When Jamie Raskin, Maryland’s newly elected District 8 representative, takes office in January, he will have a short daily commute from his home in Takoma Park to Capitol Hill. But the journey he must make to bridge Congress’ political gap will be far longer.
Raskin, 53, will enter a House composed of 188 Democrats and 247 Republicans. With the Senate and White House also in Republican hands, Raskin and fellow Democrats are shut out of leadership in the two branches of government.
In an interview with Washington Jewish Week following the election, Raskin said he was “elated” that he won his election, but admitted that “It’s not quite the context I would imagine going to Washington under.”
“You can’t always get what you want, but that makes it all the more important that strong Democrats go to Washington to stand up for basic values,” he said.
Raskin had supported and campaigned for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in the swing states of Virginia and Pennsylvania. He said he was shocked by the outcome of the presidential race because he thought Democrats had the “stronger ground game” and that there was such a “disparity in qualifications between the two candidates.”
Raskin said Trump’s campaign illustrated that people are still hurting from lingering effects of the 2008 economic crash, but his candidacy did more to “exploit people’s feelings” than deal with economic anxiety. He thinks the realization Republicans must come to is that unemployment is not simply due to the recession, but the longer-term shift from manufacturing jobs that the United States economy has undergone.
“Jobs are threatened just as much by mechanization and technological displacement,” he said. “We need to figure out what the process means for people’s participation in the economy.”
Raskin thinks it is now time for the Democratic Party to embrace a “progressive economic populism” to counter the rise of the alt-right, and he hopes that he will be able to participate in the party’s “intellectual and political reconstruction.”
“We are the party that got the country out of the Great Depression and built the New Deal and Medicare and Medicaid,” he said. We pushed for passage of Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We are the party of the civil rights movements of the last century. We need to make Democratic Party values resonate in the new era that we’re in.”
Raskin comes to Congress with one of the more liberal voting records in the Maryland State Senate. He was involved in successful efforts to legalize same-sex marriage and abolish the death penalty. He said that in 10 years of serving in Annapolis, 120 bills he introduced became law, several of which had bipartisan support.
“I have a habit and a fondness for working with Republicans in getting things passed,” he said.
The idealistic, soon-to-be freshman member of Congress said he hopes to work with Republicans on infrastructure legislation that will improve transportation systems and cybersecurity networks. He also sees opportunities for collaboration between the two parties on campaign finance reform, and hopes to pass small-donor public-financing legislation. This is an issue Raskin is quite familiar with, having knitted his way through a tight nine-way primary race in the spring in which the candidates spent a combined $20 million, according to The Washington Post.
Another area Raskin hopes Republicans will come to embrace is climate change — an issue he feels the GOP is “in denial” on. He said the key to convincing them of its impact is to explain that there is a harsh reality behind the science.
“Perhaps someone would say it’s not in the center to focus on climate change the way I have in my campaign, and all I can say is that climate change is a civilizational emergency which threatens the survival of human life on earth,” he said.
Raskin will enter Congress alongside former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who will represent Maryland’s 4th Congressional District, and five other incumbent Democrats. He said the Maryland congressional delegation is a “very tightknit group,” and so far he has received political wisdom from his predecessor Chris Van Hollen, who is heading to the Senate in January.
The arrival of 2017 will bring a change for both Raskin and his wife, Sarah Bloom Raskin, who is a deputy secretary in the U.S. Treasury Department— the highest ranking woman in the department’s history.
Bloom Raskin, a long time federal and state employee, will teach at Stanford Law School in the spring term, after the new administration takes office. Her husband said she needs a break from politics and is “exploring different possibilities for the future.”
“She’s been in government a long time and I think she needs to take a long nap,” he said.