In Washington, D.C., he's been labeled "loser," accused of being a secret Democrat, and ostracized from the legislative caucus he co-founded, but on Monday night Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.) found himself in friendlier territory—and embraced the opportunity.
At a town hall in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Amash's constituents gave him applause and praise—but also fired pointed questions from left, right, and center political perspectives—during a nearly two-hour meeting marking the congressman's first public appearance since tweeting that he believed President Donald Trump had engaged in "impeachable conduct." It was the sort of spectacle that's all too rare in politics today; a (mostly) respectful, detailed discussion of policy, politics, and the balance of power in the federal government.
If you had never heard of Amash before, it was a perfect introduction to his views on just about every significant issue. If you are familiar with him, it was a standout performance.
Elaborating on what he's already outlined in a series of Twitter threads, Amash said his reading of the second volume of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's report shows "all of the elements of obstruction of justice." He voiced agreement with Mueller's decision to stick with longstanding Justice Department precedent forbidding the indictment of a sitting president, but said it was Congress' responsibility to respond to executive misconduct.
"I'm confident that if you read Volume 2 [of the Mueller report], you will be appalled by much of the conduct. And I was appalled," Amash said. "We cannot allow conduct like that go unchecked. Congress has a duty to keep the president in check."
Specifically, Amash pointed to an incident in the Mueller report where Trump instructed Don McGahn, then-White House counsel, to put out a false statement declaring that Trump had never attempted to interfere with the investigation—something that Trump repeatedly attempted to do, according to Mueller's report, only to be thwarted by the fact that his aides disobeyed direct orders.
"Things like that reflect incredible dishonesty," said Amash. "I don't think you can just let that stuff go."
Mostly, though, Amash tried to steer away from the i-word and towards the need for structural reform in Washington—including his old bugaboo about House leaders of both parties limiting the number of amendments that can be offered on the floor—and bemoaned the ways that partisanship has poisoned the well for reasonable debate in politics.
"Liberty cannot survive in a system where people hate each other, and there is no virtue," Amash said, to loud applause, near the end of the event. "If you care about limited government, then you should be worried about people being so angry at each other."
A rare note of that anger, on Monday, came from a woman sporting a red "Make America Great Again" hat, who accused the congressman of drinking "the same Kool-Aid as all of the Democrats" and repeated the oft-debunked claim that someone cannot have committed obstruction of justice without also having committed an underlying crime. Another woman, who claimed to have volunteered for Amash's first congressional campaign, accused him of "grandstanding" to boost his political profile.
This video gets to the heart of the Amash town hall: pic.twitter.com/PThqciSI8E
— Sam Easter (@SamKWEaster) May 28, 2019
While much of the town hall was obviously focused on Trump and Amash's recent tweets about the Mueller report, one of the more surprising aspects of the event was the extent to which other policy issues managed to penetrate that bubble. The five-term congressman faced direct questions about his stance on immigration policy, infrastructure, election reform, surveillance, opioids, and health care policy.
But it all comes back to the horse race eventually. Asked directly whether his public break with the rest of the Republican Party is a prelude to a potential run for president—possibly as a member of the Libertarian Party—Amash refused to rule out such a move, but also denied that the two ideas were linked.
"If I were trying to roll out something like that, this is not how I would do it," he said.
Is he worried, another attendee asked, about facing a Republican primary challenge due to his willingness to reject the GOP party line on Trump's behavior?
Check the scoreboard, he suggested.
"The president did not do well here. I did significantly better than he did [in 2016]," Amash said. "And in any case, you should always do what is right."
In other words: Bring it on.