Lawmakers come together to honor Cummings: 'One of the greats in our country's history'

Lawmakers come together to honor Cummings: 'One of the greats in our country's history'
© Greg Nash

Hundreds of lawmakers from both parties came together Thursday in the Capitol to honor the late Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsDebate gives Democrats a chance to focus on unaddressed issues of concern to black voters Maloney wins House Oversight gavel The Hill's Morning Report - Wild Wednesday: Sondland testimony, Dem debate take center stage MORE, the son of sharecroppers who rose to become a giant of the Democratic Party and a principal figure in the impeachment investigation of President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE

One by one, congressional leaders and Cummings’s closest allies paid tribute to the Maryland Democrat, 68, who passed away last week after a lengthy illness and lay in state Thursday outside the House chamber.

It was a rare display of comity for a Congress that’s been entrenched for weeks in a partisan battle over impeaching Trump — a process to which Cummings, who served as the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, was central.


Cummings is the first African American lawmaker to lie in state in the Capitol, with his casket sitting atop the black catafalque originally constructed for Abraham Lincoln in 1865. 

“Elijah was truly a master of the House. He respected its history, and in it he helped shape America’s future,” said Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiKlobuchar shuts down idea a woman can't beat Trump: 'Pelosi does it every day' Budowsky: Trump destroying GOP in 2018, '19, '20 On The Money: Senate scraps plan to force second shutdown vote | Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny | McConnell rips House Dems for holding up trade deal MORE (D-Calif.). “For the children, he wanted a future worthy of their aspirations and true to the values of America.” 

Conservative Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsMichelle Obama presents Lin-Manuel Miranda with National Portrait Award Sondland testimony looms over impeachment hearings this week Democrats seize on new evidence in first public impeachment hearing MORE (R-N.C.), former chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus and a close friend of Cummings, acknowledged the seemingly “unexpected” alliance he forged with the liberal Baltimore Democrat. 

Just a day earlier, Meadows had joined with Republicans protesting the closed-door depositions in the impeachment inquiry. But on Thursday, he was part of a group of both Democrats and Republicans eulogizing the late Oversight committee chairman.

Cummings’s capacity to reach across the aisle, Meadows said, was among his most striking characteristics. 

“He had a smile that would consume his whole face. You know that. But he also had eyes that would pierce through anybody that was standing in his way,” Meadows said.

“Perhaps this place and this country would be better served with a few more unexpected friendships. I know I've been blessed by one."

Other speakers included the Senate leaders — Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: Fireworks on health care expected at Dem debate | Trump FDA pick dodges on vaping ban | Trump to host meeting on youth vaping Friday | AMA calls for immediate vaping ban GOP senator blocks vote on House-passed Violence Against Women Act On The Money: Senate scraps plan to force second shutdown vote | Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny | McConnell rips House Dems for holding up trade deal MORE (R-Ky.) and Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTensions rise in Senate's legislative 'graveyard' 2020 Republicans accuse Schumer of snubbing legislation Schumer: Leadership trying to work out competing surprise medical bill measures MORE (D-N.Y.) — as well as Reps. James Clyburn (S.C.), the Democratic whip, and Karen BassKaren Ruth BassHillicon Valley: Google to limit political ad targeting | Senators scrutinize self-driving car safety | Trump to 'look at' Apple tariff exemption | Progressive lawmakers call for surveillance reforms | House panel advances telecom bills Minority lawmakers call out Google for hiring former Trump DHS official Hillicon Valley: Google buying Fitbit for .1B | US launches national security review of TikTok | Twitter shakes up fight over political ads | Dems push committee on 'revenge porn' law MORE (D-Calif.), the head of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), of which Cummings was a highly influential member.

“He never set out to be a giant, but he became one,” Bass said.

Following the ceremony, members of the CBC banded together around Cummings’s casket, wearing kente cloth in solidarity. 

Cummings endured ongoing health issues in recent years, including heart and knee problems, and traveled around Capitol Hill in a motorized wheelchair. But he had spent his final days signing off on a flurry of subpoenas in Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. 

After holding a blockbuster hearing in February with Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenWill Republicans continue to engage in willful blindness? 3 reasons why impeachment fatigue has already set in Day 2 impeachment ratings drop by more than 1 million from first day MORE, Trump’s former attorney, Cummings made a point of underscoring the significance of the moment in history.

“When we’re dancing with the angels, the question will be asked: In 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?” Cummings said at the time.

Before Trump, Cummings clashed with aggressive GOP Oversight committee chairmen like former Reps. Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaWhy the GOP march of mad hatters poses a threat to our Democracy Elijah Cummings, native son of Baltimore, gets emotional send-off from Democratic luminaries Lawmakers come together to honor Cummings: 'One of the greats in our country's history' MORE (R-Calif.), over holding then-Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderPelosi refers to Sinclair's Rosen as 'Mr. Republican Talking Points' over whistleblower question Krystal Ball: Billionaires panicking over Sanders candidacy Obama celebrates 'great night for our country' after Democrats' victories in Virginia and Kentucky MORE in contempt of Congress, and Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Conway spars with Wallace on whether White House will cooperate with impeachment inquiry after formal vote Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' MORE (R-S.C.), amid the investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonAs Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Harris rips Gabbard over Fox appearances during Obama years Steyer, Gabbard and Yang shut out of early minutes of Democratic debate MORE’s email use as secretary of State.  

Over the summer, Trump personally took aim at Cummings by calling his Baltimore-area district a “disgusting,” “rodent infested mess.” 

The Baltimore-born Cummings defended his district, which he would return to each day even when Congress was in session.

“I wake up, and I go and fight for my neighbors. It is my constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch. But, it is my moral duty to fight for my constituents,” Cummings responded to Trump at the time. 

Following Cummings’s death last Thursday, Trump tweeted his own tribute to his former rival. 

“His work and voice on so many fronts will be very hard, if not impossible, to replace!” Trump said.

Despite the show of support for Cummings, the demonstration of bipartisan civility is unlikely to endure long in a Capitol that’s practically defined by partisan bickering. 

And there were early signs that the fight over impeachment would be quick to resume, as Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: Report on alleged surveillance abuse in 2016 to be released Dec. 9 McConnell hopes Senate impeachment trial 'not too lengthy a process' Hillicon Valley: Progressives oppose funding bill over surveillance authority | Senators call for 5G security coordinator | Facebook gets questions over location tracking | Louisiana hit by ransomware attack MORE (R-S.C.), a close Trump ally, was set to introduce a resolution Thursday afternoon condemning the Democrats’ impeachment investigation for being conducted largely behind closed doors to date. 

Following Thursday’s congressional ceremony, the public was invited to enter the Capitol to view Cummings’s casket outside the House chamber. Two Capitol Police officers stood watch over the casket beside commemorative wreaths, with the main door to the House chamber kept wide open with a full view of the dais.

Multiple current and former Trump administration officials came to pay their respects as Cummings lay in state, including Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceFive bombshells from explosive Sondland testimony 2019 Louisiana governor's race spells disaster for Trump in 2020 House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues MORE, Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrGOP rep predicts watchdog report on alleged FISA abuses will find 'problems' Barr defends Trump's use of executive authority, slams impeachment hearings GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse MORE and former Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan.

“Elijah Cummings viewed service in this House for what it is: an instrument by which ordinary citizens make our republic better by giving it their love, their labor, and their very best,” said House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse passes stopgap as spending talks stall This week: Round 2 of House impeachment inquiry hearings Lawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms MORE (D), a fellow Marylander who’d worked alongside Cummings for decades. “And, as it was said before and Elijah would repeatedly remind us when we came short of our goals and ideals: ‘We are better than this.’"

Thursday’s ceremony in the Capitol is just one of a series of tributes to Cummings this week. On Wednesday, Baltimore’s Morgan State University hosted a public viewing. And Cummings’s funeral services will take place Friday at New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore, where speakers include a who’s who of Democratic leaders: former Presidents Obama and Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Pelosi. 

“It’s clear how well-thought he was by Democrats and Republicans," said former Rep. Henry WaxmanHenry Arnold WaxmanLawmakers come together to honor Cummings: 'One of the greats in our country's history' Lessons from Congress' last big battle on climate Current, former lawmakers celebrate release of new book on Jack Brooks, 'The Meanest Man in Congress' MORE (D-Calif.), who had served as House Oversight and Reform Committee chairman before Cummings. "So many colleagues were here to pay tribute and say goodbye to not only a chairman and a member of Congress, but one of the greats in our country’s history." 

– Scott Wong contributed