Cedar Springs, Mich. — U.S. Rep. Justin Amash said Monday that overcoming political gridlock in Congress will require “tremendous will” that he has not yet seen from U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan or his predecessor.
Speaking to several hundred constituents during a town hall meeting at Cedar Springs High School in west Michigan, the libertarian-leaning Cascade Township Republican suggested the House speaker should play a “nonpartisan” role focused more on process than politics.
“We can fix it, but we need either a change in direction from this speaker, or we need a new speaker,” Amash said.
His critique of House leadership came less than three weeks since Ryan and GOP President Donald Trump canceled a vote on a health-care overhaul bill opposed by Amash and other members of the conservative Freedom Caucus.
Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, has served as speaker since October 2015, when Amash supported his election.
Trump lashed out at the Freedom Caucus after the health care legislation stalled, and a top aide called Amash a “liability,” urging Trump supporters to back a prospective Republican primary challenger in 2018.
But Amash said Monday the bill faced opposition far beyond the Freedom Caucus, estimating that as many as 50 to 80 Republicans in the 237-member majority would have voted against the health care bill if it had been put up for a vote.
“It would have been actually very embarrassing, and that’s why they pulled it,” Amash said. “There were more non-House Freedom Caucus members opposed to it than House Freedom Caucus members.”
The Cedar Springs event was Amash’s sixth town hall of the year but his first since the House failed its first attempt to repeal and replace some provisions of former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.
Amash took questions for nearly three hours, hand-delivering a microphone he shared with the audience, which included members of the Indivisible liberal activist group, who remained respectful even when disagreeing with the representative. He has two other town halls scheduled this week in Pennfield and Byron townships.
Amash supports repeal and replacement of the federal health care law, known as Obamacare, but he said the legislation backed by Ryan and Trump was “in many ways just a political plan” to claim victory on a long-held Republican promise.
The House GOP proposal would not have repealed the Affordable Care Act, Amash argued, and it would not have protected the country’s most vulnerable residents.
“We’re not there to give you political plans,” he said of Congress. “We’re there to give you actual plans that work, and so I was opposed to it.”
Asked by a constituent about partisan gridlock on health care and other issues, Amash suggested House rules stifle action. Too often, he said, Republican leadership “protects our members” from tough votes or refuses to consider amendments that would be adopted if put up for a vote on the floor.
“It’s very difficult to address because the people in charge, namely the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader or the president of the United States, don’t seem too interested in addressing it,” Amash said. “They’re not that interested in breaking the partisan gridlock.”