Remembering Elijah Cummings

Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) speaking at the National Press Club, August 2019. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

When Elijah Cummings died he became the first African American to have his body lie in state in the Capitol at the National Statuary Hall, the same place where Abraham Lincoln once lay.

As soldiers unloaded him from the hearse, camera shutters clicked non-stop. As the flag-draped casket was wheeled into the packed rotunda, the crowd grew silent and soldiers saluted him. President Trump was not there.

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, called Cummings the master of the house. “I have called him our north star, our guide to a better future for our children. Elijah has said our children are messengers to a future we will never see,” Pelosi recalled.

“I loved this man. I loved every minute I ever spent with him, every conversation we ever had,” said President Bill Clinton at Cummings’ funeral Friday.  “I loved his booming voice. But we should hear him now in the quiet times at night and in the morning when we need courage, when we get discouraged and we don’t know if we can believe anymore, we should hear him.”

“His life validates the things we tell ourselves about what’s possible in this country,” said President Barack Obama.

Obama spoke about Cummings’ upbringing, the son of sharecroppers. He said Cummings had come from good soil and that his commitment to justice and the rights of others never wavered. He called Cummings a noble man of good heart.

“There is nothing weak about kindness and compassion, there is nothing weak about looking out for others. There’s nothing weak about being honorable. You’re not a sucker to have integrity and to treat others with respect,” Obama said.

As Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Cummings called Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to testify last March about the citizenship question in the 2020 Census. Cummings listened intently, as he did with everyone who came before the committee. He let Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) tear Ross apart for not delivering the required notice to Congress.

“What we don’t have is the required report to Congress,“ AOC told Ross. “The question I have is why are we violating the law?”

“I believe she is out of time,” Ross responded.

Cummings told Ross he wanted him to send over the paperwork or he would have him come back to explain himself. He died before Ross ever came back but the controversial citizenship question was dropped from the 2020 Census form.

Elijah Cummings was very dignified and he allowed a number of Trump surrogates to lie, prevaricate, and otherwise dodge questions without belittling them. I think he wanted to save them some measure of self-respect, which they didn’t deserve, but that was his way. He was always earnest and gave people the benefit of the doubt hoping they would play fair. Trump’s people didn’t.

About the census, about Trump’s hush money to Stormy Daniels, about the ranking Republican on the Oversight Committee, Jim Jordan, who wrote 12 drug companies urging them to not cooperate with the investigation into the skyrocketing price of prescription drugs, about the General Service Administration withholding documents relating to the Trump organization’s lease with the federal government for the Trump Hotel in Washington. Cummings investigated those and many other things.

About the children ripped from their families and put in cages, 20 to a cage, and reminiscent of Hannibal Lector’s cell in Silence of the Lambs, he remarked, “We can do better.” Cummings was a modern day Laertes looking for at least one honest man in the Trump administration. He never found one.

Cummings bore the burden of listening to so many political hacks pretending to be honest public servants, I think that is what finally killed him.

Here was a guy, one of the most powerful men in Washington, who rode the subway home to Baltimore every night, who was in poor health and who knew he was living on borrowed time.

During one of his hearings, a witness said he had been quite ill and didn’t have the information Cummings wanted. Cummings responded kindly, even though he knew the witness was trying to avoid the question, and said that he, too, had had a recent brush with death, but it didn’t stop him from doing his job. That’s the kind of man he was. He didn’t humiliate people but let them know they weren’t fooling him.

I can’t believe he’s gone. There is nobody who can fill his place and some lesser person will have to do.

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