Maryland Rep. Raskin endures ‘wretched year’ and makes history

U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., personally endured the worst of 2020 on the final day of the year, but for much of the past year he has been trying to help people deal with countless challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Raskin talked with WTOP Capitol Hill Correspondent Mitchell Miller about the challenges he’s encountered.

Those challenges began early in 2020, when he was working to assist his congressional constituents who happened to be in countries around the world at the outset of the pandemic, struggling to get back to the U.S. amid widespread uncertainty.

Soon he was working on issues that literally threatened the lives of people in the region and across the country — “massive shortages in masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) for nurses and doctors.”

His congressional office sought to try to help meet those soaring needs, while seeking federal resources for the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, which is based in the 8th District that he represents.

Lack of federal response contributed to ‘chaos’

“My general impression is that the (Trump) administration always kicked the can down the road and tried to delegate things to the states, which basically meant blaming governors … for the lack of a nationally coordinated plan,” he said.

States, including Maryland and Virginia, as well as D.C., struggled to get hold of the dwindling supply of PPE for health care workers and hospitals.

“I thought it was chaos,” Raskin said.

He and other lawmakers introduced legislation designed to coordinate a federal response with other states through a science-based national plan, called the “Reopen America Act.”

“The whole reason that we have a federal government is to try to coordinate national action with the states. But instead the federal government was pitting the states against each other, in this kind of race to the bottom, dog-eat-dog competition over scarce supplies.”

But their legislative efforts were never adopted and Raskin continued to try to assist as best he could to get badly needed resources to the Washington area.

Raskin acknowledged he was “very troubled” by what happened throughout much of the year, given the country’s expertise and vast resources.

Personal tragedy during pandemic

While Raskin and his family grinded through the past year along with everyone else, on Dec. 31, they dealt with the ultimate heartbreak.

Tommy Raskin, 25, a law student at Harvard University, died by suicide. The well-liked and bright young man had suffered from depression.

“He was just a beautiful sparkling soul in a world full of brokenness,” said Raskin, who speaks fondly and proudly of Tommy, his middle child.

His father notes he was smart and entertaining — “the life of the party” — and very committed to helping others and fighting for animal rights as a vegan.

He was an accomplished poet and essayist. His two sisters are working on editing a collection of his writings.

“We lost him on the last day of 2020, that terrible, wretched year when we lost hundreds of thousands of people who died of this silent killer disease (COVID-19),” he said.

Tommy Raskin was laid to rest by his family on Jan. 5.

Jan. 6 insurrection

The day after his son was laid to rest, the Raskin was in the U.S. Capitol as a rioting mob attacked.

His daughter Tabitha and son-in-law Hank Kronick, who is married to his older daughter Hannah, were in the Capitol. They went with him for the Jan. 6 electoral vote count to affirm the results of the presidential election.

Raskin, who was a constitutional law professor before getting elected to Congress, found himself in the midst of the worst attack on the Capitol since the British attacked in 1814 during the War of 1812.

Ironically, before the attack Raskin spoke and invoked words from a speech given by President Abraham Lincoln, in which he had warned of an attack from within America, not abroad.

“Those were some prescient words that Honest Abe spoke,” Raskin said.

It wasn’t long before Raskin, and other lawmakers, received word that the rioters had broken into the Capitol.

“We heard the sound of a battering ram at our door,” he said, noting members of Congress heard repeated banging at a House chamber door and saw Capitol Police officers quickly draw their guns.

“People were calling their wives and husbands to say goodbye,” he said, noting his thoughts quickly went to the safety of his daughter and son-in-law.

He said his chief of staff, Julie Tagen, helped to protect them in the office of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. She used a fire pick to help barricade the door.

“I told them to guard them with her life and she did,” he said.

Ultimately, they were tearfully reunited.

Impeachment trial

Raskin went on to become the lead House impeachment manager in U.S. Senate trial of former President Donald Trump, after enduring the danger of Jan. 6 and while still reeling from the death of his son.

He said focusing his energy and intellect on the impeachment proceedings was difficult, but in some ways helped him as he worked through his grief over the loss of Tommy.

“I think it was very helpful to me,” Raskin said. “I had a sense of great purpose and commitment to see it through.”

He noted his family, including his wife Sarah, was very supportive.

“The way I felt was that we had lost what was most precious to us in 2020, our son Tommy, and we were not going to lose our Constitution and our country in 2021,” he said.

Raskin said he felt the need to “stand and fight and throw everything I had into it.”

The presentation of his case was widely praised by Democrats, and some Republicans, even if they disagreed with the impeachment of former President Trump.

At one point during the trial, Raskin spoke poignantly about what had happened on Jan. 6, referring to his own personal experience.

Despite all he has endured in the past year, and especially in the past few months, he remains optimistic about 2021 and the fight against the coronavirus.

“We’re are on our way to really beating the disease,” Raskin said from his office, not long after the House passed President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package this week.

Mitchell Miller

Mitchell Miller has worked at WTOP since 1996, as a producer, editor, reporter and Senior News Director. After working "behind the scenes," coordinating coverage and reporter coverage for years, Mitchell moved back to his first love -- reporting. He is now WTOP's Capitol Hill reporter.

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