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DeVos family ends longtime Amash support

Lansing — The powerful DeVos family of West Michigan is ending its longtime support of U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, the libertarian Republican who has repeatedly clashed with President Donald Trump.

The family has not made any political contributions to Amash this cycle, and “they have no plans to do so,” said family spokesman Nick Wasmiller.

Rep. Justin Amash

The GOP megadonors decided to cut ties with Amash before his latest dust-up with the president and his assertion that Trump engaged in “impeachable conduct,” Wasmiller told The Detroit News.

“Family members have expressed increasing concerns about a lack of representation for their district, the 3rd Congressional, and I would say an inability to advance efforts connected to important policy matters," he said.

Recent comments by Amash "have not changed the family’s thinking regarding its intent to not provide future support," Wasmiller added.

Amash on Wednesday declined to address the DeVos family's decision or when he learned of it. 

"I don't have any reaction," he said outside the U.S. Capitol after speaking to a grou of eighth-grade students from his West Michigan district.

Amash confirmed he plans to run for re-election in 2020 but hasn't ruled out a run for president with the Libertarian Party.  

The fifth-term lawmaker set off a firestorm Saturday when he tweeted his conclusions from special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2018 elections, becoming the first Republican to join Democrats in calling for impeachment proceedings.

He doubled down on those comments Monday in a series of tweets, detailing why he thinks the case can be made for impeaching Trump for obstruction of justice.

"People who say there were no underlying crimes and therefore the president could not have intended to illegally obstruct the investigation — and therefore cannot be impeached — are resting their argument on several falsehoods," Amash wrote. 

In a brief interview Wednesday, Amash repeated his conclusion that many of his House colleagues haven't read the Mueller report. 

"My job is to defend the Constitution," he said. "I'm laying out the information I want to lay out, and it's not about, you know, getting on TV or anything like that. I want to make sure that I'm presenting it in the most clear-cut, sober way possible."

Trump responded Sunday to Amash's declaration by calling him a “loser." Other top GOP officials criticized him, including Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel and Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox. 

Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which Amash co-founded, have also lambasted Amash's comments, though haven't said he'll be removed from the group. 

Amash: Challengers 'not serious'

State Rep. Jim Lower, R-Greenville, announced his campaign to challenge Amash in the 2020 primary, joining former Sand Lake Village Trustee Tom Norton, who had already filed to run against Amash.

"It's not serious," Amash said Wednesday of the challenges.

The congressman said he doesn't have immediate plans to co-sponsor any impeachment-related legislation in the U.S. House. 

"I haven't reviewed anything, and I want to make sure that whatever I do legislatively is based on the positions I have, and not based on some positions someone else has," he said. 

Amash also said some GOP colleagues have told him privately that they agree with him, "but I don't want to say which colleagues." 

"I've had people who, after I made my tweets, said, boy, they better review it more carefully now, and they hadn't really gone through it before," said Amash, referring to the Mueller report. 

"When you read Volume Two and see the totality of it, it speaks for itself. So people who are baffled by it, I wonder how carefully they read Volume Two, because it's there. There's a difference between skimming the pages and actually reading it and understanding it." 

Wasmiller said the DeVos family has not made any decisions about the 2020 primary and who it might support in the race after withdrawing support for Amash.

“I don’t think they’ve considered that up until this point,” he said. “I think those folks have announced fairly recently, and (the family will) go through their standard review process to determine if they will support someone, and if so, who that is.”

Wasmiller works for the DeVos family’s RDV Corporation. He was speaking for various family members but not U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who no longer has any role in the company.

Betsy DeVos vowed to end political contributions when she joined the Trump administration, but other members of her family remain prolific donors.

History of DeVos-Amash ties

The DeVos family's relationship with Amash stretches back to before his time in Congress. When Betsy DeVos and her husband endorsed Amash for the U.S. House days after he announced his 2010 campaign, she described a long-running relationship between their two families, calling them “social friends” who had known each other for years.

“Justin is a really smart, reflective state representative who will serve in Congress with honor, commitment and integrity,” DeVos told The Grand Rapids Press at the time. “I think he is a really fresh and long-overdue voice that needs to be heard and represented at a federal level.”

The family helped Amash survive his last major GOP primary challenge in 2014, when groups such as Right to Life of Michigan and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce backed Grand Rapids businessman Brian Ellis. The family donated a combined $65,000 to Amash’s campaign that cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records.

All told, DeVos family members have made nearly $300,000 in direct contributions to Amash’s congressional campaigns since 2010. Most recently, they gave Amash a combined $24,300 for his successful 2018 re-election campaign, including contributions from Maria, Daniel, Doug, Richard, Cheri Melissa and Rick DeVos.

Amash could still be a formidable force in the GOP primary, especially if he faces a crowded field, but the loss of DeVos support is significant, said longtime Michigan political analyst Bill Ballenger.

“If his money supply is cut off, I think he’s probably going to be able to raise money on his own and his family is personally wealthy,” Ballenger said. “But psychologically, it’s a blow to his campaign that the DeVoses would desert him and say they’ve had enough. They’re a force independent of their money.”

Republicans who want to take down Amash will have to “circle the wagons” around one candidate, he said. It likely would be someone with a stronger connection to Grand Rapids than Lower, who has represented rural districts and is not a household name in the state’s second largest city, Ballenger said.

DeVos ally: Frustration growing

Many Republican donors and activists had already been growing frustrated with Amash prior to his impeachment analysis, said Greg McNeilly, a West Michigan GOP strategist and longtime DeVos ally who works for the family’s non-political Windquest Group investment management firm.

“It’s not just this one thing, but this one thing creates a venting so to speak,” McNeilly said. “People are upset with his chronic lack of maturity in office and his inability to be effective both for his ideas and the community. And when he starts to become a national embarrassment — which he has with this latest provocation of the president — it’s irritated a lot of people.”

McNeilly called Lower the “most serious” Amash challenger so far, but he predicted “a robust series of candidates” will consider and decide on campaigns in the next 60 to 90 days.

Lower said he was not surprised that Amash is losing DeVos support.

“If you’ve looked at the outpouring of support our campaign has gotten over the last 48 hours, it’s really kind of amazing,” he said. “I haven’t found anybody who wants to stick with (Amash) at this point, so (the DeVoses) not wanting to support him anymore is not surprising.”

Amash said Monday he remains “very confident” in his district, where he won re-election last year by 11 points over Democrat Cathy Albro. 

The 3rd Congressional District currently includes Grand Rapids and other parts of Kent County, Ionia, Barry and Calhoun counties and a portion of Montcalm County.

Those boundaries could change if Michigan is forced to redraw its political maps under the order of federal judges who last month that ruled state lawmakers unconstitutionally gerrymandered political districts in 2010.

Amash has not joined other Michigan congressional Republicans who are defending the maps and asking the U.S. Supreme Court to suspend redistricting order. He has criticized political gerrymandering.