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Grand Rapids — U.S. Rep. Justin Amash on Tuesday challenged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to begin impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump, accusing establishment leaders in both major political parties of focusing on elections at the expense of accountability.

The libertarian Republican was greeted with standing applause — and occasionally angry shouting — in his first public town hall since a May 18 impeachment tweet that prompted Trump to call him a “loser” and lit a national firestorm.

More:What Amash's colleagues are saying about Michigan maverick

Several voters called Amash “courageous” for speaking out against a president from his own party, but a vocal minority accused the congressman who represents the Grand Rapids area of "demonizing" Trump in a district that supported Trump's election in 2016. 

Trump appears to have obstructed special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russian government’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and his conduct was “obviously impeachable,” Amash said. But only Pelosi, a California Democrat, could decide to begin the impeachment process, he said.

Pelosi appears “very nervous” about the way impeachment hearings could impact Democratic incumbents “in what she considers tougher districts” for 2020, Amash said.

“She’s trying to maintain the majority, so she’s trying to play it both ways,” said Amash during the town hall at Grand Rapids Christian High School, where he graduated in 1998 before heading to the University of Michigan to earn economics and law degrees.

Pelosi has accused Trump of a “cover-up,” but she and other House leaders have indicated they want to pursue investigations into Trump rather than start a consuming and politically uncertain impeachment process. If the Democrat-led House did vote to impeach Trump, the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority of the Republican-led Senate to support conviction in order to remove the president from office.

“As the Speaker has repeatedly said, this isn’t about politics, it's about patriotism and what's best for the American people,” said Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesman. “We are committed to following the facts and getting the truth for the American people.”

One week after a spokesman for the powerful DeVos family of West Michigan confirmed they will no longer contribute to his political campaigns, Amash drew hundreds of voters to a school auditorium named after the late Richard and Helen DeVos.

Amash, who has routinely held such public meetings since first winning election to Congress in 2010, wasted little time reiterating his case for presidential impeachment during the two-hour town hall. In his report, Mueller “shows us all the elements of obstruction of justice” by Trump and “really left it to Congress to come to a determination on these issues,” he said.

“I’m confident that if you read Volume 2, you will be appalled at much of the conduct,” Amash said of the 448-page Mueller report. “I was appalled by it.”

While impeachment is a difficult process that might not actually lead to Trump’s removal, “I think it’s really important that we do our job as a Congress, that we not allow misconduct to go undeterred,” Amash said. Doing nothing could signal “that someone can violate the public trust and that there are no consequences to it.”

The fifth-term congressman has gained national notoriety in the less than two weeks since he tweeted that Attorney General William Barr “deliberately misrepresented Mueller’s report” in his initial March 24 letter describing the special counsel’s findings and that “President Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct.”

Top GOP officials have lambasted Amash’s comments, which drew criticism from the likes of Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California.

“I’m sure” McCarthy did not read the Mueller report, Amash said Tuesday night, taking on his own House GOP leader.  “I stated what it actually said, and he just resorted to ad hominem attacks. This is the kind of ‘leadership’ that we have in Congress.”

Amash is the only congressional Republican who has called for impeachment hearings but suggested “a lot of his colleagues” have told him they “think I’m right about the Mueller report but just won’t say it.”

Amash posted his latest tweet storm earlier Tuesday ahead of the town hall, elaborating on his claims that Barr misrepresented key parts of the Mueller report and has “so far successfully used his position to sell the president’s false narrative to the American people.”

“This will continue if those who have read the report do not start pushing back on his misrepresentations and share the truth,” Amash concluded in his 25th tweet in the thread.

As a “for instance,” Amash noted a section of the Mueller report detailing how Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort, son Donald Trump Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner took a summer 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer who had promised to deliver “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary” Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

Libertarians have urged Amash to mount a third-party presidential run. While he has not dismissed the idea, which could position him as a Trump spoiler in Michigan and other Midwest battleground states, Amash is currently gearing up to run for re-election to the U.S. House.

Amash criticized the two-party system that has dominated U.S. politics and ridiculed a top-down leadership style in Congress he said was pervasive under both Pelosi and her predecessor, former House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican.

But asked if his comments were a prelude to a third-party presidential run, Amash told a voter that “if I were trying to roll out something like that, this is not how I would do it.”

Two Republicans have already announced plans to take on Amash in the 2020 GOP primary — State Rep. Jim Lower of Greenville and former Sand Lake Village Trustee Tom Norton — and touted their Trump loyalty in the process. Experts predict other candidates will likely join the race.

Lower attended the town hall but did not confront Amash during the question-and-answer period.

“There’s a lot of people I hope to represent here, so I want to hear their thoughts,” Lower said. Support for Trump will probably be “a large portion of the campaign, but obviously, I think I have a lot more to offer than just that given my track record as a state representative who’s gotten over 10 bills done in my first term.”

While several Republican and Democratic voters praised Amash, he faced criticism from Dianne Luke of Grand Rapids, who wore a red “Make America Great Again” hat and accused Amash of turning into a Democrat after she voted for him under the GOP banner.

“I’m so disappointed,” Luke told The News. “He has to resign because we elected him as a Republican with certain values, and he’s become a Democrat. He’s bought into their lies.”

Amash debated Luke for more than 10 minutes during the town hall, repeatedly asking the crowd to show her respect when they booed her comments.

While his public feud with the president has drawn Republican rancor, Amash told Luke he has consistently ranked as one of the more conservative members of Congress and has opposed runaway government spending.

The American Conservative Union Foundation gives Amash the third-highest lifetime score among Michigan’s congressional delegation, and the Heritage Action Foundation for America in 2018 gave him their second-highest rating among the state delegation.

Anna Timmer of Grand Rapids, also in the crowd Tuesday night, said she volunteered on past Amash campaigns but accused him of spending the last two years “failing to do your job, which is to directly represent the popular will of your constituents."

“My job is to uphold the Constitution,” Amash responded.

The 3rd Congressional District includes Grand Rapids and other parts of Kent County, Ionia, Barry and Calhoun counties and a portion of Montcalm County. It remains a Republican stronghold despite an increasingly liberal base in Grand Rapids, the state’s second-largest city.

Larry Arnhart, a retired college professor in Grand Rapids Township, said he moved to Michigan three years ago and was excited because he got the chance to vote for Amash.

“And I would be happy to see him atop the Libertarian Party ticket,” he said. “It would be very good to see a strong third party, a realignment to shake up the two-party system.”

Arnhart said he’s read the Mueller report and agrees with Amash’s conclusions about impeachable offenses but does not think Senate Republicans would convict Trump, who he does not plan to vote for next year.

“I’m a conservative Republican, but I do not believe (Trump) is either a conservative or a real Republican,” he said.

Several Democrats in the crowd challenged Amash on issues like climate change and Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which he supported in 2017.

But Marge Friar of Grand Rapids, 65, who voted for his Democratic opponent in 2016, held a sign outside the town hall thanking Amash for putting “country over politics.”

While she disagrees with Amash on some issues, “right now my immediate concern is what Donald Trump and his minions are doing to this country and to Democracy,” Friar said. “That’s why I’m here, to support Justin and his willingness to take this principled stand.”

Staff reporter Melissa Burke and T Associated Press contributed.

joosting@detroitnews.com

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