Jamie Raskin: grieving congressman leads push to impeach Trump

Democrat who buried his son 24 hours before Capitol assault has spent week drafting article of impeachment

Jamie Raskin
Jamie Raskin has said he felt his son Tommy’s presence throughout the recent events. Photograph: Patrick Semansky/AP
Jamie Raskin has said he felt his son Tommy’s presence throughout the recent events. Photograph: Patrick Semansky/AP
Peter Beaumont

Last modified on Wed 13 Jan 2021 16.10 EST

For Jamie Raskin, the Democratic congressman and constitutional law professor who is leading the push to impeach Donald Trump for a second time, the last fortnight has been tumultuous.

He lost his son 25-year-old son, Tommy, who had struggled with depression, on New Year’s Eve.

Seeing it as his duty, Raskin attended last week’s certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory in Congress with members of his family, from whom he was separated as a mob of pro-Trump extremists stormed the Capitol building.

Despite these profound emotional shocks, Raskin has spent the last week drafting the article of impeachment against Trump over his role in inciting the storming of Congress, which is likely to be voted on by the House of Representatives later on Wednesday.

The day before the storming of the Capitol, Raskin had buried his son, who died after leaving his family a note. “Please forgive me,” he had written. “My illness won today. Please look after each other, the animals, and the global poor for me. All my love, Tommy.”

As he stood to speak in the debate on the certification less than 24 hours later, Raskin – who had pinned a piece of black cloth to his lapel – received a standing ovation from fellow members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, who were aware of his recent loss and that he had still come to vote.

Not long afterwards, the Trumpist mob broke in.

Since then, Raskin has authored the House resolution that called on the 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.

Jamie Raskin speaking to Republican congresswoman Liz Cheney in the US Capitol
Jamie Raskin speaking to the Republican congresswoman Liz Cheney in the US Capitol on Tuesday. Photograph: Erin Scott/Reuters

The chamber quickly moved to the article of impeachment, which Raskin also helped draft. He has been clear about why he has needed to push through the difficult emotions he and his family have been confronting to hold Trump to account.

“The president is a lethal danger to the American republic and the American people,” Raskin told the Atlantic magazine last week as he began drawing up the article of impeachment. “There has been nothing like this since the civil war.”

And as Raskin told the Washington Post, he felt his son’s presence throughout the recent events. “I felt him in my heart and in my chest,” he said. “All the way through the counting of the electoral college votes and through the nightmare of the armed attack on the Capitol.”

His son, a law student, as Raskin explained to the paper, had once asked him a question that had focused his mind.

For a class about the first amendment issue of freedom of speech, Tommy Raskin had asked his father about “incitement to imminent lawless action”, and whether a government official who had sworn an oath to uphold the constitution should be held to a higher standard.

“That ironically is going to be the critical issue for us talking about Donald Trump,” said Raskin. “Some people are saying: ‘Well, Donald Trump was just exercising his free speech.’ As president of the United States, he cannot be encouraging, counselling and inciting mobs that go and attack the Capitol of the United States.”

Raskin is clear about what the US is confronting in the aftermath of the assault on Congress.

“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.”

“That is the groundwork for fascism, when you add racism, antisemitism, 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.”

During the storming of Congress, Raskin’s thoughts were mostly on his 23-year-old daughter, Tabitha, and his son-in-law, who had accompanied him to the Capitol and were 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 replied.

Associated Press contributed to this report

  • In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or by emailing jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.