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COVID-19 in Maryland Government & Politics

Same President, New Watchdog Role for Raskin

Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.). Screenshot from C-SPAN.

Rep. Jamie Raskin has a lot of practice policing President Trump.

The Maryland Democratic congressman and former constitutional law professor became a central figure in the congressional probe over whether Trump had improperly meddled in a U.S. presidential election. A vocal member of the U.S. House Judiciary and Oversight committees, Raskin was among the earliest congressional Democrats to argue that Trump should be impeached for violating the U.S. Constitution.

Now Raskin has another high-profile watchdog role: a seat on the new committee set up to oversee Trump’s COVID-19 response.

He was among the seven House Democrats named to a new select committee set up by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to monitor the federal response to the pandemic. The panel will hold its first hearing Wednesday afternoon.

“I think that they were drawn to the fact that I bring a constitutional perspective to the whole project and insist upon congressional oversight and executive branch accountability,” Raskin told Maryland Matters this week in an interview. “It also probably helped that I live 20 minutes away from the Capitol.” (Raskin lives in Takoma Park.)

The House voted in April to establish the select panel as a part of the existing Oversight and Reform Committee. It’s chaired by Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), who previously helped to oversee the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. House Republicans have blasted the panel as redundant and accused Democrats of setting up a new platform exclusively to criticize Trump. Despite their misgivings, GOP leadership appointed Republican members to the committee last week.

In its first official act, the new committee last week sent letters to several large, public companies, asking them to immediately return loans that Congress intended for small businesses. One of the companies, Georgia-based MiMedx Group, Inc., announced Monday that it had repaid its $10 million loan.

Raskin said Monday that he’s hoping to see the committee start formal meetings this week “to get the work done by any means necessary.” That could entail virtual meetings or in-person meetings “with all the proper public health precautions,” he said.

Raskin said he views the committee as having three simultaneous tracks for investigations.

One: “scrupulous financial oversight, just make sure the money’s not being diverted and wasted.” Two: oversight over reopening “so we don’t have helter-skelter chaos all over the country, but we have a real structure and plan.” And three: “backward-looking oversight about how we got into this terrible nightmare and how to make sure it never happens again.”

Of course, Trump and his top officials have defied congressional oversight in the past, and the president bristled after the committee was announced.

“You see what happens, it’s witch hunt after witch hunt after witch hunt,” Trump said last month at a press briefing.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who was selected to serve on the committee, accused Democrats last month of using the new panel to advance their political objectives. “This is just a continuation of the attack that the Democrats have had on the president for the past four years,” he said.

Raskin brushed off those criticisms. “This is the most expensive rescue operation in the history of the United States. It will cost us trillions of dollars to deal with the public health crisis, the spreading unemployment, the hunger, the business failure and the collapse of governmental services in different places,” he said.

With the economy reeling and reports that the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus had surpassed 80,000 Raskin called it “scandalous” that Republicans are going “back to the same old partisan playbook of trying to pick a political food fight.”

Trump, Raskin said, “is obviously terrified about his political prospects now,” and Republicans are “looking for enemies anywhere they can find them.

“One day, it’s the World Health Organization. The next day, it’s the Chinese government. The next day, it’s [New York Gov. Andrew] Cuomo. The next day, it’s Governor [Larry] Hogan. They’re lashing out, and so of course they will lash out at government oversight, even though it is the most normal and necessary feature of American government.”

As for whether the administration will cooperate with the new committee, Raskin said that remains “the critical question.”

The Trump administration, he added, “has thumbed its nose at congressional oversight, despite the fact that congressional oversight is an essential attribute of our Constitution. The Supreme Court has said that Congress cannot legislate in the public interest if it doesn’t get the public information it needs. Our GOP colleagues understand that. … I think they should stop complaining about oversight and they should participate in it.”

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Same President, New Watchdog Role for Raskin