Jamie Raskin’s Clear-Eyed View of the Mess House Republicans Are Making of Congress

Jamie Raskin’s Clear-Eyed View of the Mess House Republicans Are Making of Congress

Jamie Raskin’s Clear-Eyed View of the Mess House Republicans Are Making of Congress

The constitutional scholar says that this is about much more than Kevin McCarthy and the Freedom Caucus.

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If Democrats want to know how best to respond to the mayhem unleashed by House Republicans during the first week of the 118th Congress, they would do well to take notes from Jamie Raskin.

A constitutional scholar with a big-picture perspective on what he recognizes as the preeminent branch of government, the Democratic representative from Maryland has struck an essential balance while the House has struggled with the task of naming a speaker. Raskin has joined with fellow Democrats in voting to give the job to minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), and skewered House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy’s flailing attempts to stake a claim on the post. But he has also endeavored to explain this moment in terms that have meaning for Americans who wonder if Washington will ever get its act together.

At the heart of the matter, says Raskin, is the damage done to political institutions by Donald Trump’s reformation of the Republican Party. “Trump’s faction is like a hurricane barreling through every institution,” the representative told me on Thursday. “The presidency, the Supreme Court, the US House—none is safe from it.”

Raskin, who led the House team that managed Trump’s second impeachment and served as a key member of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, has been outspoken in recent days on social media and in interviews about what the leadership crisis says about the Republican Party that last November won a narrow 222-213 majority in the House.

“This once-in-a-century humiliation of a party’s nominee for Speaker is chickens coming home to roost for McCarthy, who whitewashed right-wing insurrectionism on the House floor. Nobody’s getting killed now, but the House GOP now sleeps in the bed they made with Trump and [Trump adviser Steven] Bannon,” he explained after the first round of voting.

“What goes round comes round. The right-wing habits of chaos and betrayal the GOP unleashed against the American Republic on Jan. 6 are now destroying Lincoln’s party. The sedition you feed is the sedition that feeds on you,” Raskin added.

When reports surfaced on Thursday that McCarthy was bending to the demands of the most extreme members of his caucus in order to secure the speakership, Raskin warned, “Caving in to right-wing insurrectionists and their chaos isn’t the solution. It’s the problem.”

That problem extends beyond the current mess in which the Republican Party finds itself, says Raskin, who worries about the damage done to the reputation of the Congress and to the system of checks and balances that he has worked so hard to maintain.

The constitutional law professor turned congressman has long been recognized as one of Capitol Hill’s most serious thinkers about the role of Congress in general and the House in particular. To a greater extent, arguably, than any other member of the chamber, Raskin has advocated a reassertion of the founding view of Congress as the first branch of government. As he explained to me several years ago,

“Oftentimes my Democratic colleagues will jump up on the floor after Trump commits this or that outrage against the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, and they’ll say, ‘Mr. President, you have to stop doing this. We are a coequal branch of government.’ And I just want to scream. I know that this is dogma in fifth-grade social studies classes across the country, but we are not a coequal branch of government. We are the primary and predominant branch of government, and my colleagues need to understand that.”

Ultimately, Raskin hopes to renew an understanding of the House as an institution that members of both parties respect and defend. That means that, while he calls out the GOP’s growing extremism in blunt terms, he tries to keep personal lines of communication open—even with members he differs with on fundamental questions.

When Raskin was recently diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a serious but curable form of cancer, one of the members of the House wishing the progressive Democrat well was right-wing firebrand Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). “We disagree often, but I’ll be praying for Jamie Raskin. Cancer is a terrible disease. I watched my father die from it, and it broke my heart. It’s good Rep. Raskin has hope and his form of cancer is curable with the treatment he will be starting,” tweeted Greene on December 28, to which Raskin replied, “Thank you, Marjorie, for this touching message, which my youngest daughter showed me. I’m grateful for your concern and very sorry to learn that you lost your father to cancer. Wishing you happy holidays with loved ones.”

Raskin and I have spoken with each other a good deal since he revealed his diagnosis and treatment plan, which involves a course of chemo-immunotherapy on an outpatient basis at Med Star Georgetown University Hospital and Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. The treatment plan places some limits on him. Under doctor’s orders to avoid crowded spaces to avoid infections, Raskin has had to dart on and off the floor to cast votes for Jeffries in recent days. But, he says, “I’m not going anywhere.”

That’s important because, at a moment when the messaging from House Republicans is so chaotic, someone has to offer clarity.

That is precisely what Raskin has been doing. Indeed, while the hard-right Republicans who blocked McCarthy’s election as speaker in vote after vote on this week identified as members of the House Freedom Caucus, Raskin refused to cede the title to them. “Democrats are protecting women’s free choices and health care; defending democracy and national self-determination in Ukraine; guarding the right to read and the right to speak—Dems are the real Freedom Caucus,” he said. “Right-wing Republicans are a Chaos Caucus.”

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