U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Cascade Twp.) made it clear Wednesday that he views his decision to drop the Republican Party and become an independent as an opportunity to disrupt Congress’ “closed process.”
The fifth-term, libertarian-leaning congressman from the Grand Rapids area trekked through the state’s diverse 3rd Congressional District for most of the day, making three stops in Grand Rapids and one apiece in Dutton and Hastings in the southern, more rural part of the district.
The stops made for his first public appearances in the district since his July 4 “independence” announcement, and the congressman was largely well-greeted at each of the four events the Advance attended. Constituents in Grand Rapids, however, pushed Amash far more on gun control, which he largely opposes, than at the other stops.
Amash tried to express the need for independent thought in Washington, which he stressed doesn’t have to mean “squishy policies,” but an ability to get beyond partisanship.
“I’m not saying you shouldn’t be a Republican or Democrat,” Amash said during a stop at New Holland Brewing near downtown Grand Rapids around lunchtime, where staff said they were unaware he was dropping by.
“What I’m saying is, if you are so beholden to the party that you think everything the president says is gospel, or everything Fox News says is the truth, or everything [U.S. House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) does is absolutely right, then you’ve got some issues and you should have some self-reflection,” Amash said. “Not everything they do is right, and you should be able to think critically.”
Amash has racked up a number of potential 2020 challengers from both major parties since he called for impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump in May and subsequent debut as the only independent member of the U.S House.
Amash, however, doesn’t seem to have many worries about those challenges. Asked by a Democratic constituent and supporter in Grand Rapids how he’s doing with his fundraising, Amash said, “We’re doing great,” adding that almost all his donations come from individuals rather than political action committees (PACs), and that he hasn’t solicited donations.
“I was probably the only member of Congress who didn’t make a single solicitation,” Amash said. “And we did just as well as any of the other candidates who are jumping in, so I’m not worried about that.”
Recent filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) bear that out. For the second quarter that ended on June 30, just days before he announced his switch to an independent, Amash reported raising almost $294,000.
One GOP candidate, state Rep. Jim Lower (R-Greenville), raised $200,546 and Democrat Nick Colvin, an attorney and former President Barack Obama staffer, raised just over $121,000 — both of whom entered the race in the middle of the quarter. Several other candidates entered the race after the filing deadline and have not yet filed reports.
Amash stressed to constituents throughout the day that he fully intends to run and keep his seat as an independent. Asked by the Advance, however, whether he was ruling out a run for president on the Libertarian ticket, Amash demurred.
“I don’t rule out positive opportunities,” Amash said after his final stop on the tour at the Waldorff Brewpub and Bistro in Hastings.
Amash rode to office as part of the 2010 Tea Party wave and helped found the House Freedom Caucus, which has since left. He repeatedly noted throughout the day that when he first went to Congress, he hoped he could change the system from within.
What he found instead, he says, is that decisions are made only by the president, the U.S. House speaker and the U.S. Senate majority leader. Amash said he’s found that this system, in which he believes outcomes are predetermined rather than deliberated, has existed under each of the three speakers he’s served under — two Republicans and one Democrat.
“Both parties do this,” Amash said. “The whole thing is rigged. It’s a top-down system. It’s really corrupt.”
Amash isn’t without ideas on how to fix the problem. Speaking with constituents at Railtown Brewing in Dutton, he said political disagreement is fine, but that Congress’ dysfunction stems from that lack of debate.
“I think the most important thing is that we open up the process,” Amash said. “Let’s suppose you and I disagree on a particular issue, and I’m sure there are some issues like that. If I’m not representing you on that issue because I have a different perspective, [with] an open process, someone else will be there making the debate, making an argument for you. That’s how it should work.”