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U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gives remarks at the gala. U.S. and Maryland Democratic leadership spoke at the Maryland Democratic Party's annual gala Saturday night at Martin's East in Middle River.
U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gives remarks at the gala. U.S. and Maryland Democratic leadership spoke at the Maryland Democratic Party's annual gala Saturday night at Martin's East in Middle River. (Ulysses Muñoz)

Maryland Democrats must unite to help keep or bring back party control at all levels of government at a time when democracy is under attack, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told state Democrats gathered in Middle River on Saturday night.

The keynote speaker at the Maryland Democratic Party’s annual fundraising gala, the Baltimore-born Pelosi, who represents California in the House, said she was glad to be back in her hometown and reunited with party leaders.

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“There is an assault on our democracy coming right out of the White House, and we cannot let it pass,” Pelosi told the more than 500 people who attended the $250-a-seat dinner at Martin’s East. “Our unity is our power."

Speaking along with Pelosi were Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, and state party Chair Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, widow of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings.

Cummings, who died Oct. 17, was a focus of criticism this year from President Donald Trump as he pursued an investigation of Trump’s administration.

Pelosi and others paid tribute during Saturday’s dinner to Cummings, whom Pelosi quoted as saying, “The question will be asked in 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?”

One answer to that question, Pelosi said, will be the impeachment probe against Trump underway in the House.

Most speakers on Saturday criticized Trump as failing to keep his oath to support and defend the Constitution.

Pelosi said Trump “withheld military assistance to Ukraine ... assistance that was voted on in a bipartisan way by the Congress of the United States,” to “get in return help with his political campaign.”

U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gives remarks at the gala. U.S. and Maryland Democratic leadership spoke at the Maryland Democratic Party's annual gala Saturday night at Martin's East in Middle River.
U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gives remarks at the gala. U.S. and Maryland Democratic leadership spoke at the Maryland Democratic Party's annual gala Saturday night at Martin's East in Middle River. (Ulysses Muoz / Baltimore Sun)

The House, led by Pelosi, on Thursday approved procedures for the impeachment probe, voting 232-196 along party lines. All voting Republicans and two Democrats opposed the package, while Democrats overwhelmingly supported it. The vote, which followed weeks of closed-door proceedings, will usher in a next phase of public committee hearings and likely votes on whether to recommend removing Trump from office.

After the vote, Trump tweeted, "Now is the time for Republicans to stand together and defend the leader of their party against these smears.”

Pelosi and others painted the Democrats as the party of diversity and justice and urged party members to take active roles in elections. Because Republicans have majority control of the Senate, Pelosi said, House-approved legislation on issues such as gun violence and equal pay has been blocked.

“It is so remarkable that they say all we want to do is impeach, when all they want to do is be an impediment,” she said.

As the impeachment proceedings unfold, Maryland Democrats are grappling with the death of Cummings and a special election to fill his 7th Congressional District seat.

If Cummings’ widow wants to succeed her husband, she will be joined by others who have rushed to announce plans. Kweisi Mfume, former head of the NAACP, who held Cummings’ seat in the 7th District from 1987 to 1996, said he will announce his plans for the special election on Monday. Del. Talmadge Branch, majority whip in the House of Delegates, also said he will seek to fill the seat, and former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she is considering a run. Sen. Jill P. Carter, a Democrat who represents Baltimore, said she’ll form an exploratory committee before making a decision.

Rockeymore Cummings said last week she is considering running for her husband’s seat in the special election, with a Feb. 4 primary and an April 28 general election.

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“What we do at this moment will determine where we go in the future,” Rockeymoore Cummings said during Saturday’s event. “It is the responsibility of every single one of us to make sure we are defending the diversity in our democracy and stand for a future that provides an opportunity for all of our children.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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