'Heartbroken': GOP mourns Cummings as friend, statesman

The outpouring of grief from GOP lawmakers at the death of Rep. Elijah Cummings highlights his rare ability to make friendships across the aisle in an era of increasing polarization

ByMATTHEW DALY Associated Press
October 17, 2019, 4:13 PM
Elijah Cummings
In this Aug. 7, 2019, photo, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., speaks during a luncheon at the National Press Club in Washington. U.S. Rep. Cummings has died from complications of longtime health challenges, his office said in a statement on Oct. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- "Heartbroken."

That's how North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, one of the most conservative members of the House, reacted Thursday to the death of Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, a progressive Democrat who chaired the powerful House Oversight and Reform Committee. "I will miss him dearly," he said.

Meadows was one of many Republicans who paid tribute to Cummings, a testament to his ability to build friendships across the aisle in an era when the parties stay poles apart. Even President Donald Trump, who had disparaged Cummings's hometown of Baltimore and was the target of his investigations, called Cummings "a highly respected political leader" and ordered flags at the White House lowered in tribute.

At the Capitol, where flags also were lowered, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised Cummings as "a living legend in his native Baltimore" and said he "counted close friends and admirers from all across the political spectrum."

Meadows, a leader of the House Freedom Caucus and one of Trump's staunchest defenders, considered Cummings one of his best friends. It was a feeling that Cummings shared despite their obvious differences and more than a few raised eyebrows from Democrats who view the North Carolina Republican with suspicion.

The men's friendship drew national attention earlier this year after Cummings helped resolve a verbal dispute between Meadows and Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan during an Oversight hearing.

"There was no stronger advocate and no better friend than Elijah Cummings," Meadows tweeted Thursday. "I am heartbroken for his wonderful family and staff."

Perhaps no Republican exemplified Cummings's ability to reach across the aisle than former Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina.

Gowdy chaired the special House committee that investigated the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, while Cummings served as the panel's top Democrat. The men were paired again when Gowdy chaired the House Oversight panel, where Cummings served as top Democrat before taking over as chairman in January.

Gowdy said on Twitter that Cummings was "one of the most powerful, beautiful & compelling voices in American politics," and said his authenticity and sincerely held beliefs were an inspiration to all.

While the two men rarely agreed on politics — and sparred frequently on the Benghazi panel — "we never had a cross word outside of a committee," Gowdy said, praising Cummings for "a unique ability to separate the personal from the work."

Born in Baltimore, Cummings' roots were in South Carolina, where his sharecropper parents lived before moving the family to Maryland. Noting those humble beginnings, Gowdy said Cummings overcame a series of external obstacles and roadblocks "and sometimes internal doubt that whispered in the ear of a young Elijah Cummings" to become a lawyer, congressman and "one of the most powerful political figures of his time."

While Cummings was "a proud progressive with a booming, melodious voice who found himself in the middle of most major political stories over the past decade," his legacy also includes the path he took to get there, Gowdy said.

That path was "filled with pain, prejudice, obstacles and doubt that he refused to let stop him," Gowdy said. "His legacy is perseverance. His legacy is fighting through the pain. His legacy to me, above all else, was his faith."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who also served on the Benghazi panel, called Cummings "a dedicated public servant" and said he was saddened at his death.

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, another arch-conservative and a member of the Oversight panel, called Cummings "upfront, gracious and caring" and tweeted a picture of Cummings posing with Roy's son.

Even Rep. Matt Gaetz, a fiery Florida Republican known as a Democratic nemesis, postponed a news conference planned Thursday to complain about the impeachment inquiry, citing respect for Cummings.

"Many are in mourning and we hope that peace and comfort can enter the hearts of those who cared for Elijah," Gaetz said in a tweet.

After the incident with Meadows and Tlaib, in which Tlaib accused Meadows of a "racist act" in bringing forth a black woman to defend Trump, Cummings suggested his friendship with Meadows should be a model for others.

"We need to get away from party and deal with each other as human beings," he said.

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