Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, was among the elected leaders who were forced to hunker down as a mob attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.
That attack to overturn the election of Joe Biden as president came a day after Raskin and his family buried their son, Tommy Bloom Raskin, who took his life on Dec. 31.
Yet Raskin, a constitutional law professor and member of the House Judiciary and Rules committees, carried on in his opposition to those who argued the election was stolen from outgoing President Donald Trump. Raskin is lead manager for the impeachment trial of Trump.
Raskin spoke to Washington Jewish Week on Friday about the attack on the Capitol, the impeachment and what these events have taught him about the Constitution.
How will history view this moment in our country?
It’s a moment of extraordinary emergency and crisis for America. And history will record who stood strong for the republic and who rejected the coup versus people who continue to rationalize and excuse and condone the behavior of this lawless president.
As someone who was in the Capitol when it was attacked, what was going through your head?
I was feeling that the president’s relentless daily assault on our democracy was arriving at its final promised conclusion. He said that there was no way he was going to accept the results of the election. He said the election was a fraud. And then we were living the nightmare of this delusion on his part.
Could you describe the emotions you were feeling?
I was principally concerned for the safety of my daughter and son-in-law, who were just outside the House floor in a small room where the mob was rampaging. So I mean, anyone in the building could have been killed by a mob of thousands of people who were chanting “Hang Mike Pence” or were hunting down Nancy Pelosi and who had set up a gallows outside the Capitol. This was a violent mob that could have done anything. And we have to be forever grateful to the police officers, the Capitol Police and the Metro Police and other forces, who mobilized to save us.
Recently you’ve been profiled in media outlets including The Washington Post, The Atlantic, NPR and The Guardian. What is it like to have so much attention turned on you all of a sudden?
Well, the speaker [Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.] has placed on me an enormous and awesome responsibility to lead the group of impeachment managers. And we are moving very quickly to prepare our case, as more and more facts come out about the gravity of the attack on the Capitol in Congress. This was a premeditated and coordinated assault on Congress, and it was invited by the president of the United States. The stakes could not be any higher.
During this chaotic time, both in your life and in the country in general, what has been driving you to continue working?
Well, I’ve sworn an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And so that’s a solemn vow I’ve taken on behalf of the people of Maryland, and on behalf of the Constitution. And my son, Tommy, is in my heart, and he’s giving me strength and my family, my friends, my constituents, my colleagues, have all mobilized to save our republic. So this is our sacred work now.
What do you think the second impeachment of President Donald Trump will accomplish?
We impeached the president for what Congresswoman Liz Cheney [R-Wyo.] properly called the greatest violation of a constitutional oath by a president in our history. As Rep. Cheney put it, the president summoned the mob. He assembled the mob and he lit the match. And none of this would have happened without him. And she held him entirely responsible for the nightmare of these events. And I’m glad that there are now more and more Republicans coming out, finally, to speak out against the savage attacks on the Constitution in the country that the president has engaged in.
Was the Constitution built to withstand QAnon? To withstand people who share a delusional reality? Can our system of government survive something like that?
The republican guarantee clause [Article IV, Section 4 in the Constitution] permits us to guarantee a republican form of government to all people. A republican form of government is based on reason and thoughtful deliberation. And so we have to fight to defend reason and the Enlightenment, which our Constitution is a part of. If the whole country is turned into a mob of cult members and raving lunatics, who is going to defend the Constitution? So, now is the time for constitutional patriots to arise and stand strong with everything we’ve got.
Has your thinking of the Constitution changed in any way in light of the recent events in Washington?
The Constitution is more precious to me than ever, and our generation of Americans now see how indispensable but fragile our constitutional framework is. And we certainly need to strengthen voting rights in the country, which is why we need to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. And we obviously have to address the vulnerabilities in the Electoral College system, which have allowed the president to promote these fantasies and bring us to the verge of a coup.
During this time in your life, are there any aspects of Jewish culture or ritual you’ve turned to or have thought about?
Our rabbi, Rabbi Jonathan Roos, and Cantor Laura Croen [of Temple Sinai in Washington] have been a great comfort and solace to us. And the whole local Jewish community has been extraordinarily supportive in our family’s time of grief and heartbreak.
Do you have a message or anything you’d like to say to our readers and the local Jewish community?
I want to thank everyone for their tremendous love and support and encouragement through these extraordinary times. And, we know that the racism and anti-Semitism which marked these seditious riots are the gateway to destruction of democracy in America. So we have to fight against anti-Semitism and racism and terrorist insurrection, all of which now are a threat to the American people.