By Donna Owens
BALTIMORE (Reuters) – Democratic leaders past and present remembered the late Elijah Cummings on Friday in eulogies that drew an implicit contrast between the civil rights activist and President Donald Trump, in whose impeachment inquiry the lawmaker played a leading role.
“There’s nothing weak about looking out for others. You’re not a sucker to have integrity and to treat others with respect,” said former President Barack Obama.
Hillary Clinton, who lost to Trump in 2016, praised Cummings as someone who “stood against corrupt leadership.”
Former president Bill Clinton and 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris were also among the thousands who attended the service at Baltimore’s New Psalmist Baptist Church.
Trump did not attend, instead giving a speech at the historically black Benedict College in South Carolina.
A son of sharecroppers, Cummings served for 22 years in the U.S. House of Representatives before his death on Oct. 17. He was an ardent civil rights voice who decades ago endured violence from white mobs when he and other African-Americans sought to integrate a public swimming pool.
The 13-term congressman was credited with helping calm tensions in Baltimore in 2015 when violence erupted following the death of an African-American man in police custody.
He was a high-profile antagonist of Trump, who reacted to a weekend of deadly violence during a “Unite the Right” rally in Virginia saying there were “very fine people” on both sides of the demonstrations.
The funeral was held in Cummings’ hometown, which Trump vilified earlier this year as “disgusting, rat and rodent-infested.”
Cummings responded at the time by saying Trump should visit his majority-black congressional district. “I want him to see all of the wonderful things that are happening.”
U.S. race relations are sure to be a contentious topic during the 2020 presidential election season in which Democrats aim to unseat Trump.
They hope to win over the votes of African-Americans who could play an important role in determining the outcome, along with growing Hispanic communities throughout the United States.
As chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee when the Democrats took control of the House in 2018, Cummings before his death led a series of investigations of Trump’s administration and business dealings.
He had been a central figure in Democrats’ ongoing impeachment inquiry on the president’s dealings with Ukraine.
Republicans in Congress have said they enjoyed a close friendship with him even though they were frequently at odds.
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Steve Holland; Editing by Andy Sullivan, Dan Grebler and Sonya Hepinstall)