Nearly two decades ago, in the heart of Bill Clinton’s troubles over Monica Lewinsky, I bumped into Rep. Elijah Cummings. He talked about prayer. I remembered it this week, when Cummings thundered and shouted, and demanded a better America.
To me, it sounded something like a prayer.
He was praying for a better country, one that doesn’t make little children weep. He said we’re a better nation than that. He said, “This is the United States of America,” which should be obvious but, in the current climate, is not precisely the case.
There are now about 2,000 immigrant children along the southern U.S. border who have been separated from their parents. We’ve seen some of the pictures, and we’ve heard some of the audio, and if it doesn’t move you, then you need to listen to some of Cummings’ other words.
He said them during a meeting of the House Oversight Committee, whose Republican members wanted to examine Hillary Clinton’s emails with Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
Cummings wanted to talk about the kids.
“Even if you believe immigration should be halted entirely,” he said, “we all should be able to agree that in the United States of America, we will not intentionally separate children from their parents. We will not do that. We are better than that. We are so much better.
“We should be able to agree that we will not keep kids in child internment camps indefinitely and hidden away from public view. What country is that? This is the United States of America.”
The country’s policy has changed so that President Donald Trump can use children as bargaining chips to build his wall along our southern border. Previously, U.S. policy was to deport illegal immigrants, but not to press criminal charges – and not separate children from parents.
The new, so-called “zero tolerance” policy came in with Trump, and with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who cherrypicked some ancient biblical scripture to justify the move.
Sessions is going against the wrong man if he wishes to quote scripture with Cummings.
I remember an afternoon, nearly 20 years ago, when I bumped into Cummings near his West Baltimore congressional district. The Lewinsky scandal was then at its height, and Cummings said he’d been with Clinton a few days earlier.
“He pulled me and [New York Rep.] Charlie Rangel aside,” Cummings said, “and he asked us to pray with him.
“What did you pray?” I asked. “The Lord’s Prayer?”
Cummings stared at me for a moment and then began to laugh.
“Lord’s Prayer?” he said. He reached out his hand and laid it atop my head.
“My daddy and mama are both preachers,” he said. “Man, I can pray.”
In the White House, he said, he put his hand on Bill Clinton’s head, and he asked God for strength to survive a difficult time.
“That’s what we were taught at home,” he said. “Every piece of life is part of your journey, but ask for the strength to deal with it. Be strong, bear your burdens. Stay steadfast in your efforts to see the big picture.”
That’s what I thought about this week, when Cummings sat there in Washington, and he told us that America was a better place than we’re currently showing the whole wide world. He thundered and roared at Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions.
But it sounded a little bit like a prayer.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” published by the Johns Hopkins University Press, is now in paperback.