A Civics Lesson, Or Why I Love Jamie Raskin

Watching today’s House of Representatives too often reminds me of farce: Marjorie Taylor Greene and her ilk are so lacking in gravitas, so proudly ignorant, so strident as they parade their various prejudices and display their utter unfitness for elective office, the show they put on tends to overpower recognition of their more serious and/or able colleagues.

One of my favorites in that latter group is Jamin Raskin. I’ve followed Congressman Raskin since before he was first elected, actually–many years ago, my husband and I were in Washington, D.C., catching up with former Mayor Bill Hudnut and his wife Beverly. Bev was then in law school, and introduced me to her Constitutional Law professor, who–among other things– shared my obsession with civic literacy, and had produced a book for use by high school government teachers. That professor was Jamin Raskin.

During his tenure in Congress, Raskin has frequently called upon his academic background to explain America to his dimmer colleagues. One of my favorite examples was when he told an excessively pious lawmaker, “When you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.” (He recently repeated this to Mike Johnson, the current Speaker, who has frequently opined that “the bible comes first, before the Constitution.”)

He taught another lesson when he spoke out against the censure of Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who had made remarks that echoed long-time anti-Semitic tropes. In a press release, Raskin–who is Jewish–

urged the House to respect and protect the right to political free speech granted under the First Amendment and the Speech or Debate Clause by not using the House disciplinary process to punish Members’ political speech; warned of the chilling effects that politicizing and weaponizing the House’s censure mechanism would have on the speech of all Members; and noted that, in the history of the House of Representatives, the overwhelming number of censures have been for conduct, like taking bribes, embezzling funds, assaulting other Members, engaging in mail fraud, and having sex with pages, and that the only kinds of speech that have ever been punished have been true threats of violence, fighting words on the floor towards other Members, and incitement to insurrection and secession, none of which are protected by the Constitution and none of which are implicated here.  

Raskin’s legal skills were evident when he managed Trump’s second impeachment.

And recently, when Congressman Glenn Grothman attempted to lecture Raskin on a perceived distinction between a “republic” and a “democracy,” Raskin outdid himself, providing Grothman with a history lesson.

The link is to CSpann, and I urge you to click through and watch Raskin deliver that brief but powerful lesson.

Raskin’s work ethic has been obvious, as he has continued to work during a recent bout with cancer and the unimaginable pain of losing a son to suicide. 

There are undoubtedly other Jamie Raskins in “the people’s House,” with whom I’m unfamiliar. I focus on him because I’ve met him, because he actively defends important constitutional values,  and because his wit and intellect and work ethic have all been particularly impressive, but I am confident that for every MTG, Jim Jordan, Paul Gosar and Jim Banks there are two or three serious elected Representatives trying to do a good job for their constituents at a particularly contentious time.  (The recent bipartisan booing of MTG on the House floor was a welcome indicator that those individuals are as tired of performative politics as I am.)

Perhaps–if and when Americans tire of confusing political gravitas and legislative capacity with celebrity–we will be able to replace the Christian Nationalist “God squad” and other self-important know-nothings with people who are actually familiar with the Constitution and serious about producing legislation to improve Americans’ lives, and strengthen democratic values.

Like Jamie Raskin. 


The New Partisanship

When emerging information about President Richard Nixon’s misconduct became too plentiful to deny, a group of Republican Senators famously visited him in the White House and told him his time was up. They put the welfare of the country above the consequences for their political party.

To say that times have changed would be the understatement of the year….

I thought about that visit to Nixon when I came across a report that Jamie Raskin had called for a congressional investigation of Jared Kushner. 

Raskin, of course, is a Democrat, and Kushner a Republican, so it is easy to see this as political gamesmanship–but that dismissal would ignore some highly relevant facts: Raskin is a first-class human being and brilliant constitutional lawyer, for one, and his request for an investigation was not only based on considerable evidence of wrongdoing, it served to underline the politics motivating the GOP’s pursuit of charges against Hunter Biden.

Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin, ranking member of the Committee on Oversight and Accountability, urged the committee’s chairman, James Comer, to “compel Jared Kushner to comply with document requests he has ignored and defied for over a year.” Those requests came in 2022 from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform when Democratic representatives were using the committee to investigate the very real “appearance of a quid pro quo for your foreign policy work during the Trump Administration.” The billions (with a “B”) that Kushner’s investment firm, Affinity Partners, has received from various Gulf monarchies, as well as the $2 billion (with a “B”!) he got from Saudi Arabia is orders of magnitude more than what Comer’s unsubstantiated claims against Hunter Biden are.

Comer immediately dismissed Raskin’s request as an effort to distract from the Committee’s effort to prove that President Biden was involved in his son’s shady business deals–an effort that has so far turned up evidence only that Biden loved his son. For that matter, the Committee hasn’t been able to provide any evidence that Hunter –Biden’s surviving son who seems like a sad and none-too-ethical character–has done anything worse than playing on his family name and failing to pay a couple of years’ taxes.

There is, however, a lot of suggestive evidence of corruption on the part of Jared Kushner. And Kushner–unlike Hunter Biden– was part of what passed for government during the Trump Administration. Indeed, he was a top adviser to the president of the United States (a fact that terrified me at the time, and continues to be difficult to get one’s head around.)

After subpoenas and the full power of his committee, Comer has not been able to produce any evidence that Hunter Biden did anything wrong. In fact, the only evidence Comer has provided seems to prove that then-Vice President Joe Biden, with all of his responsibilities, was trying very hard to be a supportive father to his son.

The linked post points out thatJared Kushner’s top-secret clearance was obtained over the strenuous objections of two White House security specialists who worried about his “dubious connections” with foreign money. Kushner’s current Affinity Partner fund appears to be an entirely Saudi investment fund  with clients who are “99% non-United States persons.’”

If there was any credible evidence to suggest that Hunter Biden–a private citizen– committed crimes and that Joe Biden participated or enabled that activity, Americans absolutely should know about it. Given the time and effort Republicans have put into their search for such evidence, however, it’s pretty clear that there is nothing there.  Raskin’s call for an investigation of Kushner serves to make a point: this Congress is not basing its investigative efforts on legitimate concerns about government corruption. Instead, the Republicans who currently (barely) control the House are engaged in politcal vendettas unrelated to actual misbehavior.

We’ve come a long way from the time a Republican delegation consisting of Barry Goldwater, House Minority Leader John Rhodes and Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott  told Richard Nixon that he faced impeachment, conviction and removal from office over the Watergate scandal. 

It’s no wonder so many Americans don’t know what–or who– to believe. A significant number of public officials cheerfully substitute propaganda for information and self-serving pronouncements for truthful ones. Today’s GOP is split between the shameless and amoral wanna-be’s who are pandering to the MAGA cult and those who know better, but are too spineless to publicly dissent.

I really don’t care whether Congress investigates the Trump clan, a/k/a the real crime family. I do care–a lot–about the fact that far too many people continue to vote for politicians whose sole fidelity is to their partisan advantage–facts, evidence and truth be damned….