As an increasing number of his fellow congressional progressive Democrats say they will boycott Friday’s swearing-in of Donald Trump as the 45th president, U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin of Takoma Park said Sunday that he plans to attend the ceremony, citing “what I see as my constitutional duty to be there.”
In a telephone interview, Raskin—a long-time professor of constitutional law prior to beginning his first term in the House last week—said: “It’s obviously no expression of any political support for the president-elect’s programs. But I’m a constitutional patriot and I think I should be present for the transfer of power. … I also feel that as a local representative and a champion of Congress, I don’t want to run away from this.”
Raskin, who has aimed a large volume of acerbic rhetoric at Trump since the November election, quickly added, “I am going to every counter-inaugural event and protest that I can find.”
As of Sunday afternoon, a headcount by CNN found 22 Democratic members of the House of Representatives plan to stay away from the inauguration. One of them, Rep. John Lewis of Georgia—a leader of the 1960s civil rights movement—has questioned whether the Trump presidency is “legitimate,” triggering a sharp criticism of Lewis by Trump via Twitter.
Lewis is among 19 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who have confirmed they are boycotting Friday’s ceremonies; Raskin is a vice chair of the Progressive Caucus. Among other Progressive Caucus members not planning to attend the inauguration: Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, to which Raskin was appointed last week, and freshman Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state. Jayapal, also a vice chair of the caucus, appeared along with Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts at a “Democratic revival meeting” in Silver Spring that Raskin sponsored at the end of November.
In Sunday’s interview, Raskin was empathetic with his colleagues who have decided to stay away from Friday’s ceremony. “I don’t know [that] there is a right or wrong answer about what to do in this situation. Obviously, these are extreme times,” Raskin said.
But he added, “I just know that if I’m going to vote to impeach the man at some point, I would like to be able to look him in the eye on Inauguration Day.”
Asked if he expects Trump to face impeachment during his first term, Raskin responded: “I know of no specific plans to impeach him. But I would say if you were taking odds, this president appears to be on a course in which he is going to be engaged in a lot of impeachable activities—including collecting payments from foreign governments in direct violation of the emoluments clause.”
Some governmental ethics experts have suggested that Trump’s vast foreign business holdings could cause him to run afoul of the so-called “emoluments clause,” which is part of Article I of the U.S. Constitution, once he is sworn in.
When asked if he sees a constitutional basis for Lewis’ questioning of the legitimacy of the Trump presidency, Raskin said: “We have to distinguish between moral and political legitimacy, and constitutional legitimacy. I think it’s totally correct to describe him as a morally and politically illegitimate president. But, in a constitutional sense, he has been able to skate by in the Electoral College.”
Continued Raskin: “Legitimacy is in the eye of the beholder. Nobody proved that more than Donald Trump—he spent the entire Obama administration denying the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency by claiming he was a foreign citizen born in Kenya … . And John Lewis has all the more right to question the legitimacy, in a moral and political sense, of the Trump presidency.”
Meanwhile, capping off his first full week as a member of Congress, Raskin late last week was named to both the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the House Administration Committee. This came on top of his appointment earlier in the week to the Judiciary Committee, which Raskin actively sought—both as a career law professor and as a member of the Judicial Proceedings Committee during his 10 years in the Maryland Senate.
Raskin also pursued appointment to the Oversight and Government Reform panel. “I was really determined to get on the Oversight Committee, because it oversees all the federal departments and the federal workforce—and we have 88,000 federal employees in our district and hundreds of thousands more whose livelihood is connected to the federal government,” he said.
Appointment to a third committee is unusual, particularly for a freshman legislator; most House members sit on only two committees. Raskin had not sought appointment to the House Administration Committee, and it came as something of a surprise.
“[House Minority] Leader [Nancy] Pelosi called me out of the blue,” Raskin said. “Once she explained this was in addition to Judiciary and Oversight, then I accepted immediately.” The House Administration Committee oversees many of the logistical issues in running the House itself, the Capitol and the Library of Congress. But it also has jurisdiction over election reform issues.
“They knew that has been a great passion of mine in my career. I think that is one thing that motivated it,” Raskin said of his appointment to the panel by the Democratic leadership.
“I think a lot of the central problems of our politics will be taken up in the House Administration Committee, including redistricting and gerrymandering and what to do about Citizens United and the role of big money in our politics,” added Raskin, referring to the 2010 Supreme Court decision that paved the way for creation of so-called “Super PACs.”
While House Administration will give Raskin a bully pulpit for these issues, it may take a change in partisan control of the House for him to make much progress legislatively: He will be among three Democrats on the House Administration Committee, along with six Republicans on the panel.
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