SALT LAKE CITY — Former Utah GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland had almost nothing in common politically or personally.
Yet for more than two years as leaders of the House Oversight Committee, they shared some laughs and private conversations on the dais amid often tumultuous hearings.
“I can’t think of much we agreed on but I always had the utmost respect for him, and he reciprocated that,” Chaffetz told KSL Thursday, adding when they did agree, it didn’t make the news.
Cummings, 68, died early Thursday at Johns Hopkins Hospital due to complications from longstanding health challenges, according to his office.
Cummings served as the ranking member of the Oversight Committee for the 2 1⁄2 years Chaffetz served as chairman. Cummings was the chairman when he died.
“He was a good man. I will miss him,” said Chaffetz, now a Fox News contributor.
Cummings served in Congress for 23 years before ascending in January to head the Oversight panel, from which he oversaw several investigations into the Trump administration.
While Chaffetz is a staunch defender of President Donald Trump, Cummings was one of three committee leaders guiding the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
But while serving together, Chaffetz and Cummings learned from and about each other.
Chaffetz visited Cummings’ inner city Baltimore district upon becoming committee chairman and brought Cummings to Utah. The two went to Moab, met with Grand and San Juan county officials and did a nighttime boat tour in Canyonlands National Park. Cummings, he said, regretted not bringing his wife.
Chaffetz stayed in touch with Cummings after leaving office, sneaking into the Capitol a few times to visit with him. They spent an hour together earlier this year as Cummings’ health deteriorated, talking about “everything under the sun” from family to politics to Baltimore Ravens football.
“He loved this country,” Chaffetz said. “He really believed he was there to help his country.”
Cummings often said, “Oh, come on now. We can do better than that,” Chaffetz recalled. The words, he said, were genuine and deep regardless of whether it was during the Obama administration or the Trump administration.
On Thursday, Chaffetz posted a photo of himself giving Cummings a University of Utah football jersey with Cummings’ name on the back.
“He was an exceptional man with whom I was most fortunate to know. He loved our country. I will miss him and always cherish our friendship. #RIP God bless,” Chaffetz wrote in the caption.
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, tweeted that he was sad to hear of Cummings’ passing.
“He lived a life dedicated to public service and his legacy will not be forgotten,” Stewart wrote.