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U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Trump impeachment manager and member of the Jan. 6 committee, returning to the Berkshires

He will speak on 'Our Beleaguered Social Contract: Democracy, Gun Violence and the Perils of Insurrectionism'

Jamie Raskin smiling in front of US Capitol

U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, will speak Saturday at Berkshire Community College's sold out Mona Sherman Memorial Lecture at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington.

GREAT BARRINGTON — U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, the high-profile progressive Democratic congressman, is this year’s guest speaker at Berkshire Community College’s 15th annual Mona Sherman Memorial Lecture today.

The 5 p.m. event at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, which is sold out, is a return engagement for Raskin, who was last year’s speaker at the series organized by BCC’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). He’s subbing for MSNBC legal correspondent Ari Melber, who had to cancel but will appear briefly by video.

Raskin’s chosen topic is “Our Beleaguered Social Contract: Democracy, Gun Violence and the Perils of Insurrectionism.” He served on the Select Committee in Congress investigating the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

During an interview with The Eagle on Friday afternoon while en route to the Berkshires from Maryland, Raskin said he was looking forward to his return visit.

“It’s a part of our country that has always been fertile soil for movements for democracy and freedom,” he said. “I’m thrilled to reconnect with the people in your part of New England.”

Raskin is considering a run for the U.S. Senate from Maryland next year and expects to make a decision in early June.

He’s in his fourth term representing part of Montgomery County and is the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability. In the House, he was the lead manager during the impeachment trial of former President Trump for his role in the attempted insurrection. (Trump was acquitted by the Senate on Feb. 13, 2021, although majority of senators voted 57-43 to convict him, including seven Republicans. But two-thirds, or 67 votes, were needed to convict. It was the second time Trump was acquitted on impeachment charges.)

Raskin, 60, has recently recovered from grueling but successful chemotherapy treatment for lymphoma. The cancer is now in remission.

Excerpts from the interview follow, lightly edited for length:

Q: What’s your view on the very delicate negotiations to avert a default if the debt ceiling is not raised before the U.S. Treasury can no longer pay its bills?

A: We have had indication that there has been real progress towards a framework for a resolution. There’s a plan for a two-year extension of the debt ceiling but we haven’t seen the details. There is a general unease about making any deal with the MAGA right, which had no problem with Donald Trump’s adding [$8 trillion) to the nation’s debt, one-quarter of everything we owe, and then turn around and use the debt ceiling as a bludgeon in order to dismantle social spending on health care, veterans, education and the environment. Nobody on the Democratic side is happy about the situation we’re in. We understand that President Biden has been put into a difficult position by the Republicans being driven by the MAGA right. So, there’s real unhappiness over the whole evolution of this controversy.

Q: How are you feeling following your battle with chemotherapy, which you’ve described as a “best friend and worst enemy” because it had such a debilitating impact

A: I’m feeling great now because the doctors say the cancer is in remission and they see no signs of cancer cells left, so that’s a remarkably good feeling to have. But having rung the bell more than three weeks ago, I also feel great because the side effects of chemotherapy have abated. So I don’t feel neuropathy or nausea, my sense of taste is mostly restored, food is really good! I don’t have a 100 percent of my energy back, but I have 80 percent. There were days during chemotherapy when I probably had only 5 percent of my energy.

Q: What can you share about your current thinking about a possible run for the U.S. Senate?

A: It’s an odd position for me because I have only run for two offices before, the Maryland state senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. I’m learning to live with some political and personal uncertainty here. It’s a very tough choice but a great choice. I’ve been elected to be the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. If the Democrats take back the house, I’d be in a position to become the chairman, with agenda-setting authority and to be involved in the defense of democracy and freedom in the country. At the same time, lots of people have been encouraging me to run for the Senate and I’m talking to some senators to identify what I might be able to do in the Senate that are not available to me in the House — one of them is the vetting of federal judges and U.S. Supreme Court justices. I just have to weigh these two very good options in the context of the 2024 campaign, because it’s far more important than my own individual career ambitions is whether or not the Democrats will recapture the House, hold the Senate and defend the presidency against Trump and his authoritarian movement. The overarching question I’m asking myself is where my experiences and talents, such as they are will be best deployed in 2024 and through this period in our history.

Q: On your speech topic, “Our Beleaguered Social Contract: Democracy, Gun Violence and the Perils of Insurrectionism,” do you have anything hopeful to share?

A: The good news is that the forces of democracy and freedom are a significant majority in the country, whether it’s people’s feelings about insurrection, gun violence or safety, reproductive freedom or voting rights and democratic institutions. The vast majority of the American people are on the side of democratic progress and in my mind, that means the Democratic Party. The other side has a bag of tricks — voter intimidation, manipulation of legislative districts and of every antiquated nook and cranny within the Electoral College system to overthrow the popular vote, including the filibuster. As [philosopher and education reformer] John Dewey said, “the only solution to the ills of democracy is more democracy.” What we’re suffering from today is the impediments to it and the limitations on it.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com.

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