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WCL professor-turned-politician Jamie Raskin returned to AU for candid conversation during September 14 American Forum

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Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD) may have failed to convict former president Donald Trump of inciting an insurrection in 2021, but the trial itself saved the former constitutional law professor, who lost his 25-year-old son, Tommy, just one week before the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.

“I don’t even remember consciously choosing; it just never felt like there was any choice,” he told a packed Doyle Forman Theater on September 14. “Speaker Pelosi asked me to lead the impeachment trial—she kind of threw me a lifeline, because I could have sunk down myself very quickly. I wasn’t sure if I would ever really be able to do anything else again in my life, but . . . she basically said, ‘We need you, and you’ve got to rise to the occasion.’ 

“I had Tommy with me the whole time in my heart. I felt him in there every day, and I still do,” Raskin said, placing his hand on his chest.

The American Forum event—sponsored by the School of Communication and the Kennedy Political Union and hosted by Professor Jane Hall—was a homecoming of sorts for Raskin, who taught at AU’s Washington College of Law for more than 25 years before embarking on his political career. Voters in Maryland’s 8th district, concentrated entirely in Montgomery County, elected him to a fourth term in 2022.

Raskin’s hourlong conversation with Hall kicked off with talk of another impeachment, with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy opening an inquiry into President Joe Biden earlier that week, alleging he lied about knowledge of his son Hunter’s business dealings. 

“It’s stupid,” Raskin said bluntly. “The constitutional standard for impeachment is treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors. And after seven months of investigation in the oversight committee, by the judiciary committee, by the ways and means committee, they don’t have a shred of evidence linking President Biden to any criminal wrongdoing.

“That doesn’t mean they’ve got to support him or love him or anything, but you don’t impeach someone just because they’re in a different political party, or you disagree with their views.” 

Raskin, the ranking member on the oversight and accountability committee, said he thinks McCarthy launched the inquiry to appease the Freedom Caucus that includes representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and 20 others—and to whom McCarthy has been “beholden from the very beginning” after winning the speakership “by a razor-thin, four-vote margin.”

“The whole world was watching for a week when he could not form a majority as they escalated their various demands that they extracted from him on his road to becoming speaker. But that opening for the new Congress basically established the contours of his speakership; he is constantly catering to the extreme right.”

Despite his criticism of their ideologies, Raskin—prompted by a question from one of Hall’s students, Tamara Quinlan, SIS-SOC/BA ’25, about humanity and empathy in politics—admitted that he is friends with many of those on the other side of the aisle.

“It’s an awesome question that I wrestle with all the time,” he told Quinlan. “And you know, I feel some responsibility for this being a local member. I think I live closer to the Capitol than any other member of the House, [except] Eleanor Holmes Norton, who is a non-voting delegate, and I want my workplace to be a warm, empathetic environment [because] we’re modeling our behavior and our conduct for other people.

“I try to be friends with everybody—that’s just my nature. Lauren Boebert is kind of my friend. Her son had a baby [and] she showed me pictures. I’m a big baby person—because, you know, politicians love babies—so I told my wife, ‘Let’s get Lauren a baby present for her grandson.’ So I found a [onesie] online, which said, I take a lot of naps, but I’m still woke,” Raskin said as the audience laughed. “She thought it was funny.”

Raskin, who finished chemotherapy in April after a bout with lymphoma, said when he completed treatment, Boebert came over to give him a high five. “A lot of people were attacking me like, ‘Why would you give a high five to a right-wing extremist?’ I’m going to call her out when she’s a right-wing extremist, but if she’s going to give me a high five because I survived cancer and chemo, I’m going to accept it. I mean, I’m not going to leave her hanging like that.”

In addition to stressing the importance of bipartisanship and seeing the humanity in one another, Raskin also encouraged the audience of mostly students not to become disheartened or disengaged in politics.

“I love your generation of Americans, which is beyond the racism and the misogyny and the homophobia and the immigrant bashing. I have a lot of faith and confidence in your generation and the generation of my kids,” he said. 

“The polls show that this generation favors the Democrats over everybody else by 12 or 14 points. People say, ‘Well, what’s the difference between 2020 and 2024?’ One difference: We will have 14 or 15 million new young voters who are pro-choice, who are pro-environment, who want action on climate change, who want action on student loans, and all that kind of stuff.

“And so, you know what we need to do? We need to stand up for democracy and freedom, and [we] can’t be afraid.”

Hall, who’s hosted American Forum for 24 years and has partnered with KPU on the popular series for about 10 years, said she was “thrilled with the conversation.”

“The congressman, who came straight to AU from Capitol Hill that day, was so candid and engaging, and he was really excited to take questions from our smart, idealistic students,” said Hall, who worked with SOC adjunct professorial lecturer Matt Glassman, SOC/BA '92, and Vince Lattanzio, NBC4 Washington's director of digital media, to air the program on its streaming channel. 

“This is experiential learning at its best.”