As the House of Representatives Wednesday erupted in the kind of chaotic energy one normally associates with far-flung parliaments during Question Time, there was a familiar face sitting with a wry smile next to his old friend Rep. Thomas Massie (R–Ky.): The former five-term congressman from Grand Rapids, Michigan, Justin Amash.
Amash, who was elected each time as a Republican but then during his last term disaffiliated from the GOP and eventually became the first sitting Libertarian in congressional history, was not there just to watch it all burn down—he is offering himself up as perhaps the unlikeliest candidate for speaker of the House in an already unlikely 118th session of Congress.
"I think I'm a great compromise candidate, so why not do it?" Amash said last night on a taping of The Fifth Column podcast, which I co-host along with Kmele Foster and Michael Moynihan. "I'm a former member. I know what's going on. I know what the problems are in Washington. I understand why the House doesn't function properly. So I think it makes sense to put my name out there."
Amash throughout his tenure and into his post-congressional career has been almost monomaniacally focused on the increasingly dysfunctional process for producing legislation on Capitol Hill. It has been his main topic of conversation in Reason interviews, in constituent town halls, with me at LibertyCon in October, with Robby Soave yesterday morning on Rising, and again last night on the podcast.
"I've never been shy about the fact that I'd like to be speaker of the House," he said. "That's not like something that's just popped up now…. I've always said the one position I really would like to have is speaker of the House. And the reason I'd like to have it is because I think I would do a good job, and I would do a good job precisely because I want to go and do what the speaker of the House is supposed to do: Open up the process. I get a thrill from that."
He continued: "Other people get a thrill from going and getting their substantive legislation passed…which is very difficult these days, by the way, because it's all top down, so you have to hope the speaker is going to put it on the floor. I get a thrill from having our government work the way it was intended under our constitutional system. It makes me excited because I love this country, I love liberty, I love our constitutional system, I think we have the best country on the face of the earth. I think we have an amazing Constitution, and it is a real shame that we don't use it."
Amash, who as the co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus challenged the leadership bids of former GOP speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan, had unflattering things to say about leading speaker candidate Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R–Calif.).
"I served with him for a decade, and I saw what he is. He's not a trustworthy person," Amash said. "He's the most creature-of-Washington politician you can have. Like, Boehner was an institutionalist—for all of his faults, Boehner had some, you know, romanticized vision of Washington. Now, he wasn't great at it, he made a lot of mistakes. I had lots of fights with Boehner, I tried to oust Boehner from the speakership. But when it comes down to it, Boehner at least had some vision of Washington as a place where ideas go to get discussed and debated and you produce some product…. Paul Ryan was a policy guy. Now, he didn't really get his policies to the finish line, but he cared about policy. McCarthy, on the other hand, cares only about power. That's it. He's not interested in policies, he doesn't know much about policy. If you asked Kevin McCarthy about a piece of legislation, he would not really know much about it. He's not that guy, he doesn't care, he's not an intellectually curious person. I don't think he's that bright, honestly. I mean, no offense to him, but he's not a particularly bright person."
As of early Thursday afternoon, McCarthy had lost a seventh bid to become speaker. Amash suggested that the 20 consistent holdouts, some of whom are his friends, have a specific personality issue with the Californian—they don't trust him even a little bit.
"He's just a guy who's about power first, and he'll do whatever it takes to maintain power," he said. "And that's why the 20 members don't trust him. It's why I don't trust him, because they know what he is and they know what he'll do. He'll betray them to the extent that he's made any promises to them, he'll betray them the first chance he gets, and then lie about it. He has no problem doing that. He's a compulsive liar. Always has been."