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 CummingsTrump rips Bill Maher as 'exhausted, gaunt and weak' Bill Maher delivers mock eulogy for Trump The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden comes to Washington to honor John Lewis 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 TrumpUSPS warns Pennsylvania mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted Michael Cohen book accuses Trump of corruption, fraud Trump requests mail-in ballot for Florida congressional primary 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 PelosiSusan Collins asks postmaster general to address delays of 'critically needed mail' Trump says he'd sign bill funding USPS but won't seek changes to help mail voting On The Money: Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief agreement | Weekly jobless claims fall below 1 million for first time since March | Trump says no Post Office funding means Democrats 'can't have universal mail-in voting' 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 MeadowsOvernight Health Care: Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal | US records deadliest day of summer | Georgia governor drops lawsuit over Atlanta's mask mandate Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal Pelosi: COVID talks will resume when GOP offers T 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 McConnellOn The Money: Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief agreement | Weekly jobless claims fall below 1 million for first time since March | Trump says no Post Office funding means Democrats 'can't have universal mail-in voting' Overnight Health Care: Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal | US records deadliest day of summer | Georgia governor drops lawsuit over Atlanta's mask mandate Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal MORE (R-Ky.) and Charles SchumerChuck SchumerIn the next relief package Congress must fund universal COVID testing Ocasio-Cortez's 2nd grade teacher tells her 'you've got this' ahead of DNC speech New poll shows Markey with wide lead over Kennedy in Massachusetts MORE (D-N.Y.) — as well as Reps. James Clyburn (S.C.), the Democratic whip, and Karen BassKaren Ruth BassBlack women are ambitious — that's why we need more in office Bass on filling Harris's Senate spot: 'I'll keep all my options open' Newsom says he has already received a number of pitches for Harris's open Senate seat 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 CohenMichael Cohen book accuses Trump of corruption, fraud Ocasio-Cortez challenges Trump to release college transcript The Hill's 12:30 Report: White House, Dems debate coronavirus relief package 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 IssaHarris endorses Democrat in tight California House race Democrats go big on diversity with new House recruits GOP sues California over Newsom's vote-by-mail order MORE (R-Calif.), over holding then-Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderObamas discuss pandemic, voting, anxiety and community in new podcast Joy Reid debut delivers 2.6 million viewers for MSNBC The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Facebook — Republicans rejigger summer convention plans MORE in contempt of Congress, and Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdySenate GOP set to ramp up Obama-era probes More than two dozen former prosecutors, judges, active trial lawyers support DOJ decision to dismiss Michael Flynn case Sunday shows preview: As states loosen social distancing restrictions, lawmakers address dwindling state budgets MORE (R-S.C.), amid the investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonUSPS warns Pennsylvania mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal Gloria Steinem: Selection of Kamala Harris recognizes that 'black women ... are the heart and soul of the Democratic Party' 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 says FBI chief 'committed to being helpful' after Trump criticism Democrat flips GOP-held state House seat in South Carolina Ron Johnson signals some GOP senators concerned about his Obama-era probes 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 PenceThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump threatens Postal Service funding l Biden proposes national mask mandate l Democratic convention takes shape Biden and Harris seen as more moderate than Trump and Pence: poll Pence on debating Harris: 'I can't wait' MORE, Attorney General William BarrBill BarrHillicon Valley: 'Fortnite' owner sues Apple after game is removed from App Store | Federal agencies seize, dismantle cryptocurrency campaigns of major terrorist organizations Federal agencies seize, dismantle cryptocurrency campaigns of major terrorist organizations How would a Biden Justice Department be different? 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 HoyerLawmakers of color urge Democratic leadership to protect underserved communities in coronavirus talks The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump to Democratic negotiators: 'They know my phone number' House will be out of session for additional week in September 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 WaxmanLobbying groups received millions in PPP loans The Hill's Top Lobbyists 2019 Lawmakers come together to honor Cummings: 'One of the greats in our country's history' 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