos­si­ble agency abuses.

"You would see prob­a­bly a non­stop pa­rade of hear­ings into mat­ters in­volv­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion," said Todd Eberly, co­or­di­na­tor of pub­lic pol­icy stud­ies at St. Mary’s Col­lege of Mary­land. “Eli­jah Cum­mings very quickly be­comes a crit­i­cally im­por­tant per­son.”

Democrats must flip at least 23 Repub­li­can-held seats in the midterm elec­tions Nov. 6 to claim a ma­jor­ity of the 435, giv­ing them con­trol of the House agenda, the speaker’s of­fice and com­mit­tees.

The non­par­ti­san Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port projects the “like­li­est out­come” is a Demo­cratic gain of 25 to 40 seats.

Repub­li­cans counter that the elec­tion toll to their party will be min­i­mized by stock mar­ket gains, rel­a­tively low un­em­ploy­ment and other eco­nomic in­di­ca­tors. “We are win­ning on just about ev­ery front,” Trump tweeted last month “and for that rea­son there will not be a Blue Wave, but there might be a Red Wave!”

The Univer­sity of Vir­ginia Cen­ter for Pol­i­tics re­cently re­ported that var­i­ous polling "con­tains bright spots for both par­ties” but sug­gests a Demo­cratic edge.

“A Demo­cratic House would be the night­mare Trump imag­ines it to be,” said Larry Sa­bato, the cen­ter’s di­rec­tor.

“Yes, there will be loads of in­ves­ti­ga­tions about a long list of out­rages and con­tro­ver­sies in Trump’s first two years, plus fol­low-up to the Mueller re­port when­ever it is re­leased,” he said, re­fer­ring to spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pos­si­ble col­lu­sion be­tween Rus­sians and Trump as­so­ci­ates dur­ing the 2016 elec­tion cam­paign.

Cum­mings, a 22-year con­gres­sional veteran, replied, “That’s a bit much,” when asked in an in­ter­view whether he might be­come Trump’s “night­mare.”

But he broached the sub­ject him­self a few min­utes later.

“Are we go­ing to be the night­mare? It's in the eyes of the be­holder,” he said.

The White House de­clined to com­ment for this ar­ti­cle.

For months, Cum­mings and his staff have been com­pil­ing sub­poe­nas for con­sid­er­a­tion by Rep. Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Repub­li­can who chairs the com­mit­tee.

Al­most all of the 64 re­quests be­gin the same way. “Dear Mr. Chair­man,” they say on the com­mit­tee’s let­ter­head. “I am writ­ing to re­quest that you is­sue a sub­poena …”

Cum­mings has sought doc­u­ments re­lated to im­mi­grant fam­ily sep­a­ra­tion poli­cies, se­cu­rity clear­ances, pa­tient pro­tec­tions in the Af­ford­able Care Act and pri­vate email ac­counts al­legedly used by se­nior White House of­fi­cials, among other is­sues.

Cum­mings said none of the 64 sub­poena mo­tions has been granted, and that the at­ti­tude of Repub­li­cans is “I’m not giv­ing you a damn thing.”

In an email re­sponse, a spokes­woman for Gowdy did not ad­dress the de­nial of Cum­mings’ re­quests for sub­poe­nas but said one had re­cently been is­sued. The Sept. 14 sub­poena was sup­ported by Cum­mings, although it was not one of the 64.

The sub­poena di­rected a Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity at­tor­ney to an­swer ques­tions as part of the com­mit­tee’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether the Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion re­tal­i­ated against whistle­blow­ers. TSA, which is part of Home­land Se­cu­rity, has told the com­mit­tee it is work­ing to fairly ad­dress whistle­blower con­cerns.

To Cum­mings, the abil­ity to or­der more doc­u­ments would al­low the panel to show gov­ern­ment abuses rather than merely dis­cuss them.

To il­lus­trate the dis­tinc­tion, he cites the 1960s civil rights move­ment, of which many of his he­roes – some pic­tured on his wall – were a part.

His long­time men­tor is Larry Gib­son, the Bal­ti­more at­tor­ney and au­thor who was ac­tive in the move­ment.

“They were sic­c­ing dogs on AfricanAmer­i­cans and us­ing the wa­ter hoses. And it came on tele­vi­sion and the world got a chance to truly see what was hap­pen­ing,” Cum­mings said.

“It made a dif­fer­ence. I think trans­parency is al­ways pos­i­tive.”

Cum­mings, 67, said re­cent health is­sues wouldn’t af­fect his abil­ity to be chair­man. Last year, he un­der­went a min­i­mally in­va­sive heart pro­ce­dure, which led to an in­fec­tion that kept him in the hos­pi­tal longer than ex­pected. He was later hos­pi­tal­ized for a knee in­fec­tion and uses a cane but says his mo­bil­ity is im­prov­ing.

He eas­ily won his party’s nom­i­na­tion for a 13th term, and faces Repub­li­can Rich­mond Davis and Lib­er­tar­ian David Grigg in the Nov. 6 gen­eral elec­tion.

A former Mary­land state del­e­gate and trial at­tor­ney, Cum­mings is known on Capi­tol Hill for his bois­ter­ous ques­tion­ing of wit­nesses.

“I see Eli­jah Cum­mings get mad al­most ev­ery day,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, the Mont­gomery County Demo­crat who serves with him on the com­mit­tee.

Raskin said the anger isn’t “hate­ful,” but rather is di­rected at in­jus­tice.

Last spring, Cum­mings grew an­noyed when a Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cial wouldn't elab­o­rate on the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion's de­ci­sion to in­clude a ques­tion ask­ing peo­ple their ci­ti­zen­ship sta­tus on the 2020 Cen­sus.

"I asked you, ‘Did you talk to your boss?’ "Cum­mings shouted. "You mean you're go­ing to tell me that you can't an­swer a ques­tion as to whether you talked to your boss, who we pay?"

A decade ago, he mem­o­rably ques­tioned Roger Cle­mens about al­leged steroid use, telling the former base­ball su­per­star: "It's hard to be­lieve you, sir. I hate to say that. You're one of my he­roes."

If he be­comes chair­man, Cum­mings said, he would take a fresh look at which of the 64 sub­poe­nas he would still like to see is­sued, and what new ar­eas he might ex­plore. He said his agenda would likely in­clude prob­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion's pre­scrip­tion drug poli­cies. A plan laid out by Trump in May re­lies on in­creas­ing mar­ket com­pe­ti­tion and re­duc­ing reg­u­la­tory con­straints so drugs can get to mar­ket faster and less ex­pen­sively. The plan did not in­clude di­rect ne­go­ti­a­tions by Medi­care to lower prices for se­niors, a strat­egy long em­braced by Democrats and by Trump dur­ing the cam­paign.

Cum­mings also said he wants to ex­plore why the ad­min­is­tra­tion isn’t sup­port­ing the Obama-era re­quire­ment that in­sur­ers must cover peo­ple with pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions. The Jus­tice Depart­ment has ar­gued that the re­quire­ment is part of a flawed law — Oba­macare.

Cum­mings won’t rule out what would be a par­tic­u­larly high-pro­file ef­fort — try­ing to force Trump to re­lease his tax re­turns. “I'm go­ing to go wher­ever the ev­i­dence leads me,” he said.

That ef­fort could fall to an­other com­mit­tee, such as Ways and Means or Fi­nance, and might lead to a le­gal show­down “over whether Congress can de­mand such ac­tion,” Eberly said.

One sce­nario Cum­mings won’t en­ter­tain is the pos­si­bil­ity that some Democrats, em­bold­ened if they cap­ture a House ma­jor­ity, could push to im­peach the pres­i­dent.

“I’m not even go­ing to get into im­peach­ment right now,” he said.

An­a­lysts say im­peach­ment talk could bol­ster Repub­li­can voter turnout in the midterm elec­tion by fir­ing up Trump’s base, and per­haps alien­at­ing cen­trist vot­ers. Re­mov­ing Trump from of­fice would re­quire House and Se­nate votes, and the Se­nate is widely ex­pected to re­main in Repub­li­can hands.

“The risk of talk­ing about im­peach­ment is to scare off mod­er­ates, sub­ur­ban­ites, in­de­pen­dents who would like a lit­tle re­lief from the level of bit­ter par­ti­san­ship and the un­be­liev­able grid­lock,” said Floyd Cir­uli, a Colorado-based in­de­pen­dent poll­ster. “Their prob­lem is, Mueller may come in with true high crimes and mis­de­meanors.”

If Mueller pre­sented im­peach­ment­wor­thy ev­i­dence, Cir­uli said, the Democrats could get dragged into a de­bate “in spite of their lead­er­ship.”

In the mean­time, “you’ve got to take these things step by step,” said Over­sight mem­ber John Sar­banes, a Bal­ti­more County Demo­crat who rep­re­sents por­tions of Bal­ti­more City.

“Con­gress­man Cum­mings and the com­mit­tee staff have been con­stantly ask­ing and plead­ing with the chair­man and the Repub­li­can staff to is­sue sub­poe­nas,” Sar­banes said. “I think what the Democrats should be talk­ing about is bring­ing sun­shine, trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity, and frankly go­ing from there.”

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