WASHINGTON — With an epic Twitter thread hailing the Constitution and skewering President Donald Trump, U.S. Rep. Justin Amash catapulted himself from a relatively unknown House Republican to a principal player in the impeachment battle playing out on Capitol Hill.
After he tweeted Saturday that Trump “has engaged in impeachable conduct” based on the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the political downsides for Amash, a five-term congressman from West Michigan, became immediately clear.
But the long-term impacts of Amash’s rebellion aren’t as obvious. He further solidified his reputation as a fiercely independent libertarian, while winning plaudits from moderates and Democrats alike.
He has given impeachment proponents the valuable argument that it now has bipartisan backing. And although the blowback could scare his fellow Republicans away from impeachment talk, Amash may have paved the way for others to follow suit.
“It has the potential for something; it is relevant to have a Republican say something so strongly worded,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University.
“I think every time someone speaks out, it’s like another slight crack in the wall,” said Jon Marshall, an assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and author of the book, “Watergate’s Legacy and the Press: The Investigative Impulse.”
U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), an original co-sponsor of a resolution directing the House Judiciary Committee to launch an impeachment inquiry, urged Amash to join her. “[C]ome find me in 1628 Longworth,” she tweeted Saturday after Amash posted his tirade. “I’ve got an impeachment investigation resolution you’re going to want to cosponsor.”
That resolution has just seven co-sponsors, all of them Democrats. Amash’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether he plans to back the effort.
Many are skeptical that Amash’s tweetstorm will open the floodgates for his GOP colleagues to call for impeachment.
“We don’t really know yet if any other Republicans will follow suit,” Zelizer said. “The Republican leadership has made it crystal clear they have no interest in what Amash is saying.”
Amash’s sway in the House is limited right now, Zelizer added, noting that other members of the conservative Freedom Caucus are among the most vocal critics of calls for impeachment. Amash’s repudiation of the president “doesn’t change the political dynamics yet in Washington,” he said.
The Michigan congressman could suffer political consequences — from voters and from his party’s leadership.
“For a Republican to do this risks his career, so I would assume this is heartfelt,” Zelizer said, noting that this isn’t the first time Amash has split with Trump.
Amash also made waves earlier this year when he joined a Democratic-led effort in the House to block Trump’s attempt to circumvent Congress and secure funding for a wall along the southern U.S. border.
GOP leaders in the House could punish Amash for speaking out against Trump, said former U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz (R-Battle Creek).
“We all know, especially people who have served in the House, that leadership is dictatorship,” said Schwarz, who, like Amash, came out against Trump’s emergency declaration to build his southern border wall.
Schwarz is someone who knows the potential consequence of bucking GOP orthodoxy all too well. He represented part of what is now the 3rd Congressional District held by Amash from 2005 to 2007, but angered many conservatives with his moderate positions on abortion and social issues.
That earned Schwarz a successful primary challenge from now-U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton), a staunch member of the religious right. The physician and former CIA agent now identifies as an independent.
U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called Amash’s tweets “disturbing” in a Sunday interview with Fox News. “This is exactly what you would expect from Justin. He never supported the president. And I think he’s just looking for attention.”
Schwarz said Amash could face retribution, possibly in the form of less influential committee assignments. Amash now sits on the powerful Oversight and Reform Committee.
“I don’t think he cares,” said Schwarz, who said he largely agrees with Amash’s comments. “I give him credit for courage; I give him credit for calling Trump out.”
Schwarz, who lives in Amash’s district, doesn’t share his libertarian politics. He said prior to this, “I don’t think I’ve ever publicly praised him, lauded him on anything.”
U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who’s a Michigan native, also called Amash “courageous” for bucking his party during in an interview with CNN. However, Romney said he “reached a different conclusion” than Amash had on impeachment.
Over time, Schwarz expects other Republican lawmakers to echo Amash’s comments. “He said things that people have been thinking for months,” Schwarz said.
“The fact that this was greeted by Republican leadership in the House with this faux shock that someone would say this is kind of amusing, because a lot of people in that conference are probably very much in sync with Congressman Amash on their thoughts on President Trump’s behavior.”
Advance Editor Susan J. Demas contributed to this story.