Donald Trump and his top allies are moving to make Justin Amash pay for becoming the sole Republican congressman to call for the president’s impeachment.
Trump and his top advisers have discussed the prospect of backing a primary challenge to the Michigan lawmaker — a highly unusual move for a president against a member of his own party that would effectively amount to a warning shot to other Republicans thinking of crossing him. The conversations come as the billionaire DeVos family, which has deep ties to the administration and remains one of Michigan’s most powerful families, has announced it will cut off the congressman. That move could send a signal to other conservative donors deciding whether to invest in Amash.
Story Continued Below
Trump has raised the primary challenge idea with Vice President Mike Pence and North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, a close Trump ally who co-founded the conservative House Freedom Caucus with Amash. Trump has also addressed the subject with Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, a former Michigan GOP leader who remains influential in the state.
Those who’ve spoken with the president say he’s made no firm decision about taking on Amash, who’s accused the president of engaging in “impeachable conduct” and left the door open to a third-party campaign for president. Trump, they point out, is mostly focused on his own reelection and often cools down after he has time to process a slight. There are also potential risks: Trying to unseat Amash could elevate him or turn him into a martyr.
Others in the president’s inner circle are skeptical that Amash, whose office did not respond to a request for comment, will even seek reelection.
Yet in some of the conversations, the president has been adamant that the White House take a forceful stand against the congressman. The deliberations underscore Trump’s penchant for exacting political retribution against those who’ve wronged him — something he executed with devastating precision against former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and former South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford.
White House spokespersons declined to comment, as did spokespersons for Pence and Meadows. McDaniel, who under party rules is prohibited from supporting primary candidates, declined to address her conversations with Trump but said in a statement that it’s “sad to see Congressman Amash parroting the Democrats’ talking points on Russia.”
“The only people still fixated on the Russia collusion hoax are political foes of President Trump hoping to defeat him in 2020 by any desperate means possible,” she said. “Voters in Amash’s district strongly support this president and would rather their congressman work to support the president’s policies that have brought jobs, increased wages and made life better for Americans.”
Amash is not the only sitting Republican incumbent that the Trump team has its eye on. Trump advisers are growing increasingly annoyed by Texas Rep. Will Hurd, a frequent critic of the president’s immigration policies. Last week, Trump’s reelection campaign took the rare step of sending a tweet taking the swing-district congressman to task over one of his cable news appearances.
The president also met recently with Rep. Mark Walker, a North Carolina Republican who is weighing a primary challenge to Sen. Thom Tillis. Last year, Tillis co-sponsored legislation to protect then-special counsel Robert Mueller, and he initially opposed the president’s emergency declaration to build a border wall before ultimately voting for it.
The discussions about Amash come as primary opponents have begun to circle. Jim Lower, a 30-year-old state legislator who’s aligned himself with the president, recently announced his candidacy for the Grand Rapids-area seat. A poll released on Tuesday by MIRS News, a political news service in the state, showed Amash trailing Lower by 16 points.
Lower, who is set to travel to Washington next week to meet with senior Republicans, said he was hopeful the president would endorse him. Doing so, he said, would deter other primary candidates from running — which could dilute the anti-Amash vote and potentially pave the way for the congressman’s re-nomination.
“If they were to get involved early I think it would help make sure that it was just me versus Amash in the August primary — and if that’s the case we’re definitely going to win,” Lower said.
“Obviously Trump is a huge component of our campaign, so it will probably go without saying that we’d love to have his endorsement,” he added.
Focus on the president’s potential involvement in the contest is likely to intensify over the summer. In September, national and state GOP leaders are slated to gather on Mackinac Island for the Republican Leadership Conference, a biennial confab that’s expected to draw administration officials and where Amash is certain to come up.
There is growing speculation in Michigan political circles, meanwhile, that the west Michigan-based DeVos family may engage in the primary. Lower has been in touch with representatives for the family. And last week Jase Bolger, a DeVos confidant and former state House speaker, traveled to Washington for meetings with senior Republican officials where Amash was discussed.
A DeVos spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. The mega-donor family, which has bankrolled a host of prominent Republicans including Pence, has broad influence in GOP money circles and their decision could resonate with other donors.
The Amash team has remained tight-lipped about the congressman’s 2020 plans. Yet there are indications the 39-year-old congressman, who was first elected in 2010, recognizes the political toll his support for impeachment has taken.
On Monday evening, Amash announced his departure from the Freedom Caucus, telling CNN that he “didn’t want to be a further distraction for the group.”