In Annapolis on Friday, Jamie Raskin was a rockstar.

If he only got a raucous, welcoming round of cheers when he walked into a Democratic breakfast club meeting, it was because the appreciative audience was mostly silver and may have preferred not to stress their aging knees.

But the spirit was there.

“Our last great Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, didn’t know whether Americans could long survive half slave and half free,” said the congressman from Montgomery County, former state senator, constitutional scholar, ranking verbal pugilist on the powerful, fractious House Oversight Committee and unexpected TikTok sensation. “Well, how long are we going to be able to survive as a country with half of the country giving women health care and half of the country denying women health care? We’re really going to be all one thing or all the other.

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“Let’s make sure this is the election where we become a pro-choice country again, for every woman.”

Cue the applause.

“He’s Maryland’s gift to the nation,” club member Ann Heald said.

And he’s damn funny. If you’re not a Republican, anyway, or someone who thinks Donald Trump deserves another turn in the White House, who believes there is a “Biden crime family” or that the 2020 election was stolen and Jan. 6 was a deep state fake.

U.S. Rep. Jamie Rasking talks to the Almost 7:30 Democratic Club in Annapolis on Friday, June 7.
U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin talks to the Almost 7:30 Friday Morning Democratic Breakfast Club in Annapolis on Friday, June 7. (Rick Hutzell)

Raskin is taking this show on the road this summer, campaigning for Biden and Democrats across Maryland and in eight states. That’s in addition to the 20 he has already toured this campaign season.

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There are plenty of partisans in America right now. We’re a country overflowing with pundits and provocateurs.

Raskin, though, is something apart. Maybe it’s because he so often seems the smartest man in the room, running rhetorical rings around the transparent attempt to impeach President Joe Biden by Oversight Committee Chair James Comer.

“President Biden was saying you got to, you know, destroy this stupid impeachment witch hunt. Which we did,” he said. “We shut it down completely. No facts behind it.”

He appeals to younger voters as a leader for the coterie of quick-witted young progressives on the committee — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (”I stand up to bullies”), Rep. Jasmine Crockett (originator of the cutting retort, “bleach-blond-bad-built-butch-body”) and Rep. Jared Moskowitz (who responded to Comer calling him a Smurf with the cartoon-villain clap back, “Gargamel was angry today”).

It could be the way Raskin regularly schools Republicans on the House floor, who often use the word Democrat to describe the party and its ideas instead of the grammatically correct adjective, Democratic.

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“So, I lost my temper and I said, you know, you guys have this self-created political speech impediment. You’re not able to pronounce the party as an adjective. And it’s contagious.

“Now, when I get up, I try to say the name of your party. It just comes out: the Banana Republican Party. And I went home and I told Sarah, I told my wife. I said, I finally got them back. You know, she said, that’s, that was an extremely immature response.”

Wit is the word to describe Raskin, a combination of intelligence and humor. He uses it to discuss the erosion of reproductive rights, attacks on former COVID advisor Anthony Fauci, threats by Trump to indict him and other members of Congress and his own personal vulnerability.

Raskin was public with his lymphoma diagnosis and recovery, complete with a badass bandana folded over his chemo-caused baldness. He was open about the death of his son, Tommy, by suicide.

So when a member of the audience paused Friday’s hilarity to ask a long, emotional question about anxiety and mental illness affecting young men, Raskin pivoted with grace to talk about Maryland’s encouraging steps toward a network of help.

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“I guess the silver lining is that it’s hard to stigmatize a condition that is affecting this generation,” Raskin said. “So some of this stigma is lifted.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., participates in the House Oversight and Accountability Committee's hearing about Congressional oversight of Washington, D.C., in Washington, Wednesday, March 29, 2023.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., participates in the House Oversight and Accountability Committee's hearing about congressional oversight of Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, March 29, 2023. (Cliff Owen/AP Photo)

Between oratorical glitter bombs at the Almost 7:30 Friday Morning Democratic Breakfast Club on Friday, Raskin continued to highlight the legal path on the U.S. Supreme Court he laid out in a New York Times op-ed. He argued that the Department of Justice could force Associate Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas to recuse themselves from cases involving the Jan. 6 insurrection and immunity from prosecution for Trump.

Both justices have created doubts about bias through their wives’ actions. One raised flags symbolizing solidarity with the insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol while the other worked behind the scenes to halt certification of Biden’s 2020 election.

“One of these cases is, of course, Donald Trump making the claim, his lawyer explicitly making the claim in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, that he would have a right to order someone’s assassination, and he could not be prosecuted for it unless he were first impeached and convicted in the House in the Senate, which then creates an incentive simply to assassinate members of the House and the Senate.

“That was the first thing that went through my head. I’m like, Wow. We’re really going to need some security for that.”

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Raskin has plenty more barbs wrapped in humor.

He ticked off Republican actions that match up with the definition of fascism, from a cult of personality around a charismatic leader to the disavowal of elections they lose to embracing violence as a means to political power and scapegoating minorities.

Raskin knows some will object to that kind of name-calling.

“They all got mad at President Biden, our great president, when he said there were semi-fascist currents running through the Republican Party,” Raskin said. “I’m sorry — if the shoe semi-fits, you semi-wear it.”

If he knows the value of a good cutting remark, Raskin can demonstrate how to wield inspiring words, too.

“The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will shrink at this moment from the service of their cause in their country, but everyone that stands with us now will win the love and the favor and the affection of every man and every woman for all time,” he said, quoting Revolutionary War pamphleteer Thomas Paine.

“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered. But we have this saving constellation, the more difficult the struggle, the more glorious in the end will be our victory. Let’s make that victory ours in 2020.”

Like any rockstar, Raskin demonstrated appreciation for his fans. He posed for a group photo outside the club, blinking in the blinding morning light bouncing off the white gravel parking lot.

U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin talks to some of the 100-plus Democratic club members who turned out for his talk in Annapolis on June 7. At the end of his speech, they asked for a group photo.
U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin talks to some of the 100-plus Democratic club members who turned out for his talk in Annapolis on June 7. At the end of his speech, they asked for a group photo. (Rick Hutzell)

When it was over and the adoring Democrats started walking back to their cars, I couldn’t help but wonder if this would work.

If 2024 is a fight against fascism, is a wit loose upon the national stage enough to win?

“Well, I don’t know,” Raskin said. “It’s keeping me going through very tough circumstances on Capitol Hill. You’ve got to keep your sense of humor in order to deal with fundamentally irrational forces.

“I was preaching to the choir here, but I like preaching to the choir. And the choir needs to be preached to.”

Rick Hutzell is the Annapolis columnist for The Baltimore Banner. He writes about what's happening today, how we got here and where we're going next. The former editor of Capital Gazette, he led the newspaper to a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the 2018 mass shooting in its newsroom.

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