Amash shuns presidential talk at town hall, says he irks both Dems, GOP

Rep. Justin Amash
U.S. Rep. Justin Amash town hall in Grand Rapids, March 18, 2019 | Nick Manes

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Cascade Twp.) on Monday evening sought to spell out his libertarian beliefs to constituents and show why those views so often put him at odds with colleagues on both sides of the aisle.  

During an almost two-hour town hall meeting held in a Grand Rapids high school auditorium, Amash fielded a variety of questions. Topics ranged from gun rights (Amash is an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment) to school spending (he wants to get the federal government out of education).

The common thread running throughout the meeting, however, was his idea that Washington, D.C., is broken due to bitter partisanship stemming from both parties abandoning principles in favor of a popular and easy outcomes.

“We should be proud of the system we have in this country,” Amash said, largely referring to federalism and separation of powers.

“It’s a system that is good for Republicans, Democrats, independents, Libertarians,” said Amash, who identifies as a Libertarian, but caucuses with Republicans. “A system that is good for everyone and we’re too quick to dismiss the way our system works and then we wonder later on why we have so many problems. We’re arguing and fighting because no one is following the rules we’ve laid out.”

Amash’s comments in Grand Rapids come as the West Michigan congressman has continued to fuel the rumor mill that he’s considering running for president as a third-party candidate. He told CNN’s Jake Tapper earlier this month that he’s not ruling it out, but that it’s “not on my radar right now.”

Constituents at U.S. Rep. Justin Amash’s town hall in Grand Rapids, March 18, 2019 | Nick Manes

Amash never broached the topic of a presidential bid on Monday night and it was only briefly mentioned by a constituent.

Pushed by a constituent to offer a foreign policy vision, the congressman laid out ideas vastly different than those of President Donald Trump, who has pulled out of trade agreements and largely taken the country in a more insular direction.

“The approach would be to stay engaged, continue to have communications with the rest of the world, always strike a peace with the rest of the world,” Amash said of his views on foreign policy. “Not to withdraw from the rest of the world. To trade with the world is important. I think that protectionism is not good for our country. It’s dangerous. Sometimes trade is the best way to keep peace and keep friendships.”

In the forum, Amash seem interested in bolstering his reputation as a somewhat rogue representative who values principles above party to benefit the nation.

“One week, the Republicans are mad at me. The next week, the Democrats are mad at me. Maybe the independents will be mad at me someday, too,” Amash said. “The point is, I follow the Constitution; I follow the rule of law and that I think will lead to a better outcome for our society.”

As further proof of his willingness to go against party, Amash pointed constituents to his tweet on Sunday — St. Patrick’s Day — criticizing a tweet by the national GOP. The Republicans posted a photo of Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke, who’s of Irish descent, and sought to link his heritage to a 1998 drunken driving arrest.

“Do better, @GOP. Be better,” Amash wrote.

O’Rourke campaigned in metro Detroit on Monday.

At several points during the discussion with constituents, Amash pointed to his myriad, vocal disagreements with other leading members of his own party, including Trump and Republican former U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

The congressman had routinely criticized Ryan’s method of running the House, saying that he shut down any opportunities for meaningful debate or amendments on legislation. Amash noted that he believes current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is repeating the same mistakes.

While national issues largely dominated the meeting, Amash also fielded questions on issues affecting the state and the 3rd Congressional District, which encompasses parts of Kent, Ionia, Barry, Montcalm and Calhoun counties.

Asked about Michigan’s underperforming education system, Amash reiterated his calls to abolish the federal Department of Education and leave the matter up to states and local governments. He said he believes that would lead to a more efficient use of resources.

The department is helmed by Betsy DeVos, a West Michigan native and part of the family that has prominently donated millions of dollars to Republicans around the country, including past Amash campaigns.

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash town hall in Grand Rapids, March 18, 2019 | Nick Manes

He also was asked to weigh in on the growing problem of PFAS, which has affected drinking water and overall health in many parts of the state. That includes Plainfield Township in northern Kent County, which falls in Amash’s district.

Amash said he believes PFAS caught many regulators and government agencies off-guard. He said he believes that private companies that have contributed to the problem need to be held accountable for their environmental practices.

“Making sure that we have clean water is an important role of the government,” Amash said. “In this case, I think there wasn’t enough coordination between the state and federal governments. The federal government needs to be more involved in making sure that the states are meeting the requirements.”

Nick Manes
Nick Manes is a former Michigan Advance reporter, covering West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels.


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