WASHINGTON – Rep. Jamie Raskin's 25-year-old son, Tommy, killed himself on New Year's Eve and was buried the following Tuesday. A day later, a violent mob launched a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that forced the Maryland Democrat and his colleagues to evacuate.
Now Raskin, a former constitutional law professor, is leading the effort to remove President Donald Trump from office for inciting the riot.
He authored a House resolution that called on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and declare Trump unable to complete his term, which expires next week. Pence ruled out doing that Tuesday night. That left the chamber quickly moving to articles of impeachment, which Raskin also helped draft.
“That is the groundwork for fascism, when you add racism, anti-Semitism, conspiracy theory and magical thinking. That is an absolute powder keg in terms of an assault on democracy,” Raskin said of the riot in an interview. “So we have to be very tough, and very strong right now in defending the Constitution and democracy.”
With the collision of his personal tragedy and a national trauma, Raskin is emerging as a unique figure in a polarized Congress. He drew extended applause from his colleagues on the House floor last week just before the insurrection began. And even as many Republicans fought the Democratic effort to remove Trump, Raskin was praised by the GOP for continuing his work during such a challenging moment.
“I wanted to tell Mr. Raskin how much we grieve with him for his loss and how much we admire him for continuing to perform his duties under unimaginably difficult circumstances,” Oklahoma GOP Rep. Tom Cole said Tuesday, during a House Rules Committee hearing.
In the midst of grief, Raskin is bringing a certain clarity in outlining societal ills that led to the Capitol being overrun. Speaker Nancy Pelosi named him lead manager of the House team that will present testimony during Trump's impeachment trial in the Senate, similar to the role Raskin played when the president was impeached in 2019 and ultimately acquitted last year.
Many of the rioters storming the Capitol, Raskin said, were used to a world in which white people were “a comfortable, commanding majority in this country.” They were unsettled by Barack Obama becoming the nation’s first African-American president, he added, and now “have a full blown, independent reality, totally cut apart from the world of facts.”
Raskin noted a wooden gallows that was erected on the nearby grounds and suggested that the rioters, some of whom had chanted “Hang Mike Pence,” intended to kidnap the vice president and other leaders and execute them.
“The president didn’t want to let go, and the fruit of his obsession with his big lie that he had actually won the election was this nightmarish assault on Congress,” Raskin said. “The president has become a clear and present danger to the Republic.”
For his part, Trump insisted Tuesday that what he said shortly before the mob forced its way into the Capitol “was totally appropriate” and called his looming impeachment “a continuation of the greatest witch hunt in the history of politics.”
“I think it’s causing tremendous danger to our country,” the president said. “And it’s causing tremendous anger.”
The FBI has now warned of more, potentially armed, protests in Washington and many states by Trump loyalists ahead of Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20. The area around the Capitol has been ringed by climb-proof fencing, National Guard troops have been deployed and the nearby Washington Monument closed.
As concerns about security in Washington grow, the memory of Tommy Raskin is still fresh. He was studying at Harvard Law School, his father’s alma mater. He left behind a suicide note that read “My illness won today. Please look after each other, the animals, and the global poor for me.”
In a moving online tribute last week, Raskin, and his wife, former Obama administration treasury official Sarah Bloom Raskin, wrote of their son’s affinity for playing jazz piano, writing and performing one-act plays and “teaching our dogs foreign languages.” But they also noted that he “began to be tortured later in his 20s by a blindingly painful and merciless” depression.
“Despite very fine doctors and a loving family and friendship network of hundreds who adored him beyond words and whom he adored too, the pain became overwhelming and unyielding and unbearable,” they wrote.
Last week's riot at the Capitol began as lawmakers were certifying Biden’s Electoral College victory over Trump. During those proceedings, Raskin stood to argue against Trump's baseless claims of fraud but also to thank “all my dear, beloved colleagues for all your love and tenderness, which my family will never forget."
That drew a lengthy standing ovation as Raskin stepped back and placed his hand over his heart. When the congressman finally spoke again, his voice cracked and he managed a soft, “Thank you again.”
The Capitol was breached a short time later. Waiting out the siege from a secure location, Raskin declared during a real-time TV interview that, “This is an attack on the government. It didn’t even happen during the Civil War." But mostly his thoughts were on his 23-year-old daughter Tabitha, and son-in-law, who had accompanied him to the Capitol and gotten separated in the mayhem.
When they were eventually reunited, Raskin assured his daughter that the next time she went to the Capitol it would be calmer. “Dad, I don’t think there’s gonna be a next time," she responded, giving her father an opportunity for levity, despite everything.
“So, I’ve got to rebuild her confidence in ‘take your daughter to work day,'" Raskin said with a small chuckle "after that nightmare.”
Associated Press Writer Noreen Nasir contributed from Chicago.