Rep. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin represents Maryland’s 8th congressional district, stretching from northern Washington, D.C., toward the Pennsylvania border. A D.C. native and law professor, Raskin served in the Maryland Senate from 2007 to 2016.

Raskin, a Democrat, has served in the House of Representatives since Jan. 3.

Have there been any big surprises for you since becoming a congressman? 

One unpleasant surprise was to see that the GOP was passing a series of bills in committee where there were no hearings on them. In Annapolis, every bill gets a hearing¸ and anyone who wants gets to testify.  I would routinely be up until 1 or 2 in the morning because everybody gets to testify.

In Congress, not only is there no right to testify, there is also no obligation to have hearings.  So most of the bills that have come out of the committees I sit on have had no hearings.  When I asked why not, I was told that there had been hearings in 2013 or 2014, so we should go back and read about those hearings, even though conditions might have changed.  Without a hearing and discussion, legislation merely becomes a command–and-control exercise.

One very pleasant surprise is that most of the freshmen, Democrats and Republicans, really do want to get to know each other.  For example, with a few other new members of Congress, I organized a trip to the Holocaust Museum.  Seventeen members spent several hours touring it, and then we had a very meaningful discussion.  So I do think there is hope for bi-partisan dialogue and progress.

How can we better protect the environment?

Donald Trump is now playing on the climate change denier team.  So we need to mobilize people by region to defend our environmental laws.  For example, we had liberals and conservatives – from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania – at a recent event to rescue the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.  This is not an ideological issue.  The Chesapeake Bay is not only the largest estuary in North America, it is also the economic life blood of our region.

We need to defend the progress made by the Obama administration on climate change.  It is sinful that the Trump administration is trying to pull the plug on the Paris Agreement on climate change.  Climate change is a reality that urgently demands our response.

What do you think are the most important issues for women?

Pay equity is a central issue to women and their families.  Pay equity is not just a women’s issue, it’s a family issue.  If a woman is being paid 80 percent of what a man is being paid for the same job, that is discrimination not just against her but also her family.  Equalize pay and most families will get a 20 percent raise.

Obviously, there’s an assault going on by the administration and Congress against Planned Parenthood and reproductive freedom.  Republicans want to cut off those funds, even though for three decades no federal funds have been used for abortions.  This campaign would cut off funds for millions of women’s health programs, like mammograms, pap smears and cancer screenings.

What can be done now to combat anti-Semitism?

Old-fashioned, right-wing anti-Semitism made a re-appearance in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, especially in some of the late commercials that talked about profiting off the misery of people.  Those commercials trafficked in classic anti-Semitic stereotypes. Everyone who believes in Democracy must stand up and reject that kind of bigotry.

Then, the new American ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, defended the ads and made himself an apologist for them.

It’s also alarming that Steve Bannon has made himself so close to the President.  Bannon, who ran the Breitbart organization, bragged that it was the propaganda arm of the alt-right movement that includes anti-Semites and racists of every stripe.  He’s a Harvard B-School alum who spent part of his career at Goldman Sachs, so he knows exactly what he’s doing.

These are dangerous trends in national politics at the highest level.  People cannot be shy about calling out anti-Semitism, misogyny and racism whenever they see them.  No matter who says them, people need to speak out.

What can be done to improve gun safety?

When I was in the Maryland legislature, I’m very proud that I was among those who helped pass some of the strongest gun safety laws in the nation, which still protect people’s right to hunt and protect themselves.

One of the reasons I ran for Congress was to bring Maryland-style gun sense to the national debate.  For example, more than 90 percent of Americans support a universal background check [before people can buy guns], but that is vigorously opposed by the National Rifle Association.  That makes no sense at all.

Donald Trump has cast his lot with the NRA, which was not his traditional position.  We need to get to some Republicans so they come around to our side and approve universal background checks.  This is common sense stuff.

Peter Arnold is an Olney, Md.-based freelance writer.

 Top photo: Jamie Raskin (Maximilian Franz / The Daily Record)

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