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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 CummingsWe must act on lowering cost of prescription drugs Voters elected a record number of Black women to Congress this year — none were Republican Democrats were united on top issues this Congress — but will it hold? 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 TrumpBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country Biden says family will avoid business conflicts 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 PelosiBiden backs 0B compromise coronavirus stimulus bill US records over 14 million coronavirus cases On The Money: COVID-19 relief picks up steam as McConnell, Pelosi hold talks | Slowing job growth raises fears of double-dip recession | Biden officially announces Brian Deese as top economic adviser 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 MeadowsAlyssa Farah resigns as White House communications director Trump hits Barr over voter fraud remarks: 'He hasn't looked' Trump had tense meeting with Barr after statement DOJ found no widespread election fraud: reports 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 McConnellBiden backs 0B compromise coronavirus stimulus bill US records over 14 million coronavirus cases On The Money: COVID-19 relief picks up steam as McConnell, Pelosi hold talks | Slowing job growth raises fears of double-dip recession | Biden officially announces Brian Deese as top economic adviser MORE (R-Ky.) and Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPelosi, Schumer endorse 8 billion plan as basis for stimulus talks Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms Trump supporters could hand Senate control to Democrats MORE (D-N.Y.) — as well as Reps. James Clyburn (S.C.), the Democratic whip, and Karen BassKaren Ruth BassJoyce Beatty elected next chair of Congressional Black Caucus Feinstein pushes for California secretary of state to replace Harris in Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience 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 CohenFor the Trump-haters, everything is a crime Talk of self-pardon for Trump heats up Ousted federal prosecutor hired by New York law firm 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 IssaIssa defeats Campa-Najjar in California House race Chamber-backed Democrats embrace endorsements in final stretch Ex-RNC, Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy charged in covert lobbying scheme MORE (R-Calif.), over holding then-Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderEx-AG Holder urges GOP to speak against Trump efforts to 'subvert' election results Tyson Foods suspends Iowa plant officials amid coronavirus scandal Money can't buy the Senate MORE in contempt of Congress, and Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyThe Hunter Biden problem won't go away Sunday shows preview: Joe Biden wins the 2020 election Sunday shows preview: Election integrity dominates as Nov. 3 nears MORE (R-S.C.), amid the investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary and Chelsea Clinton to host series based on their book 'Gutsy Women' Democrats see spike in turnout among Asian American, Pacific Islander voters Biden officially announces ex-Obama official Brian Deese as top economic adviser 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 GrahamBiden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country The Memo: Harris moves signal broad role as VP Former US attorney asks for probe of allegations Graham pressured Georgia official 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 PenceSenate confirms Christopher Waller to Fed board Trump pardon scandal would doom his 2024 campaign Trump to award highest civilian honor to Lou Holtz on Thursday MORE, Attorney General William BarrBill BarrBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him Trump campaign, RNC announce 0 million post-election fundraising haul Michigan voter fraud hearing goes viral for alleged flatulence, unruly witness 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 Democrats pick DeLauro to lead Appropriations panel Congress faces late-year logjam Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline 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 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