Justin Amash on Why Congress Is Broken

"Today it is highly centralized, where a few people at the top control everything," the former five-term congressman tells Reason's Nick Gillespie.


Just 15 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing. But why is it broken and how do we fix it? Those are two of the questions Reason's Nick Gillespie asked Justin Amash in February at Students for Liberty's LibertyCon. Amash, the Palestinian-Syrian-American former five-term congressman from Michigan, is now running for Senate as a Republican.

First elected as part of the Tea Party wave in 2010, Amash helped create the House Freedom Caucus but became an increasingly lonely, principled voice for limiting the size, scope, and spending of the federal government. During the first impeachment of President Donald Trump, Amash resigned from the GOP, became an independent, and voted to impeach. He joined the Libertarian Party in 2020, making him the only Libertarian to serve in Congress.

Q: Why is Congress broken, and how do we fix it?

A: We don't know exactly how Congress got to where it is, but today it is highly centralized, where a few people at the top control everything. That has a lot of negative consequences for our country. Among them is that the president has an unbelievable amount of power because the president now only has to negotiate with really a few people. You have to negotiate with the speaker of the House. You have to negotiate with the Senate majority leader and maybe some of the minority leaders. It's really a small subset of people that you have to negotiate with. When that happens, it gives the president so much leverage.

When we talk about things like going to war without authorization, as long as the speaker of the House isn't going to hold the president accountable and the Senate majority leader is not going to, the president is just going to do what he wants to do. When it comes to spending, as long as the president only has to negotiate with a couple of people, the president's going to do whatever the president wants to do. It's super easy in the system for the president to essentially bully Congress and dictate the outcomes.

Q: Where did you first encounter the ideas of liberty?

A: They came from my parents' immigrant experience coming to the United States. My dad came here as a refugee from Palestine. He was born in Palestine in 1940. When the state of Israel was created in ̓48, he became a refugee. My mom is a Syrian immigrant.

When my parents came here, they weren't wealthy. My dad was a very poor refugee….When he came here, he didn't have much, but he felt he had an opportunity. He felt he had a chance to start a new life, a chance to make it, even though he came from a different background from a lot of people, even though his English wasn't great compared to a lot of people. He came here and he worked hard, and he built a business. When we were young, he used to tell us that America is the greatest place on Earth, where someone can come here as a refugee like he did and start a new life and have the chance to be successful. It doesn't matter what your background is. It doesn't matter what obstacles you face. You have a chance here and you don't have that chance in so many places around the world.

Q: You voted to impeach Donald Trump. Was that one of the toughest votes in your legislative record?

A: I think that courageous votes are the ones where everyone is against you. I don't mean just one party. It's one thing to vote for impeachment and half the country loves what you did and half the country doesn't like what you did. That's not that challenging or difficult. It's when you take a vote and you know that 99 percent of the public is going to misconstrue this, misunderstand it, be against it. The vote is going to be something like 433 to 1 in the House. Those are the tough votes. There are plenty of those votes out there, where you're taking a principled stand and you're doing it to protect people's rights. But it's not the typical narrative.

This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity.