WASHINGTON — Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) sat next to Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) on the floor of the U.S. House a few weeks ago, when Cummings cast what would be his last vote in Congress.
The Maryland Democrat “didn’t know it was his last [vote], but it was,” Butterfield said. Cummings’ staff helped him get out of his chair. “He looked at me that day and said, ‘I’m so sick. I love you man,” recalled Butterfield, who was among the many lawmakers who paid tribute to Cummings on the House floor on Monday.
“Well I say to you tonight, Congressman Cummings, ‘I love you, we love you, America loves you,’” he said.
Cummings died last week at age 68 after serving in the House for 23 years. He was chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee and previously served as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“He was a leader who loved this nation and all of its people and fought until his very last breath for those who had been left out and left behind,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).
Lewis and Cummings used to joke about the fact that people confused them for each other. “It was an honor to know and to love him,” Lewis said. “We have lost a warrior and I don’t think we’ll be so lucky or so blessed to see the likeness of this man again.”
Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the House Majority Whip, spoke of Cummings’ legacy.
“It’s a simple legacy that I would hope all of us will remember,” he said. “It matters not where you come from, what really matters is how far you go.”
Cummings, Clyburn added, “came to this body knowing full well that he was coming into a body where people stood on the shoulders of giants. He didn’t set out to be a giant, but he became one. And we today are much better off because of Elijah Cummings.”
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said that when Cummings spoke, “he spoke with moral authority, frequently reminding us that we are better than that.”
Democratic Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C., lamented the timing of her former colleague’s death.
“Tragically, we have lost Elijah Cummings when this House perhaps most needed his principled leadership,” said Holmes Norton, who serves on the oversight panel that’s involved in the House impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.
“Elijah Cummings’ legendary even-handedness will be most missed and sought after by all who are looking for a role model and for best practices for the rare impeachment inquiry,” she said.
Cummings’ fellow Maryland lawmakers also mourned their former colleague on Monday.
“Even as he commanded a gavel as chairman, he never stopped fighting for Baltimore and the little guy,” said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.).
Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) said, “I was thinking today as I drove from Baltimore through West Baltimore, the community he loved, about his fight for the soul of our democracy and I had anxiety. Can we finish that fight without him?
“But it occurred to me that Elijah would not have left us when he did if he didn’t believe that we had it within ourselves to finish that fight.”
Robin Bravender is the D.C. bureau chief for the States Newsroom.