Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), often touted as “the next Ron Paul” (by this magazine, among others), had a rocky start to his second term in Congress. After overcoming a redistricting effort to win re-election by a comfortable margin in November, Amash was welcomed back to Washington with a pink slip: He and a group of libertarian-leaning backbenchers were stripped of their committee assignments by the GOP leadership. Adding insult to injury, the party establishment claimed that the rebuke wasn’t ideological; that it had more to do with what Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) termed “the asshole factor.”
Amash, seen as the ringleader of the House “liberty movement,” responded by leading a failed coup against House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in what was supposed to be a rubber-stamped re-election as majority leader. Meanwhile, on a series of crucial votes—the “fiscal cliff” tax hike in January and the March agreement to raise the debt ceiling—Amash and several of his uppity libertarian colleagues voted against party leadership. If Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is the leading liberty-movement troublemaker in the United States Senate, Amash is shaping up to be his main counterpart in the House.
Endorsed by the Republican Liberty Caucus and Young Americans for Liberty, the 33-year-old Amash has made waves by explaining all of his votes on social media, a practice he began during his single term as a Michigan state legislator. He has earned a 100 percent rating from the fiscally conservative Club for Growth, and has taken up where Ron Paul left off on civil liberties.
The son of Syrian and Palestinian immigrants, Amash has made a name for himself as a non-interventionist. “It’s very dangerous if we get in the habit of deciding who the good guys are and who the bad guys are,” he says of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and other unsavory characters. He’s also a social conservative, describing himself as “100 percent pro-life,” but opining that ultimately, “marriage is a private contract that has nothing to do with government.”
In March, reason.com Editor in Chief Nick Gillespie interviewed Amash in his office, where the walls are adorned with likenesses of Frederic Bastiat, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Carl Menger, Murray Rothbard, and Ayn Rand. For video of the interview, go to reason.com.
reason: Talk a little bit about your general political philosophy. At reason we’ve called you the heir to the mantle of Ron Paul—is that accurate?
Justin Amash: Well, I’m a libertarian Republican, a constitutional conservative, a classical liberal.
reason: You’ve got more Austrians on your wall than the Von Trapp family.
Amash: I’m a big believer in the Austrian school of economics. But you know, I’m an independent and a moderate. Many people would look at my voting record and say: This is a moderate guy, he’s willing to work with both sides, he’s willing to do what the Founders intended for this country and not just play the political games.
(Interview continues below video.)
reason: Talk a little bit about foreign policy. You’re what is called an isolationist or—in more polite company—a non-interventionist. How do you define your foreign policy? And what’s a libertarian vision of foreign policy that is not simply saying “the world should just go away”?
Amash: It’s a constitutional foreign policy. You’re right to say it’s not isolationist. When you decide how to deal with countries that are threats and you put sanctions on them and isolate them, that’s isolationist. I’ve called for non-interventionism: We don’t send our troops everywhere else in the world to deal with everyone else’s problems, we have to defend the homeland here, and we follow constitutional policy.
Amash: If there’s a threat, the president comes to Congress. Congress has to pass an authorization for war and then the president is authorized to do what he needs to do. But it should always go back to the people’s house.