Rep. Elijah E. Cummings is in South Africa for Nelson Mandela's memorial, but that doesn't mean he's abandoned domestic policy. In fact, Cummings said he and other Democrats in the official delegation have used the trip to debate with Sen. Ted Cruz on Obamacare.
"He got an earful from many of us -- I mean it was a very good conversation, nothing negative," the Baltimore Democrat said in an interview from Johannesburg. "I just reminded him that I'm concerned about the many people in my state and his state who have no health insurance."
Cruz -- a Texas Republican best known for his filibuster-like speech ahead of this year's government shutdown -- and Cummings are among about two dozens U.S. lawmakers in an official delegation paying tribute to Mandela. The former South African leader died on Thursday.
The journey gave lawmakers plenty of time to talk, Cummings said.
"It's clear to me he's running for president -- I don’t have any doubt about it," said Cummings who noted that Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia and others also spoke with Cruz in what he described as a cordial debate. "I know he got an earful for 20 hours out and he's going to get another earful for 20 hours on the way back."
Cruz gained national attention in September when he spoke for 21 hours on the Senate floor in an effort to draw attention to a government funding bill he opposed because it did not strike funding for the Affordable Care Act. The effort won praise from conservatives and grumbling from many in his own party.
Cummings has a connection with South Africa and Mandela's effort to end apartheid. As a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates, Cummings led frequent protests to the South African embassy. He also visited the country in 1994 -- the year Mandela became president -- and said that meeting with him was a moving experience.
Cummings described the mood in South Africa as festive -- a celebration of Mandela -- but also said he senses unease about the nation's future.
"When we got a chance to really talk to a lot of the people of color, the black folks, I think there's a lot of concern about their progress," Cummings said. "They are extremely appreciative of what Mandela has done to open up the doors, to end apartheid, but they also express deep concern about the pace of them becoming more a part of the society from an economic standpoint."