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 CummingsMaryland postpones primary over coronavirus fears Maryland governor: 'Simply not enough supplies' on hand to tackle coronavirus Meadows joins White House facing reelection challenges 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 TrumpHealth insurers Cigna, Humana waive out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus treatment Puerto Rico needs more federal help to combat COVID-19 Fauci says April 30 extension is 'a wise and prudent decision' 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.

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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 PelosiMnuchin emerges as key asset in Trump's war against coronavirus Graham: Pelosi comment on Trump is 'most shameful, disgusting statement by any politician in modern history' The coronavirus pandemic versus the climate change emergency 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 MeadowsMnuchin emerges as key asset in Trump's war against coronavirus The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Senators clinch deal on T stimulus package White House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package 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 McConnellMnuchin emerges as key asset in Trump's war against coronavirus Louisiana Republican: People upset at 'spending porn on pet projects' in latest stimulus bill Coronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner MORE (R-Ky.) and Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerJoe Biden can't lead the charge from his home in Delaware Texas man arrested for allegedly threatening Democrats over coronavirus bill Pelosi not invited by Trump to White House coronavirus relief bill's signing MORE (D-N.Y.) — as well as Reps. James Clyburn (S.C.), the Democratic whip, and Karen BassKaren Ruth BassBiden congratulates Trump on implementing Defense Production Act House Democrats press Barr to protect inmates from coronavirus CBC chair endorses Biden 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 CohenJudge rejects Michael Cohen's plea for early prison release amid coronavirus Michael Cohen cites 'absence of presidential leadership' over coronavirus in effort to move to home confinement Free Roger Stone 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 IssaNew poll shows tight race in key California House race Five Latinas who could be Biden's running mate The Hill's Campaign Report: Campaigns confront reality of coronavirus MORE (R-Calif.), over holding then-Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderBig stimulus packages required, but they risk political blowback Trump's DOJ makes a case for civil rights for the unborn Trump defends rhetoric: 'When they hit us we have to hit back' MORE in contempt of Congress, and Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdySunday shows preview: Lawmakers gear up for another week fighting the coronavirus, seek to curb fallout GOP lawmaker shows off AR-15 in office, challenges Biden to 'come and take it' Sunday shows preview: 2020 Democrats jockey for top spot ahead of Nevada caucuses MORE (R-S.C.), amid the investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden tops Trump by 9 points in Fox News poll With VP pick, Biden can't play small ball in a long ball world Hillary Clinton on US leading in coronavirus cases: Trump 'did promise "America First"' 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: Pelosi comment on Trump is 'most shameful, disgusting statement by any politician in modern history' Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers, state governors talk coronavirus, stimulus package and resources as pandemic rages on Campaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus 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 PenceNew York Times defends reporter after Trump swipe: Her 'reporting has stood the test of time' Trump approves disaster declaration for Michigan despite sparring with state's governor Trump digs in on criticism of Democratic governors MORE, Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrStates should plan now for November voting options Democratic Senators urge FTC to prevent coronavirus price gouging Maduro pushes back on DOJ charges, calls Trump 'racist cowboy' 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 HoyerDC argues it is shortchanged by coronavirus relief bill Lysol, disinfecting wipes and face masks mark coronavirus vote in House The Hill's 12:30 Report: House to vote on .2T stimulus after mad dash to Washington 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 WaxmanThe Hill's Top Lobbyists 2019 Lawmakers come together to honor Cummings: 'One of the greats in our country's history' Lessons from Congress' last big battle on climate 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