“I am heartbroken. Truly heartbroken,” Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the founding chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told CNN. Chaffetz called Cummings “an exceptional man.” “He loved our country,” tweeted the former Oversight Committee chairman, who jousted with Cummings when the Democrat was the panel’s ranking member. “I will miss him and always cherish our friendship.” The House Republican leader, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, hailed Cummings as “a leader for both parties to emulate.”
It’s easy, of course, to find a kind word for the deceased—even Trump, who just a few months ago called Cummings’s Baltimore congressional district a “disgusting rat and rodent infested mess,” lauded him as a “highly respected political leader” in a tweet this morning.
Read: What Elijah Cummings once told Trump in private
Yet by all accounts, the reactions from Republicans on Capitol Hill were no crocodile tears, and Cummings had genuine personal relationships with several of them. Cummings himself described Meadows as “one of my best friends,” and came to his defense after Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan accused the Trump ally of pulling a “racist” stunt at the Cohen hearing.
Perhaps no tribute—from a Democrat or a Republican—was as reverential as that of Gowdy, who said Cummings was “one of the most powerful, beautiful, and compelling voices in American politics.
“We never had a cross word outside of a committee room,” Gowdy, another former GOP chairman of the Oversight Committee, said in a lengthy Twitter thread this morning. “He had a unique ability to separate the personal from the work.” He recalled a story Cummings often told of a school employee who urged him to abandon his dream of becoming a lawyer and opt for a job “with his hands not his mind.” That employee would later become Cummings’s first client, Gowdy wrote.
“We live in an age where we see people on television a couple of times and we think we know them and what they are about,” the Republican said.
Cummings died at a Maryland hospice center from what his office said were “complications concerning longstanding health challenges.” He had spent months in the hospital after heart and knee surgeries in 2017 and got around in a wheelchair, but there was little public indication of how serious his condition was in the weeks before his death.
In Baltimore, Cummings’s legacy will extend far beyond his work on the House’s chief investigatory committee. He was first elected to Congress in 1996, after 13 years in the Maryland state legislature. After the death of Freddie Gray in the back of a police van in 2015, Cummings walked through West Baltimore with a bullhorn in an attempt to quell the unrest from angry and distraught black citizens. In March 2017, at a time when most Democrats were denouncing the Trump administration on an hourly basis, Cummings met with the new president at the White House in a bid to work with him on a bill to lower drug prices. As my colleague Peter Nicholas recounted earlier this year, the two men fell into a candid talk about race, but little came of the effort on prescription drugs.