11 Other Times Justin Amash Crossed Swords With President Trump
While the libertarian congressman sheds supporters over impeachment controversy, a trip through the last 30 months shows a history of conflict.
Saturday's assertion from the libertarian Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.) that President Donald Trump has engaged in "impeachable conduct" continues to generate praise, blowback, and other reactions (including here).
The latest news is that the DeVos family, Amash's single most important backer in his district, is no longer supporting him, though family spokesperson Nick Wasmiller tells Michigan Live that the decision pre-dates the recent controversy. And president David McIntosh of the longtime-Amash-supporting Club for Growth tells The Daily Beast that the congressman is "absolutely wrong on the standard for impeachment," though no decision on 2020 financing has yet been made.
The national press, meanwhile, is trying to assess this strange political creature. "Impeachment Appeal Pushes Justin Amash From G.O.P. Gadfly to Insurgent," goes yesterday's incoherent headline in The New York Times. (I would think that defenestrating House Speaker John Boehner, unlike supporting a theoretical impeachment process that doesn't yet exist, demonstrates a bit more impact than a fly biting livestock.)
"He has never really been much of a party loyalist anyway," the Times acknowledged, but even that phrasing is inadequate to the task of describing the iconoclastic apostasies of the Ron Paul/F.A. Hayek-inspired congressman.
Reason is no stranger to this Republican outlier, having conducted Q&As with him in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017 (three times), 2018, and 2019. As such, we've had a front-row seat for his clashes with a populist president. The following archive-scrape is an incomplete list of Amash-Trump conflicts in chronological order since Inauguration Day.
1) January 2017: The travel ban.
On the eighth day of his presidency, Donald Trump abruptly followed through on a campaign threat to ban entry into the United States by residents of seven majority-Muslim countries, including (at first) legal permanent U.S. residents. The executive order was quickly blocked by the courts, then revised by the administration, then blocked again, then partly revised again, then again, then blocked a third time, before finally being allowed to stand in such altered form by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Before any of that, there was Justin Amash, with a nine-part Twitter thread.
2/ It's not lawful to ban immigrants on basis of nationality. If the president wants to change immigration law, he must work with Congress.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) January 28, 2017
2) March 2017: Obamacare repeal/replace 1.0.
On March 24, 2017, then-House Speaker Paul Ryan withdrew from consideration the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the new president's first real effort at legislative dealmaking, because it didn't have enough Republican support. The biggest skeptics within the GOP were members of the House Freedom Caucus, which Amash co-founded in 2015. The Caucus maintained, with ample justification, that the bill was a hot mess that would codify some of Obamacare's worst aspects while also precipitating a meltdown in the individual insurance market.
Trump responded with fury, accusing the Freedom Caucus two days later of saving Obamacare and Planned Parenthood. On March 30, the president thundered that "The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!" To which the congressman got cheeky:
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) March 30, 2017
Trump social media director Dan Scavino then tweeted "@realDonaldTrump is bringing auto plants & jobs back to Michigan. @justinamash is a big liability.#TrumpTrain, defeat him in primary," which Amash laughed at. (Scavino's tweet was later found to be in violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in campaign activity while acting in their official capacity.)
Trump's long-game attempt to bring the Freedom Caucus to heel, however, unequivocally worked: Chair Mark Meadows (R–N.C.) and Vice Chair Jim Jordan (R–Ohio) became the president's two most visible congressional attack dogs from the earliest days of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. When the new version of the AHCA came back around, Freedom Caucus members—including Amash—held their noses and voted for it, in large part (I suspect) because they knew that it would not pass the Senate. And as of this Monday night, the Caucus no longer seems like a welcome place for the man long considered to be its intellectual architect.
3) May 2017: The firing of James Comey.
When President Trump sacked his FBI director over the Department of Justice's Russia-related investigation, the first Capitol Hill Republicans to object were two people who otherwise couldn't have less in common: Sen. John McCain, and Amash.
My staff and I are reviewing legislation to establish an independent commission on Russia. The second paragraph of this letter is bizarre. https://t.co/wXeDtVIQiP
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) May 9, 2017
Two days later Amash joined his friend, the late Rep. Walter Jones (R–N.C.), in co-sponsoring a bill by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D–Calif.) to establish an independent commission to investigate Trump's actions. Five days after that, when The New York Times reported that Trump had asked Comey to drop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, Amash said the story, if true, could be grounds for impeachment.
The Justice Department appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel the next day. "Well, I'm—you know, look, I guess I'll keep an open mind," was the reaction of Jim Jordan, who proceeded to do the opposite.
4) September 2017: Spendingpalooza 1.0.
In the last month of fiscal year 2017, as the national debt was zooming north of the $20 trillion threshold, the president signed into law billions of dollars of non-offset hurricane relief, plus a deal to raise the debt ceiling to $20.14 trillion.
Voting against all that stuff was Amash, who told me in an interview, "It's looking as bad as any time I've seen since I've been in Congress….I think this tends to happen when one party has full control of government: that party starts to go on a spending spree and stops worrying about the debt and deficits."
4) June 2018: Kicking Mark Sanford.
Mark Sanford has been very unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA. He is MIA and nothing but trouble. He is better off in Argentina. I fully endorse Katie Arrington for Congress in SC, a state I love. She is tough on crime and will continue our fight to lower taxes. VOTE Katie!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 12, 2018
One week later, in a meeting with House Republicans, Trump reportedly asked whether Sanford was in the room, and when the answer was no, called him a "nasty guy." Countering reports that the members were nonplussed, the president then tweeted "They applauded and laughed loudly when I mentioned my experience with Mark Sanford. I have never been a fan of his!"
5) March 2018: The trade war.
Steel and aluminum tariffs are corporate welfare. They benefit the few through a tax imposed on all Americans.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) March 1, 2018
The congressman has been criticizing the president (and the pliant Congress) on trade ever since.
6) July 2018: The Helsinki summit.
On July 16, 2018, Trump held a bizarre joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the two leaders met for a summit in Helsinki. Among other oddities, the American president took at face value his counterpart's insistence that Russia did not attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election (a claim that Trump walked back soon after).
While libertarian-leaners such as Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) defended the president, Amash addressed yet another Twitter thread specifically to libertarians, arguing "We must not, however, fall for the logical fallacy that because diplomacy and dialogue are good, @POTUS's performance at the press conference was good."
The impression it left on me, a strong supporter of the meeting, is that "something is not right here." The president went out of his way to appear subordinate. He spoke more like the head of a vassal state.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) July 19, 2018
Amash added, in what appeared to me as a veiled swipe at his friend Rand Paul, "The general public are not more likely to see themselves as libertarian when, for the sake of 'owning the [neocons],' prominent figures associated with libertarianism conflate libertarian-style governance and Trump-style governance."
7) October 2018: Birthright citizenship.
In an interview with Axios on HBO, the president suggested that he might follow through on another foul campaign promise by issuing an executive order to end the automatic citizenship that's conferred to the children of all non-foreign-diplomats born on U.S. soil.
"It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don't," the president maintained, waving a dismissive hand toward the prevailing interpretation of the 14th Amendment. "You can definitely do it with an act of Congress. But now they're saying I can do it just with an executive order."
The congressman had a different read.
A president cannot amend Constitution or laws via executive order. Concept of natural-born citizen in #14thAmendment derives from natural-born subject in Britain. Phrase "and subject to the jurisdiction thereof" excludes mainly foreign diplomats, who are not subject to U.S. laws.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) October 30, 2018
To date, Trump has not followed through on his threat.
8) November 2018: Khashoggi comments.
"The world is a very dangerous place!"
So began one of the single weirdest presidential statements ever to be released on purpose at WhiteHouse.gov—a rambling, slogan-filled attempt to contextualize the president's unwillingness to blame Saudi Arabia for murdering a critic of its ruling family who was chopped to bits at the Saudi embassy in Turkey, by reminding people that Iran is bad and the Saudis buy a lot of American stuff. "It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn't!" was one of the sentences.
This time, Rand Paul and Justin Amash were on the same page:
I will continue to press for legislation to stop the Saudi arms sales and the war in Yemen.
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) November 20, 2018
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) November 20, 2018
9) December 2018: Tariff Man vs. Liberty Man.
"I am a Tariff Man," the president tweeted on Dec. 4, 2018, because why not? "When people or countries come in to raid the great wealth of our Nation, I want them to pay for the privilege of doing so. It will always be the best way to max out our economic power. We are right now taking in $billions in Tariffs. MAKE AMERICA RICH AGAIN."
I am a Liberty Man. Trade is not raid. Voluntary exchanges make Americans wealthier. @POTUS's tariffs, which create barriers to exchange, are paid for by Americans. Taxing Americans to steer our decisions is social engineering that reduces our economic power and makes us poorer. https://t.co/j2rsiN4l8n
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) December 4, 2018
10) January 2019: "Military version of eminent domain."
Back in the heyday of the Tea Party, the government would usually get shut down over spending increases, Obamacare, things like that. In January of this year, President Trump engineered a long shutdown over funding to extend a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. During this process, the president threatened to use what he called the "military version of eminent domain" to seize private property on the American side of the border.
Amash does not oppose extending the wall. But he does have some thoughts about private property and government takings, which made their way into a bill "requiring that a property's fair value be finalized before [the Department of Homeland Security] takes ownership."
The Eminent Domain Just Compensation Act has not yet been considered on the committee level and is estimated to have just a 3 percent chance of passage.
11) February 2019: Emergency declaration.
President Trump on Feb. 15 declared a national emergency along the border, to free up funds for the border wall extension. The House of Representatives 10 days later voted 245-182 to block the order. The resolution's only Republican co-sponsor? Justin Amash.
"The president doesn't get to just declare an emergency for something that Congress has deliberated many times over the past several years," he told ABC News. "We have to make sure that each branch stays within its own lane and Congress retains its power over the purse."