Touring the Constitution with Jamie Raskin

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.)
Photo by Arno Rosenfeld

Jamie Raskin, professor of constitutional law and a Democratic member of Congress from Maryland, is pugnacious when it comes to the executive branch.

“Dealing with the Trump administration is like a video game where all of the monsters are flying at you 60 miles an hour,” he has said.

Raskin, 56, is also a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which is conducting impeachment hearings into President Trump. At a men’s club breakfast at B’nai Israel Congregation recently, Raskin says that he knows when a president should be impeached:

“If the president is not faithfully executing the laws, then we don’t need him,” he says. “That’s what impeachment is about.”

The Judiciary Committee would need to approve any articles of impeachment before the full House took a vote, but he said he had not come to a decision on the matter.

“No, no,” he tells the group. “We haven’t written [the articles] yet so I wouldn’t have made up my mind.”

That circumspection aside, Raskin pulls few punches against the president.

“We have seen overwhelming evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors. No president in American history has ever done anything remotely like this.”

Raskin excoriates Trump and other leading GOP officials who have demanded that the whistleblower who kicked off the investigation into the president’s dealings with Ukraine be unmasked and testify before the House.

“I’m afraid of the demolition of critical thinking skills in the public if people think this is some kind of serious defense,” Raskin tells the audience. “This is like Richard Nixon blaming Watergate on Deep Throat.”

Raskin says he spent the previous night reviewing 2,600 pages of testimony heard by lawmakers behind closed doors over the last several weeks — “that actually tells you more about what my life is like,” he quips — and says he hopes the president will be held accountable for not only his interactions with the Ukrainian government but also his self-dealing since taking office.

“You don’t turn the presidency into a money-making operation. You don’t collect money from princes and kings and foreign governments without the permission of Congress. You don’t channel money from the federal government to your ongoing business enterprises,” Raskin says. “All of those things are part of, essentially, the prostitution of the presidency for financial and political purposes.”

He answers what he deems “nice question”: How can citizens reduce partisanship and polarization?

“I’m a middle child, so I like bringing people together,” he says.

While clarifying that political debate and division is far preferable to a one-party state, Raskin says turning to the Constitution for a shared understanding of how the government should operate is essential.

“We need everybody to stand up for the values of the Constitution,” he says. “That is going to be the beginning of the long walk home.”

Arno Rosenfeld is a Washington-area writer.

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