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Trump fans rally to 'squash Amash'

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
President Donald Trump supporters rally Friday (June 14, 2019) in opposition to U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, near the congressman's office in downtown Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids — More than 200 supporters of President Donald Trump rallied here Friday near the local office of U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, calling on fellow Republicans to “squash Amash” over his calls for a presidential impeachment inquiry. 

The event, which doubled as a birthday celebration for the president, drew Trump loyalists from across the state. It was partially funded by a Tennessee businessman hoping to help oust Amash in the 2020 primary — or sooner. 

“It’s a national race at this point,” said state Rep. James Lower of Greenville, one of two Republicans who have already announced primary campaigns against Amash. Other potential challengers are considering runs. 

Trump supporters described the president as a man under siege and argued that Amash opened a new front in a years-long battle when he became the first Republican to call for an impeachment inquiry following Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“What they’ve done to him in these couple years already is just terrible,” said Don Levault of Clarksville, an Amway factory worker who lives in Amash’s district. “It’s unreal. In my view, if you’re a Republican, you should back your president, and this guy ain’t, so he’s got to go.”

Amash has doubled down on his impeachment comments since an initial tweet in mid-May. He also made them at a Grand Rapids town hall event where hundreds of voters turned out, with many praising Amash for having the “courage” to stand up to a president of his own party.

Trump appears to have obstructed Mueller's probe and his conduct was “obviously impeachable,” Amash said last month. His office and campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday's rally.

Trump fans lined Michigan Street in downtown Grand Rapids in front of a federal building named after former President Gerald R. Ford. They chanted “squash Amash” and “lock her up,” a reprise of the 2016 refrain against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Many bashed the Mueller report that Amash based his conclusions on, suggesting it is part of a "deep state" conspiracy to undermine Trump's presidency.

“I haven’t read it yet, and I don’t think I need to because I think the whole investigation was an investigation into something that started as a hoax,” said Leisa Audette of Bloomfield Hills, who drove across the state Thursday to attend the Friday rally.

The event was advertised and partially funded by The New American Populist political action committee, founded by Tennessee businessman Jeff Webb. It was organized in collaboration with a statewide group called Michigan Trump Republicans, including co-founders Meshawn Maddock of Milford and Diane Schindlbeck of Fremont.

“Ideally, we’d like Congressman Amash to resign and have that be an open space that can be filled with somebody who supports the president’s agenda a lot more than he does,” Webb said.

Tom Norton, a former Sand Lake village trustee and National Guard member running against Amash in the GOP primary, passed out press releases calling on the House to expel Amash for allegedly failing to represent constituents in a district that backed Trump.

Amash has said it’s his duty to uphold the U.S. Constitution. But the congressman's “first duty” is to represent constituents, and “he’s failing at that miserably,” Norton said.

Lower said most of the people he talked to at the rally were local voters excited about his campaign and noted that Donald Trump Jr. this week hinted at a possible Michigan visit during the primary.

“If you’re on the ground, he’s in big trouble,” Lower said of Amash.

A small smattering of Amash supporters and Trump critics gathered on the fringes of the rally, including Eirran Betka-Pope of Grand Rapids, who wore a Trump mask and held a hand-drawn “I suck" sign.

While she’s never voted for Amash in the past, Betka-Pope said it’s important for leaders “to call out dirty politics, and that’s what he’s trying to do.”

Michael Wilder of Alto, who also lives in Amash’s district, said he doesn’t know much about Lower or Norton but is hoping someone defeats Amash in the primary if the congressman moves ahead with his re-election campaign.

“I’d like to see Justin Amash replaced with someone that actually represents Kent County,” he said.

Amash recently told The Detroit News he is “absolutely” confident in his re-election prospects despite reports that Trump and his advisers have discussed the potential of backing a primary challenger.

"I think anyone who spends time in my district can understand why I'm confident. All the other stuff like, polls here and there, I don't think they're really that relevant," Amash said. 

"If I looked at poll numbers for a gauge of whether I could win, I would have lost about 10 races by now. I don't worry about that kind of stuff," he said. "At the end of the day, people go to vote, and I think they vote on character. I don't think there's any comparison, so I'm not worried about it." 

Amash also has not ruled out running for the White House on the Libertarian Party ticket. "I think it's wise just to leave all options on the table," he said. 

The fifth-term congressman has consistently ranked as one of the more conservative members of Congress and has opposed what he calls runaway government spending, which has led to conflicts with the president in the past. 

Amash was one of eight Republicans in December to vote against a spending bill that included $5.7 billion in funding for Trump's proposed Mexico border wall. In February, he co-sponsored and was one of 13 Republicans to vote for a resolution to overturn Trump's emergency declaration to secure the wall funding, calling it an act of executive overreach.

This week, Amash was the only Republican to join with Democrats on the House Oversight Committee to hold both Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for not complying with subpoenas for documents related to the Trump administration's decision to add a question on citizenship to the U.S. census.

Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed.