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 CummingsBaltimore unveils plaques for courthouse to be named after Elijah Cummings GOP leaders encourage retiring lawmakers to give up committee posts Pelosi taps Virginia Democrat for key post on economic panel 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 TrumpNational Archives says it altered Trump signs, other messages in Women's March photo Dems plan marathon prep for Senate trial, wary of Trump trying to 'game' the process Democratic lawmaker dismisses GOP lawsuit threat: 'Take your letter and shove it' 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 PelosiRepublicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment Trump chooses high-profile but controversial legal team Trump: Impeachment timing intended to hurt Sanders 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 MeadowsRepublicans criticize Pelosi for gifting pens used to sign impeachment articles Trump, Democrats set for brawl on Iran war powers Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers 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 McConnellDems plan marathon prep for Senate trial, wary of Trump trying to 'game' the process Senate GOP mulls speeding up Trump impeachment trial Republicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment MORE (R-Ky.) and Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate implications Senators are politicians, not jurors — they should act like it MORE (D-N.Y.) — as well as Reps. James Clyburn (S.C.), the Democratic whip, and Karen BassKaren Ruth BassOmar calls on US to investigate Turkey over possible war crimes in Syria McConnell takes heat from all sides on impeachment Sunday Talk Shows: Lawmakers look ahead to House vote on articles of impeachment, Senate trial 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 CohenTreasury adviser pleads guilty to making unauthorized disclosures in case involving Manafort Michael Cohen calls for early release from prison The rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2019 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 IssaDuncan Hunter to plead guilty to campaign finance violations Why 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 MORE (R-Calif.), over holding then-Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderParties to wage census battle with outside groups Welcome to third-world democracy and impeachment Uber settles sexual harassment charges for .4 million MORE in contempt of Congress, and Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyGreen says House shouldn't hold impeachment articles indefinitely Trump golfs with Graham ahead of impeachment trial Trey Gowdy returns to Fox News as contributor MORE (R-S.C.), amid the investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSupreme Court agrees to hear 'faithless elector' cases Poll: Sanders holds 5-point lead over Buttigieg in New Hampshire Climate 'religion' is fueling Australia's wildfires 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 GrahamSenate GOP mulls speeding up Trump impeachment trial Democratic group plans mobile billboard targeting Collins on impeachment Paul predicts no Republicans will vote to convict Trump 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 PenceTrump called top military brass 'a bunch of dopes and babies' in 2017: book Parnas: Environment around Trump 'like a cult' White House pushes back on Parnas allegations MORE, Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrDems plan marathon prep for Senate trial, wary of Trump trying to 'game' the process Pentagon to place new restrictions, monitoring on foreign military students Parnas: Environment around Trump 'like a cult' 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 poised to hand impeachment articles to Senate House to vote on Iran war powers bills sought by progressives Khanna: Timing of Iran bill being weighed against getting bigger majority 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