Raskin in the spotlight on anniversary of insurrection

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The first anniversary of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol will be marked Thursday as much of the previous year has, with Maryland Congressman Jamie B. Raskin (D) in the national spotlight.

Through his searing new memoir, “Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy,” and his prominent role as a truth-teller about what happened in the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — and what needs to be done to preserve the increasingly fragile U.S. democracy — Raskin is on a whirlwind interview tour that any ambitious politician would envy.

The list of Raskin’s high-profile media appearances in just the past few weeks alone is mind-bending. They include a 7,100-word profile in The Washington Post magazine in early December. A suggestion by New Yorker magazine Editor David Remnick that Raskin is a “person of the year” for 2021. Interviews this week on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” “CBS Mornings,” “The Rachel Maddow Show,” “Morning Joe” and “Deadline: White House” on MSNBC, and a “Washington Post Live” webinar.

On Friday evening, Raskin will appear virtually at an event sponsored by the Washington, D.C., bookstore Politics & Prose. And on Feb. 6, MSNBC will air a documentary about Raskin, “Love & the Constitution.” Certainly he will make many other appearances and be featured in published interviews and book reviews in the days ahead; on Wednesday, his book was the No. 1 bestseller on Amazon, just hours after it was released.

But Raskin would surely trade all of the attention if he could take back two devastating and life-altering events from just a year ago: the death by suicide of his beloved 25-year-old son, Tommy Raskin, on Dec. 31, 2020, and the insurrection itself, which occurred one day after his son’s burial.

The twin traumas form the basis of his memoir — and, in a sense, fuel his life’s work now. By his own admission, Raskin thought, “My life is over” immediately after Tommy’s death. But, he told “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “threw me a lifeline” by appointing him the lead manager in the second impeachment trial of President Trump following the riot at the Capitol.

“It was a salvation and sustenance for me, a pathway back to the living,” the Constitutional law professor-turned congressman writes in his book.

Every Democratic member of the Maryland congressional delegation is expected to weigh in publicly on the anniversary of the insurrection. They may recount their own experiences on that horrific day, attempt to explore the greater meaning, decry the “Big Lie” that precipitated the violence, and vow to uphold democratic principles.

Given the state’s proximity to Washington, D.C., it would not be surprising to see them all participating in the series of events scheduled to take place Thursday marking the anniversary. But Raskin will be a focus of attention.

President Biden is scheduled to deliver a speech Thursday in the heart of the U.S. Capitol to mark the first anniversary of the insurrection there.

After former President Trump incited a mob of his supporters, and encouraged them to march to the Capitol in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying the electoral votes for Biden’s 2020 presidential win, five people died, hundreds of law enforcement officers were injured — four later died by suicide — and congressional staff, lawmakers, police and journalists were traumatized. One woman was shot and killed by a Capitol Police officer when she tried to breach the House speaker’s lobby.

Biden will be joined Thursday by Vice President Kamala Harris at the Capitol. They will speak at 9 a.m. in Statuary Hall, which rioters stormed through on the day of the attack, shouting and waving flags, including a Trump campaign banner.

Pelosi is set to hold a private moment of reflection on the House floor with staff that were present last Jan. 6. She will also have a moment of silence on the House floor soon after.

Later in the day, Pelosi, along with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and several historians, will host a discussion in the Cannon Caucus Room about how to preserve the narrative of events that occurred on Jan. 6.

Some members of Congress are expected to relate their personal Jan. 6 experiences following the discussion, and a prayer vigil will end the day at 5:30 p.m. Most events are scheduled to be carried by C-SPAN.

Trump was set to issue a video statement on Thursday, but has now canceled it, at the suggestion of certain advisers.

‘A coup perpetrated by the president’

Raskin and his chief of staff, Julie Tagen, are scheduled to speak late Thursday afternoon about their experiences last Jan. 6 at a vigil across the street from the Capitol sponsored by more than 100 progressive and political reform groups. Benjamin T. Jealous, president of People For The American Way and the 2018 Democratic nominee for governor in Maryland, will serve as a moderator of the event. The Baltimore Urban Inspiration Choir is scheduled to perform during the candle lighting.

Although Raskin has spoken and written dramatically about the terror his colleagues and family members felt on Jan. 6 — his daughter Tabitha and son-in-law Hank were in the Capitol that day — he told Gross that he has experienced no fear that day or since.

“I personally felt no fear because the worst thing that could ever happen to me had already happened to me,” he said. “…The people who wanted to take away our democracy, they’re not going to scare me.”

But Raskin concedes that he does fear for American democracy.

The congressman has told multiple interviewers that he sees the Jan. 6 insurrection as the product of “three rings” of activity: on the outer ring, Trump partisans who attended the president’s rally that morning and marched to Capitol Hill — some of whom grew unruly when they reached the Capitol; in the middle ring, extremist provocateurs who contemplated violence, riled up Trump supporters and were the first to vandalize the Capitol building; and in the inner ring, those like Trump who “plotted the coup.”

“This was a coup perpetrated by the president against the vice president and the Congress,” he said on “Fresh Air.”

Raskin serves on the special bipartisan House committee that is investigating the insurrection and is starting to intensify its public activity. Raskin has said he and his colleagues on the panel feel they’re working under time constraints because the investigation is certain to be short-circuited if Republicans take over the House next year — as is widely predicted.

Raskin has also used his time in the spotlight to talk forthrightly about depression, mental illness and suicide. He has frequently described his son Tommy as a “magical” young man who felt unusual empathy for society’s downtrodden from an early age. But his depression took hold when he was in college, and the family struggled to address it for several years.

Questioned this week by some of the most compassionate national broadcasters in the U.S., like Gross and CBS’ Gayle King, Raskin urged people not to shy away from the topic of suicide when talking with family and friends with depression. On CBS, he said, “Suicide’s not a bad word, it’s a bad idea.”

“Not talking to someone who’s depressed about suicide,” he added, “is like not talking to a teenager about sex.”

Raskin and his wife, Sarah Bloom Raskin, a former deputy Treasury secretary, keep Tommy’s suicide note on their bedroom dresser, so it’s the first thing they see every morning. “It’s how-to instructions for how to live,” he told Gross.

Neighbors in Takoma Park express their love and admiration for Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.). (Courtesy Josh Kurtz/Maryland Matters)

For all of Raskin’s time on the national stage in the past year, he remains a local hero in parts of the 8th congressional district, which he has represented since 2017, and among Maryland Democrats generally. Soon after he led the impeachment push against Trump, yard signs started appearing in his neighborhood thanking him and comparing him to the early American patriot Thomas Paine.

Next month, several community and Democratic leaders are hosting a celebration of Raskin and his book at the Women’s Club of Chevy Chase.

“I’ve got the greatest constituents in the world,” Raskin told Washington Post opinion writer Jonathan Capehart on Tuesday. “So we’ve got lots of love.”

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 1-800-273-8255.

Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7, and confidential.

Ariana Figueroa of States Newsroom contributed to this report.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

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