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Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin, free from cancer, weighs a Senate run

Rep. Jamie Raskin at his home in Takoma Park, Md. on June 12, 2023.
Catie Dull
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NPR
Rep. Jamie Raskin at his home in Takoma Park, Md. on June 12, 2023.

On a recent morning, Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin was sitting in the kitchen of his home in Takoma Park, Md., just outside Washington, D.C., contemplating a major decision.

He's weighing a run for the U.S. Senate after going into remission following intensive cancer treatment.

"I've written a speech announcing my reelection campaign for the House, I've written a speech declaring my candidacy for the Senate," Raskin says. "I figure out my situation best through the process of writing."

The top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, Raskin has given himself a Fourth of July deadline to pick one of those speeches to publicly announce his plans.

"I have had friends on Capitol Hill tell me that I would be crazy to think about leaving the House of Representatives," Raskin said. "And then there are people who say to me that the U.S. Senate seats open up once every quarter century, and I would be crazy not to run for it at this point."

Raskin has been a House member since 2017

Raskin was first elected to the House in 2016 after teaching constitutional law at American University for more than 25 years.

In Congress, he quickly rose up the ranks, making a name for himself as the lead House manager during former President Trump's second impeachment trial. He later served as a member of the House Select Jan. 6 panel before becoming House Oversight's ranking member.

That means he's one of a core group of Democrats defending President Biden and his administration against Republican investigations. It's a job that's expected to be higher in demand as the House GOP ramps up its probes into President Biden, his administration and Democrats since Trump's historic federal indictment.

"We're still in the fight of our lives," Raskin says. "Donald Trump is still very much at large and we're in a struggle to defend democracy and the rule of law."

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., delivers remarks during the last meeting of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol in the Canon House Office Building on Dec. 19, 2022.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
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Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., delivers remarks during the last meeting of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol in the Canon House Office Building on Dec. 19, 2022.

At the same time, Raskin has been in another fight of his life: battling diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a serious but curable form of cancer.

So when Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin said in May he would not seek reelection, Raskin was not immediately thinking about entering the race.

"I was still just trying to, you know, eat and hold a meal down," Raskin said. "I was besieged and barraged with phone calls and emails and texts from people asking me what I was going to do, and I just ... begged everybody's patience."

Maryland Rep. David Trone, and Angela Alsobrooks, a Prince George County, Md., executive, were among the early Democrats launching Senate campaigns to fill Cardin's seat.

Nothing compares to losing 'Tombo'

Raskin first got news of his diagnosis in late December 2022, and underwent six rounds of chemotherapy over several months. Raskin lost his hair, eyebrows, eyelashes and his sense of taste.

He said everything he ate tasted like an aluminum tennis racket.

"Chemo is not something I would wish on my worst enemies in the world," he said.

In late April, Raskin received word from his medical team at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and the nearby Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center that he was in remission, with a 90% prognosis of no relapse.

It marked the latest chapter in a series of life tests punctuated by trauma and grief for Raskin. He received his cancer diagnosis after the House Jan. 6 panel wrapped up its work, and days before the second-year anniversary of his son's death.

"As difficult as it was going through chemo and all of this, I mean, nothing compares to losing Tombo," Raskin says, his voice trailing.

Tombo is Raskin's nickname for his late son Tommy Raskin, who died by suicide in December 2020. Tommy Raskin, who was a Harvard Law student, wrote extensively about philosophy, injustice and animal rights.

The day after Tommy was buried, Raskin, his youngest daughter, Tabitha, and his son-in-law were were at the Capitol when it was attacked on Jan. 6, 2021.

Raskin takes long, thoughtful pauses when he considers where he is today on his journey with grief.

"Well, you know ... My heart is still broken," he says. "But ... it keeps beating. And you know, we've got so much to live for."

That includes Raskin and his wife, Sarah Bloom Raskin, who saw Tabitha marry this month.

"We just we have a lot of beautiful things to live for. And, you know, we just have to incorporate that. What else can we do?" Raskin asks.

How the personal has informed the politics

Today, Raskin's eyelashes have started to grow back. He still sports the bandanas he started wearing when he began losing his hair — inspired by one of his newest friends, Steven Van Zandt of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

Van Zandt sent Raskin a dozen bandanas during his treatment. Now, the two are talking about launching a line of bandanas for children dealing with cancer and chemotherapy.

"We've been talking about the possibility of soliciting some of the great fashion designers to see if they would make bandanas," Raskin said.

Raskin's recent challenges are informing his politics and his priorities. His battle with cancer highlighted the plight of the uninsured. And he's been thinking about what Tommy would say about a possible Senate run.

"I think he would ask probably that fundamental utilitarian question," Raskin says, "which is where can I go? Where can I be doing the most good for the most number of people now? And he would say disregard everything else."

As Raskin considers his next move, he is weighing his seniority in the House against potentially vying to become the junior senator from Maryland. He still regularly adds to those drafts of his two speeches for either plan, trying to decide which one makes the most compelling case.

"I'm just going to see after spilling my guts, what feels right to me," he says.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Claudia Grisales
Claudia Grisales is a congressional correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.