Last February, Americans watched Congressman Jamie Raskin manage the impeachment trial of former President Trump. “This trial is about who we are,” he said.
And they now see him on the Committee investigating the January 6 Capitol assault: “We have a duty to collect all of the evidence we need to report back to Congress and to the American people.”
But many viewers may not know that Raskin has carried out these duties under circumstances most of us could not even imagine.
After all, Raskin seems to have lived a charmed life, since 2017 representing a Maryland Congressional District that shares his pragmatic-progressive ideals. He told correspondent Rita Braver, “This is a community of activists and dreamers and visionaries, and it always has been.”
He met his wife, law professor Sarah Bloom Raskin (a former Deputy Treasury Secretary and Federal Reserve Board member), when they were both students at Harvard Law School.
Braver asked Sarah, “So, why did you marry him?”
“Well, I knew life would really, really deep and beautiful with Jamie,” she replied.
Jamie Raskin’s Mom, Barbara, was a bestselling novelist; his Dad, Marcus, an anti-Viet Nam War activist who ended up on President Richard Nixon’s “enemies list.” “It certainly gave me sensitivity to people who get into high office, or the highest office, of the presidency, and then abuse it for their own political purposes,” Jamie said.
When Raskin, a longtime professor of Constitutional law at American University, decided to enter politics, his family was all-in: Sarah, daughters Hannah and Tabitha, and especially son Tommy.
“Tommy was pure magic; he just was,” said Raskin. “He was always writing plays. He was always writing poems. He was exuberant. Everybody wanted to be around him.”
Braver asked, “As gifted as he was, he also, as he went into adolescence and beyond, started to have some problems with anxiety and other mental issues?”
“Yeah, he did. Like so many kids today, he had a struggle with mental health.”
During the pandemic, Tommy took his Harvard Law School classes remotely, from the Raskins’ Maryland home. He was shaken by both George Floyd’s death, and President Trump’s false election claims.
Raskin said, “The darkness of the time overcame him.”
And on the night of December 30, 2020, Tommy Raskin would take his own life. His father was was the one who found him the next morning.
Braver said, “I can’t even imagine what that must have felt like.”
“Like the end of the world,” said Raskin.
Tommy left a note, which read: “Please forgive me. My illness won today. Look after each other, the animals and the global poor for me. All my love, Tommy.”
Raskin said, “For him to ask forgiveness of us, means that we can ask forgiveness from him.”
But Raskin’s new book, “Unthinkable,” is not only about the tragedy of his son’s suicide, but also about the tragedy that befell the whole nation just a few days later.
On January 6, Raskin felt duty-bound to be in the House chamber when Congress was to certify Joe Biden as the next president. Raskin breathed a sigh of relief when Vice President Mike Pence refused Mr. Trump’s demands to reject some electoral votes.
Braver asked, “Was Mike Pence a hero?”
“On that day, he was a hero,” Raskin replied. “And this is a guy who, I felt, went along with way too much during the Trump administration. But on that day, he was a constitutional patriot.”
Once the proceedings began, Raskin got up to speak, thanking his colleagues “for all your love and tenderness, which my family will never forget.”
“Everybody was in a standing ovation,” he recalled. “And I was absolutely overcome with emotion. And, for a second, a split-second, I thought, maybe, because of Tommy, the two sides aren’t gonna fight tonight.
“But, that was a bit of a fantasy.”
In fact, within a few minutes, after a rally where President Trump repeated the “Big Lie” that the election had been stolen from him, Trump supporters were soon storming the Capitol, trying to break into the House chamber.
“Boom! Boom! Boom!” said Raskin. “And at that point it was pandemonium and chaos.”
Raskin and other members found themselves running through the hallways, trying to find a safe place to shelter.
Braver asked, “Were you terrified?”
“I didn’t feel any fear the entire time,” Raskin said. “And I think that was because of Tommy. The very worst thing that has ever happened me has already happened. And then I felt, Rita, like Tommy was in my chest. I felt him by my heart. He was giving me strength.”
Last February, after the House voted to impeach Mr. Trump for “incitement of insurrection,” Raskin became the lead House manager in the Senate Trial. But the Democrats could not get the two-thirds majority they needed to convict.
Braver asked, “Did you ever honestly think that impeachment would carry the day?”
“I believed from the beginning, up until the moment when the roll call was called, that we could get 100 votes,” Raskin replied. “I thought it would be 100-0.”
Undaunted, Congressman Raskin agreed to serve on the January 6th committee, methodically trying to uncover what he now sees as a plot to stage a coup. He said, “There was a plan, essentially, to set aside the presidential election of 2020, despite the fact that Joe Biden won by more than seven million votes, set it aside and them implant a new presidency.”
Braver asked, “Given your own personal tragedy, why do you stay in the fight?”
“Look, I’ve already lost my son, the thing most precious to me,” said Raskin. “But I’m not gonna see American democracy go down the tubes. We are in the fight of our lives to defend American democracy.”
WEB EXCLUSIVE: Sarah Bloom Raskin and Jamie Raskin with advice for parents concerned over a child’s mental health (YouTube Video)
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
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Story produced by Ed Forgotson. Editor: Karen Brenner.