Hello. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to political news in Washington and across the country. We are your hosts, Blake and Leah.
Twin trauma ‘unthinkable’
On the morning of December 31, 2020, Rep. Jamie Raskin went downstairs to his basement and found his 25-year-old son Tommy dead in the bed where he had been sleeping while staying with his parents. He had committed suicide after a long struggle with depression.
Raskin was devastated. He and his son had been remarkably close, sharing Boggle’s passion for legal arcana and night games and an unwavering liberal idealism.
A week after Tommy’s suicide, a violent mob stormed the Capitol, forcing Raskin, a Maryland legislator, to seek refuge in a Congressional courtroom. His youngest daughter, Tabitha, 23, who had come to Washington to care for her traumatized father, barricaded herself in another member’s office.
Six days after that, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked Raskin to lead the second impeachment trial of former President Donald J. Trump.
He immediately said yes.
“I had no other choice,” Raskin said in an interview at his home in Takoma Park, Maryland, a proudly progressive enclave outside Washington. “I felt it was necessary and Tommy was with me every step of the way.”
Raskin choked at this point, bowing his head with clasped hands.
“Pelosi has some magical powers,” he continued, after gathering himself. “That was a very low moment for me. I was not sleeping. I wasn’t eating AND I wasn’t sure if I could ever do anything again. And by asking me to be the chief impeachment director, she was telling me they still needed me. “
A secret mission
Months earlier, Raskin reveals in “Unthinkable,” his heartbreaking new memory, Pelosi had chosen him for a special task: to think like Trump.
Two men could hardly have been more different: Raskin, a serious scholar of constitutional law who maintains a vegan diet; and Trump, a showman with a cynical disregard for legal niceties and a preference for steak well done.
As early as May 2020, Pelosi had begun to worry that Trump would try to win a second term as president by any means, even if he lost at the polls.
Understanding the investigation of January 6
Both the Justice Department and a select committee of the House of Representatives are investigating the events of the riots on Capitol Hill. This is where they are:
She confided to Raskin, who had long been obsessed with the Electoral College system, that he thought it was full of “booby traps” that someone like Trump could exploit.
So when asked by Pelosi to think about what Trump might do in November, Raskin undertook the task with characteristic vigor. Over the next several months, he tried to piece together the likely strategy of Trump’s team.
“We had all become great students of Donald Trump and his psyche,” Raskin recalled. “I just found out what they would do if they wanted to win.”
Raskin summarized his findings a few months later in a memo to Pelosi’s leadership team.
“Everything he ended up doing we essentially predicted, in addition to unleashing the violent insurrection against us,” Raskin said. “I blame myself for not taking seriously the possibility of outside violence entering the chamber.”
When investigators later discovered a six-step plan proposed by John Eastman, a fringe conservative scholar who advised Trump on his Jan.6 tactic, Raskin found it eerily similar to his own thinking.
“It wasn’t as good as my memo. I would have done a better job, ”Raskin said, allowing himself a wicked smile. “It was a shallow and poor quality product, but it was as I predicted.”
Some colleagues, Raskin said, suggested he was overthinking the possibility of Republican misdeeds, saying, “There’s the constitutional law professor again, you know, lost in the nooks and crannies of the Constitution.”
Arcana of the 12th Amendment
As Raskin delved deeper, he realized that Democrats were vulnerable to one potential Trump move in particular: the unleashing of a “contingent election” in the House of Representatives.
Under the 12th Amendment, if no candidate achieves an Electoral College majority in Congress on the designated day, the House must immediately vote to elect the new president. But there is a catch. Instead of a simple majority of House legislators, a majority of legislators delegations choose the winner. All representatives of each state vote on the election of that state for president, and then each state casts a vote.
That put Democrats at a disadvantage, because before the 2020 election, Republicans controlled 26 states to Democrats’ 22 (two others were tied). But if the Democrats could change at least one delegation to the Republicans, they would deny the Republican Party a majority.
So Raskin sought to change the balance of power through the next election. First, he identified nearly two dozen Democratic candidates who would be crucial in defending or changing House delegations. Then he directed the money to them through a group he called the “Twelfth Amendment Advocates Fund.”
Back then, educating donors about such a hypothetical scenario turned out to be quite an effort. “I had to participate in a mini constitutional seminar with everyone who was asking for money,” Raskin said.
It eventually raised almost half a million dollars. Each of his candidates ended up receiving around $ 20,000 from the fund; welcome help, but hardly a rush of cash.
On November 3, 2020, Republicans defeated nearly a dozen House Democrats. They flipped the Iowa delegation after toppling Rep. Abby Finkenauer, meaning the Republican Party now had a 27-22 statewide majority of delegations even though the Democrats still controlled the House as a whole. Another of Raskin’s Iowa candidates, Rita Hart, lost by just six votes.
Now, if Raskin’s worst fears came true and Trump organized a contingent election in the House, President-elect Joe Biden would lose.
Raskin believed that on January 6, the fate of American democracy depended on how Vice President Mike Pence understood his constitutional role. Would he simply broadcast the results of the Electoral College, as had all his predecessors? Or would he discard electoral votes from some states where Trump had lost the battlefield, throwing the House election down?
Key figures in the January 6 investigation
“We were very close to all of that happening,” Raskin said. “If Mike Pence had accepted it, it certainly would have happened.”
‘A religious and political cult’
Today, Raskin is tired of thinking and talking about Trump. He even insisted that the name of the former president does not appear anywhere on the cover of his book, not even on the signs of the cover photo of the Capitol mafia.
But Raskin is also deeply concerned about how Trump’s fixation on the 2020 election is reshaping the Republican Party, from his efforts to push far-right candidates into key positions to pushing his allies for new laws that appear to target consolidate republican power.
“The Republican Party no longer functions as a modern political party,” Raskin said. “It is operating much more like a religious and political cult, under the control of one man.”
Raskin often consulted his son, reportedly a brilliant Harvard Law School student, for legal and political advice. He had planned to ask her to review her January 6 speech. The loss of an intellectual partner, along with the pain of losing their only son, was doubly crushing.
If he were alive today, Raskin says, chances are Tommy would have found ways to empathize with the rioters on Capitol Hill, even while condemning their cause.
“Tommy was intellectually and politically tough as nails, but he had a perfect heart,” Raskin said. “I wanted to redeem the good in everyone’s humanity at all times. But he also wanted to fight fascism. “
What to read tonight
Former President Donald J. Trump Holds “A Dagger to America’s Throat” President Biden he warned in a speech on Capitol Hill on the anniversary of the January 6 riots.
Top Republicans skipped today’s events commemorating January 6. Many attended the funeral of Johnny Isakson, the former Georgia senator who recently died of Parkinson’s disease.
Six former advisers to President Biden’s transition team recommend that the president change his strategy on the coronavirus pandemic.
A new Democratic super PAC aims to unite Republican candidates for Trump in the midterm elections, CNN reports. Your name? Stop it now.
One more thing…
On Thursday’s episode of The Daily, Representative Liz Cheney publicly confirmed for the first time that she had a furious exchange with a fellow Republican on the House floor on January 6.
Our colleague Michael Barbaro asked Cheney: “It was reported that on that day, a member of the Freedom Caucus and a Republican colleague of his, Jim Jordan, were standing in the hallway as members of Congress were escorted away from, the mob, the protesters, and that they said something to you. He said: ‘We have to get the ladies out of the hall. Let ‘me help you.'”
Barbaro then asked Cheney to confirm that she removed Jordan’s hand, saying, “Get away from me” and “You did this,” along with an expletive that underscored her anger.
To which Cheney replied: “Yes, it is, it, it is, it is true … It was so much that I certainly did not need their help, and secondly, I clearly thought that the lie they had been spreading and telling people had absolutely contributed to what we were experiencing. at that moment.”
Is there anything you think we are missing? Anything you want to see more of? We would love to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.