Rep. Elijah Cummings to lie in state at the Capitol
Lawmakers put aside their differences over impeachment for an hour Thursday to pay tribute at the U.S. Capitol to “the Mahogany Marylander,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, who died on Oct 17.
The widely-respected congressman and civil rights leader is the first African-American lawmaker to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol. Two other African-Americans — Rosa Parks and Jacob Chestnut, Jr. — have lain in honor, a tribute afforded to private citizens, according to records from the House’s archive.
Cummings, who was serving in his 13th term in the House of Representatives died last week due to complications from unspecified health challenges, according to his office.
Statuary Hall filled in with lawmakers, family, congressional staff and friends — clad in black, purple and orange to honor the late representative’s hometown of Baltimore — as they stood quietly, with only the shutters of cameras interrupting the silence as mourners waited for the ceremony to begin.
Cummings’ casket arrived at Statuary Hall inside the Capitol at 11:15 a.m., carried by a military honor guard, as his family followed behind.
Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, Cummings’ wife, and family members at times appeared emotional, wiping away tears and hanging their heads as the flag-draped casket moved through the rotunda and to the Old House Chamber.
Missouri Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver began the ceremony with a prayer: “Our hearts are made heavy by the transition of our colleague, our family member, our loved one, the Mahogany Marylander, Elijah Cummings as he has moved into the realm of the unseen.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell offered condolences to Cummings’ family, reflecting on his legacy in Congress.
“Elijah was truly a master of the House,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said as Cummings lay in repose. “He respected its history and in it, he helped shape America’s future.”
During a tumultuous time in Congress amid the impeachment inquiry where Cummings held a prominent role as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, the ceremony brought together members from both sides of the aisle.
“His authority came not from the office he held, nor from the timber of his voice, nor its sometimes thundering boom,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said. “Elijah Cummings never forgot where he came from and never lost sight of where he wanted his country to go. That’s why, no matter your politics, if you knew Elijah you went to him for guidance. I often did.”
Cummings’ ability to break partisan barriers was corroborated by his friendship with North Carolina GOP Rep. Mark Meadows, and the attendance of dozens of Republican lawmakers.
“For me, I was privileged enough to call him a dear friend. Some have classified it as an unexpected friendship, but for those of us that know Elijah, it’s not unexpected or surprising,” Meadows said, choking back tears. “He said that Darrell Issa was going to make him famous, and I reminded him that he is not defined by other people. He’s defined by the character of his heart, the honesty of his dialogue and the man that, the man that we will miss.”
“Perhaps this place and this country would be better served with a few more unexpected friendships,” Meadows added. “I know I’ve been blessed by one.”
Following a song from the Morgan State University Choir, California Rep. Karen Bass, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, the House majority whip, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer also stepped up to speak on the kindness Cummings shared will all members of Congress, including his work on the ground in his home state.
“He saw wrongdoing and spent his life working to banish it from our land. In much the same way, he saw poverty in Baltimore and elsewhere and worked to alleviate it,” Hoyer, D, Md., said. “At a moment of anger and pain in Baltimore, he walked with the people and brought them comfort … a calm influence in a sea of rage.”
“Here on earth we will miss him. The House will miss him,” Hoyer said. “And America will miss him.”
Two wreaths, covered in red and white roses paired with a blue sash from the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, stood next to his casket.
Cummings’ remains were then moved just outside the House chamber and placed upon the Lincoln Catafalque, a platform of rough pine boards nailed together and covered with black cloth that was constructed in 1865 to support the casket of President Abraham Lincoln while his body lay in state in the Rotunda following his assassination.
Former House Speaker Paul Ryan, enjoying the 10th month of his retirement from public office, returned to the Capitol to observe the somber moment. He was seated between Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Gerald Connolly D-Va., and a row behind Rev. Al Sharpton, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.
Cummings’ family members and political dignitaries will speak at his funeral Friday at the New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore. Former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton are also scheduled to speak at the funeral, followed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pelosi, a native of Baltimore.
ABC News’ Stephanie Ebbs, Bobby Gehlen and Steff Thomas contributed to this report.