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Elijah Cummings lies in state in Capitol Building today

Pelosi celebrates life of Elijah Cummings
Pelosi celebrates life of Elijah Cummings 03:02

The late longtime Maryland congressman Elijah Cummings, who died last week at the age of 68, is lying in state Thursday in the U.S. Capitol. There was a formal ceremony in the morning open to lawmakers, Cummings' family and invited guests. The public viewing is taking place after the memorial service.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke at the ceremony and referred to Cummings, who was deeply respected by both Democrats and Republicans, as the "North Star" of the House. Pelosi said that Cummings was "truly a master of the House."

"God truly honored America with the life and legacy of Elijah Cummings," Pelosi said. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said at the ceremony that Cummings was "universally respected and admired in a divided time."

Republican Congressman Mark Meadows spoke about his "unexpected" friendship with Cummings.

"This place and this country would be better served with a few more unexpected friendships. I know I've been blessed by one," Meadows.

Rep. Elijah Cummings Lies In State At U.S. Capitol
A memorial service is held for Representative Elijah Cummings in the Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, October 24, 2019. Getty

Cummings' wife, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who is the chair of the Maryland Democratic Party, has said her husband worked until the end of his life because of his belief that "our democracy was the highest and best expression of our collective humanity and that our nation's diversity was our promise, not our problem." 

Cummings, the House Oversight and Reform Committee chairman and a 23-year House veteran, was a key figure in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump and a recent target of intense criticism by the president. He led multiple investigations of Mr. Trump's dealings, including probes in 2019 relating to the president's family members serving in the White House.

The president responded by criticizing Cummings' district as a "rodent-infested mess" where "no human being would want to live." The comments came weeks after Mr. Trump drew bipartisan condemnation following his calls for Democratic congresswomen of color to get out of the U.S. "right now" and go back to their "broken and crime-infested" places of origin.

A sharecropper's son, Cummings was a formidable orator who passionately advocated for the poor in his black-majority district, which encompasses a large portion of Baltimore as well as more well-to-do suburbs.

After Mr. Trump's criticism, Cummings replied that government officials must stop making "hateful, incendiary comments" that only serve to divide and distract the nation from its real problems, including mass shootings and white supremacy.

"Those in the highest levels of the government must stop invoking fear, using racist language and encouraging reprehensible behavior," Cummings said in a speech at the National Press Club.

Throughout his career, Cummings used his fiery voice to highlight the struggles and needs of inner-city residents. He was a firm believer in some much-debated approaches to help the poor and addicted, such as needle exchange programs as a way to reduce the spread of AIDS. Cummings was very popular in his district, where he was a key member of the community.

Cummings said in an interview with "60 Minutes" in January that he was one of the few members of Congress who lived in an inner city environment.

"I like to be among my constituents," he said. "Let me tell you something man, if I don't do well in this block I'm in trouble. I mean, if you wanna take a poll, if I lost in this block I might as well go — I might as well stay home."

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