Some of the most powerful names in American politics remembered the late Rep. Elijah Cummings on Friday as a “guiding light” in Congress, a loyal friend, and a fierce defender of democracy during an emotional funeral service at his church in Baltimore.
In a eulogy filled with biblical references, former secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the chairman of the powerful House Oversight Committee, who died last Thursday, for speaking truth to power up to the end of his life.
“Toward the end of his life, he said, ‘I am begging the American people to pay attention to what is going on, because if you want to have a democracy intact for your children and your children’s children, and generations yet unborn, we have got to guard this moment. This is our watch,’” Clinton recalled Cummings saying.
“‘When we’re dancing with the angels, the question will be asked,’ he said, ‘In 2019 what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?’” she continued, referencing the angels phrase that Cummings often employed. The late congressman, who on Thursday became the first black lawmaker to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol, was known for battling perceived abuses of power by the Trump administration, and as Oversight chairman had played a role in the ongoing impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump.
In remarks punctured with applause from the audience, Clinton drew standing cheers when she compared Cummings with the Old Testament prophet for whom he was named, noting that he “he stood against the corrupt leadership” of biblical figures, an apparent reference to his role in battling the Trump administration.
At the beginning of her remarks, Clinton thanked the constituents of his Baltimore congressional district for sharing their beloved congressman “with our country and the world” and praised his much-lauded oratorical style, noting that “like the prophet, our Elijah could call down fire from heaven.”
But she also portrayed Cummings as frequently rising above the political fray, noting that “even his political adversaries recognized that it wasn’t really about politics for our Elijah,” as cameras cut to Republican lawmakers in attendance at the service.
“He had little tolerance for those who put party ahead of country or partisanship above truth,” she added. “But he could find common ground with anyone willing to seek it with him. And he liked to remind all of us that you can’t get so caught up in who you are fighting that you forget what you are fighting for.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi underscored the bipartisan reverence that Cummings evoked, contending that a service for Cummings at the Capitol the previous day showed he “brought people together in life of different parties and in his death of different parties.”
“He was willing to reach across the aisle, even across the Capitol, even down Pennsylvania Avenue,” she added, a reference to Cummings’ attempts to work with a president he vehemently opposed.
She began her emotional remarks by noting the power of those in attendance at his funeral, thanking two former presidents, a former vice president and former secretary Clinton for coming to pay tribute to “our darling Elijah,” whom she lovingly called “the North Star of Congress” and the “master of the House.”
Pelosi alluded to the improbability of Cummings, the son of sharecroppers, rising to become one of the most powerful members of Congress, pointing out that Cummings laid in repose the day before on the same catafalque in the Capitol as Abraham Lincoln.
“Elijah himself personally lived the American dream and he wanted everyone else to have that opportunity,” she said.
Pelosi, like Clinton, praised Cummings’ attention to bettering the country for the next generation of Americans.
“One word I would use to describe Elijah over and over again is future,” Pelosi said. “He was there to make the future for our children whom he called, as has been said, our living messengers to a future we will never see. But he wanted for those children to have a future worthy of their aspirations, and he wanted them to have a future built on our values, continued to be built on our family.”
The speaker kept her remarks light at times, alluding to her shared Baltimore roots with Cummings and their love of Baltimore sports, and at one point she asked for a show of hands to survey how many Cummings had mentored.
She closed her remarks by imploring the audience to “acknowledge that God truly blessed America with the life and legacy of Elijah E. Cummings,” drawing a standing ovation from attendees.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine