It was the snub seen ’round the world.
Pallbearer Bobby Rankin set social media abuzz when he declined to shake hands with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell during the memorial for late Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) last week.
Online video shows Rankin going down the line and shaking hands with several lawmakers before coming to McConnell, whose hand he ignored, much to the surprise of the conservative lawmaker.
Speaking to The Washington Post, he explained that the snub was for personal reasons, not based on his loyalty to Cummings as a friend.
Rankin said he blamed McConnell in part for denying veterans benefits to his brother, Jerry, who died last October from cancer after being exposed to tainted drinking water while serving in the Marines. Per the Department of Veterans Affairs, vets who were exposed to the water and developed any of 15 conditions linked to the contamination could be eligible for VA benefits, including disability and free health care.
Although Cummings “reached across party lines trying to help my brother get his military benefits,” including to McConnell (R-Ky), Rankin, 64, said his brother never received them before his passing.
“I could not put my hands in the man’s hand who refused to help somebody who served his country,” he told The Post, adding, “I couldn’t do it because I was thinking about my brother.”
Rankin said he’s unsure why his brother didn’t receive the benefits or McConnell’s role in his efforts to get them after Jerry’s cancer, a rare form known as multiple myeloma, returned.
A spokesman for McConnell’s office didn’t return requests for comment.
While video of the snub quickly went viral, Rankin said he was totally unaware of it until one of the Post’s reporters showed him the clip.
“I don’t know what people are saying,” he said.
Cummings and Rankin became fast friends after meeting each other at a Baltimore gas station more than 20 years ago, the newspaper reported. They struck up a conversation, and the rest is history.
Cummings died last week at 68 after suffering what his office said were complications related to longstanding health issues. He was honored in a stately funeral Friday attended by hundreds of mourners, supporters and constituents.
“When I carry him to his grave, if I could say something to him, I would say something I said to him many, many times before,” Rankin told The Post of his longtime friend. “What a mighty, mighty man he is.”
Cummings’ widow, Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, is expected to run for his congressional seat.