GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Rep. Justin Amash is a lonely man in Congress, the sole Republican to back Donald Trump’s removal from office. But back home on Tuesday night, the Michigan lawmaker got the red-carpet treatment in his first face-to-face encounter with voters since his call for impeachment.
During a packed town hall in Grand Rapids, attendees in the mostly-friendly audience gave Amash several standing ovations and heaps of praise for his solo rebellion against Trump.
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“I don’t agree with many of your stances, but I applaud your courage and your morality that seems to be lacking in [Washington]. So thank you,” said one woman in the crowd, drawing cheers from the audience.
Tuesday’s town hall marked Amash’s first public appearance since he declared on Twitterearlierthis month that Trump committed impeachable offenses and obstructed justice — a remarkable act of defiance, even for a longtime Trump critic, that has put his congressional career on the line while provoking Trump and the GOP.
It’s unclear how many audience members plan to vote for Amash. Several former Amash supporters stood up to denounce the five-term congressman and express their ire over his constant rebukes of Trump, reflecting a broader frustration in the GOP.
Amash has already drawn two primary challengers, including from Michigan state Rep. Jim Lower, a pro-Trump candidate who vowed to use his support of the president as a key issue in the campaign.
But Amash is swatting down concerns about the potential impacts on his political future, telling the crowd he “has a duty to keep the president in check.”
“It doesn’t matter to me that some people won’t support me. You have to do the right thing regardless,” he said.
Amash, who explains all his congressional votes on social media, said he felt it was important to personally explain his pro-impeachment stance to his constituents. It took the 39-year-old attorney a month to read and analyze the Mueller report before he came to that conclusion.
Hundreds of people packed into a high school auditorium Tuesday night, where one person was seen wearing a red Justin Amash campaign T-shirtand another was wearing a “Mueller Time” T-shirt. Some audience members snapped selfies and shook hands with Amash before the event.
Amash, who has largely avoided the media spotlight over the past week and a half, spent two hours — an hour longer than the town hall was supposed to last — reiterating his support for impeachment, defending his conservative record and taking shots at the president and congressional leaders in both parties.
He also explained why he is still a registered Republican, saying it’s harder to get on the ballot as an independent, and fielded several questions on other issues including infrastructure, the opioid crisis and climate change.
But not everyone in the crowd was happy with Amash. At one point, a woman wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat sitting nearthe edge of the crowd told Amash she was disappointed in the lawmaker and could no longer support him.The audience tried to boo her down, with some members in the crowd growing rowdy at one point, forcing Amash to ask people to be respectful.
And in another testy exchange, a woman who said she once volunteered for Amash’s campaign accused the Michigan lawmaker of political grandstanding and abandoning his district.
“I’ve changed my position on you. You’ve spent the least two years failing to do your job, which is to directly represent the popular will of your constituents,” said the woman, who later identified herself to reportersas Anna Timmer.
“That’s not my job … my job is to uphold the Constitution,” Amash responded.
“Those are not mutually exclusive,” she shot back.
Amash is no stranger to bucking his own party. The Michigan lawmaker rode the 2010 tea party wave to Congress, where the libertarian and fiscal conservative has built a political brand on being a thorn in the side of GOP leadership and made protecting civil liberties his chief priority.
Amash helped found the hard-line Freedom Caucus as a way to challenge the party’s establishment. And hehas become famous in Washington for his “no” votes, opposing everything from massive spending bills to routine measures.
Amash even once lost a coveted seat on the House Budget Committee for bucking Republicans.
“If you go against the Speaker of the House, and you’re in the majority, you’re toast. And that’s why people don’t do it,” Amash said.
But his penchant for crossing party lines has taken on new meaning in the era of Trump — and potentially put his congressional career in jeopardy.
Lower, who was already planning on running against Amash, accelerated his announcement after the lawmaker’s impeachment comments. Now, Lower plans to make his support of Trump a central part of his campaign.
“It will probably be the No. 1 issue, whether I wanted it to or not,” Lower told POLITICO.
While Amash beat back a primary challenge from an establishment candidate in 2014, he faces a far more uncertain political future in the ageof Trump, where fealty to the president has often become a litmus test in the GOP.
Amash has been frustrated that his Republican colleagues have moved in lockstep with Trump, even on positions once anathema to the GOP, like supporting executive orders to shape immigration policy or legislation that adds to the ballooning federal deficit.
“Under the current administration, spending has skyrocketed. And Republicans, unfortunately, haven’t said that much about it,” he said. “I haven’t changed … I’m a principled, constitutional conservative who has stayed consistent, regardless of whether we’ve had President Obama in office or President Trump.”
Amash also said some of his GOP colleagues agree with his view on the Mueller report, but haven’t had the courage to speak out against Trump.
“A lot of people think I’m right about the Mueller report. They just won’t say it. A lot of Republicans,” Amash said.
Amash has repeatedly defied Trump, voting against the president’s national wall emergency, opposing Trump’s travel ban and questioning Trump’s ex-attorney Michael Cohen in a public hearing instead of attacking him like his GOP colleagues.
But backlash in GOP circles over his impeachment comments has been swift and fierce. Trump ripped into Amash on Twitter, calling him a “lightweight” and “loser,” while House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) accused Amash of seeking attention.
And the DeVos family, who are well-known and powerful mega donors in Michigan, officially ended their support for the Michigan lawmaker.
Not even Amash’s fellow members of the House Freedom Caucus have come to Amash’s defense. The group decided to uniformly oppose his impeachment stance, though they stopped short of kicking him out of the caucus.
Amash, who stopped showing up to House Freedom Caucus meetings this year, actually threatened to quit the caucus last year because they wouldn’t stand up to Trump, even when the president attacked one of their own members. Another Trump critic, former Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), ended up losing his primary race to a pro-Trump challenger last year after Trump got involved in the race.
It’s unclear whether the president will get involved in Amash’s race, though some Republicans think it’s likely.
But others think Amash has his eyes set on running for higher office — and his impeachment comments have only further fueled rampant speculation.
Libertarian groups have been trying to draft Amash to mount a third-party challenge against Trump in 2020, which could draw away votes from Trump in Michigan, a key battleground state that Trump barely won in 2016.
Amash was keeping his options open on Tuesday.
“I’ve said many times, I don’t rule things like that out,” Amash said. “If you’re fighting to defend the constitution, if you find a way to do that that’s different and maybe more effective, then you have to think about that.”