Earlier in the day, Cumming’s casket will lie in state about 75 feet away from a statute of another civil rights icon, Rosa Parks, and just steps away from the bust of the former Confederate president Jefferson Davis — a reminder of Washington’s troubled history on race relations, which Cummings himself battled throughout his life.
The ceremony in the Capitol will feature remarks from the highest-ranking members of Congress: Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, as well as close friends in the House.
That includes Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who took on the role of public adversary to Cummings as they sat opposite each other on the Oversight Committee dais. Both were fierce partisan warriors, but developed a close personal friendship over the years.
“It’ll probably be the hardest two or three minutes I will ever give,” Meadows said of his speech on Thursday, noting that his office was down the hall from Cummings for years. “He was a real friend.”
Cummings served as a champion for black Americans in Baltimore for decades. But lawmakers say he became the voice of black Americans across the nation in the era of President Donald Trump.
Cummings repeatedly decried Trump’s rhetoric, even as he tried to forge policy deals with the president on issues like prescription drugs. He was forced into a more head-on conflict with Trump this summer, when the president called Baltimore a “rat and rodent infested mess” in a tweet and called out Cummings specifically to “help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place.”
“We lost a giant, and we lost somebody at a particular moment of history when he was so needed,” said Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, who will also speak at Thursday’s ceremony.
Ahead of the ceremony, top Democrats shared a video tribute of Cummings’ political career with the CBC — which Cummings once chaired — where emotions ran high, according to people in the room. The caucus also plans to deliver its own tribute to him on Thursday on the House floor.
Cummings was an enormously respected figure, and though his health was poor during the past two years, he was a key figure in Democrats’ sweeping investigations into the Trump administration since the president’s inauguration in 2017. His oversight role took on greater urgency as Democrats formally moved into an impeachment inquiry this fall, and leaves behind a struggle to replace him as chairman.
In his final weeks, the Oversight chairman spoke on a near-daily basis to his fellow chairmen and staff about the ongoing investigation. Just days before he died, Cummings spoke on a conference call to brief the Democratic Caucus on the Ukraine investigation.
“We don’t know what the IG is going to say, but whatever they say, it will be significant,” Cummings told Democrats on a private caucus call on Oct. 2, as the caucus ramped up its probe into whether Trump pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate the Bidens.
The funeral on Friday, which will be held at his home church in Baltimore, is expected to draw thousands.
In Washington, Cummings will be the first lawmaker to lie in state since the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in August 2018. He will make history as just the third African American to receive the same honor, following Parks in 2013, and the first elected official to do so.
“It shows the growth and development of the body politic in Washington,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said, adding that he became “fast friends” with Cummings even before he arrived in Congress more than a decade ago.
“He was just a good human being,” said Cleaver, a preacher-turned-congressman who will deliver the invocation and benediction at Thursday’s ceremony. “And I don’t know if he is immediately replaceable.”