WASHINGTON – Rep. Elijah Cummings was fondly remembered in Washington Thursday across the political spectrum as a leader with a strong moral compass and deep commitment to civil rights as a politician in Baltimore for over 36 years.
Members of congressional leadership offered their reflections and memory of the Democratic congressman in front of a packed House floor Thursday afternoon.
“I know that the people of Baltimore, Congress and America have lost a voice of clarity and truth,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California.
Pelosi clearly struggled to keep her emotions in check as she spoke.
“I am personally devastated by his passing as I know many of us are… Elijah was our North Star.”
Each member of the Maryland House delegation stood beside Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, as he delivered a speech mourning Cummings.
“All of us in this House lost a respected colleague,” Hoyer said. “He was a quiet man who did not seek the limelight, but he was not afraid to step out into the arena and fight hard for the causes in which he believed strongly.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, also spoke, praising Cummings with his “enormous presence. At many times he’d be an adversary. He was a respected adversary, because he was tough.”
The House members then stood for a brief moment of silence.
Cummings served in Congress for 23 years representing Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, which encompasses much of Baltimore City, Baltimore County and a chunk of Howard County.
Congressional colleagues praised Cummings for continuing to work tirelessly, even while dealing with severe health problems in recent years, including complications from heart surgery and a knee infection. Hoyer said Cummings participated in a phone call with Democratic leadership on Sunday.
“He did not allow his illness to become an excuse for failure,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Missouri, a friend and fellow member of the Congressional Black Caucus, in an interview with MSNBC. “This guy was deathly ill and still worked.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Kensington, who sat on the House Oversight and Reform Committee with Chairman Cummings, said: “It is hard to measure the enormity of the loss we have just suffered. Elijah was the beloved favorite son of Maryland and the prophetic voice of moral integrity and social rebuilding that America needs so desperately.”
Since the Democrats gained control of the House in 2018, Cummings was a thorn in President Donald Trump’s side as head of the oversight panel. Under his leadership, the committee opened several investigations into the president, leading to the impeachment inquiry currently underway.
Trump attacked the congressman with racist tweets last summer, calling Baltimore “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and describing Cummings as a “brutal bully.”
Cummings, however, refused to get into a public feud with the president.
“The best counter puncher in the world is a butterfly,” Cleaver said. “It says nothing, and that’s what Elijah Cummings did.”
Trump offered his condolences to the Cummings family in a tweet, adding that “I got to see first hand the strength, passion and wisdom of this highly respected political leader.”
Former President Barack Obama said in a statement that “Chairman Cummings remained steadfast in his pursuit of truth, justice, and reconciliation. It’s a tribute to his native Baltimore that one of its own brought such character, tact, and resolve into the halls of power everyday.”
Cummings’ popularity in Washington defied political differences.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, said, “there was no stronger advocate and no better friend than Elijah Cummings.”
Cummings defended Meadows during a heated moment at a congressional hearing in February when Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Michigan, accused him of being a racist. The chairman referred to Meadows as one of his “best friends” and went on to restore order in the room.
Former Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, said that although they rarely ever agreed on political matters, he was “one of the most beautiful and compelling voices in American politics.” The two frequently sparred during the House Oversight Committee’s investigation several years ago into the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Libya.
Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, said Cummings was a “respected public servant” and that the two “shared a strong passion for representing our districts and the state of Maryland.”
Cummings, who was born and raised in Baltimore, was known as a fierce leader and defender of the city, a quality on display during the unrest following the 2014 death of Freddie Gray.
The congressman gave an impassioned speech at Gray’s funeral, and went into the streets to try to calm rioters.
“He wasn’t in his office, he was out with the young people who were obviously and rightly upset and emotional and looking for answers,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas.
Former Florida Republican Rep. Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, co-hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” were married by Cummings at the National Archives last November. Brzezinski said in a tweet they were “heartbroken” by the lawmaker’s death.
“Thank you, Elijah, for being such a good friend,” Scarborough tweeted. “But we thank God even more that you were such a powerful advocate for your constituents and a true patriot fighting for justice and truth.”
Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. tweeted his condolences, saying Cummings “possessed broad shoulders, keen intellect, a tough mind & a tender heart; the attributes of which great leaders are built.”
Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Michigan, said on MSNBC that Cummings helped to bring national attention and congressional scrutiny to the Flint, Michigan, water contamination scandal.
“He’s a hero in my home town and he’s a hero to me and I’ll never forget him for it,” Kildee said.