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Jamie Raskin, navigating personal and national tragedies

Political Theater, Episode 239

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., speaks during a House Rules Committee meeting on December 2, 2021.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., speaks during a House Rules Committee meeting on December 2, 2021. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

When filmmaker Madeleine Carter approached her friend Jamie Raskin about a documentary, she saw it as the chronicles of a newly elected member of Congress who was a gadfly to President Donald Trump. Two impeachments, one attack on the Capitol, and an unfathomable family tragedy later, the result, “Love and the Constitution,” narrates our shared history of the tumultuous last few years through Raskin’s political and personal journey.

A self-described “disheveled” constitutional law professor, Raskin has been at the center of the country’s most consequential debates since being elected to Congress in 2016. A member of the House Judiciary Committee, the Maryland Democrat helped formulate the articles of impeachment that led to Trump’s first impeachment in 2019. He did the same for the second impeachment, for inciting the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the Capitol, and Raskin served as lead impeachment manager for the trial that followed.

Trump was acquitted by the Senate in both impeachment trials, but Raskin’s contributions helped establish the arguments against not just the former president’s actions, but, in Raskin’s view, the authoritarianism that Trump represented and which threatens to snuff democratic societies and ideals.

During the second impeachment process, Raskin was also dealing with the shattering grief of the late 2020 death by suicide of his son Tommy. Tommy’s funeral was on Jan. 5, 2021, one day before Congress was to certify Joe Biden’s Electoral College win.

Raskin’s two daughters asked him to skip the usually pro-forma proceedings. But the congressman knew several Republicans planned to object to the certifications, and said in the latest Political Theater podcast that “I just knew I had to be there.”

Like most people, he had no idea that just showing up would be dangerous, and that a plot to overthrow the election was not just being pursued by a few members of Congress in the form of objections to the count, but by violent extremists who gathered in Washington, charged the Capitol with weapons, broke in to chants of “Hang Mike Pence,” and whose actions led to a state of siege. Raskin’s efforts to hold Trump and the conspirators of the Jan. 6 coup attempt accountable continue with his seat on the House select committee investigating the attack.

“Love and the Constitution” works on two tracks: showing us public images and plots we should never forget, as well as the private moments of courage and pain of a public servant armed not with the implements of war but the ideals in the Constitution.

Raskin and Carter discuss their MSNBC documentary on the latest Political Theater podcast: ‘I just knew I had to be there: Jamie Raskin and the convergence of grief and politics.’

Show Notes:

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