Unfriendly fire: GOP lawmakers take aim at Amash over missile site

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
House Oversight and Reform National Security subcommittee member Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., watches from the dais on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 22, 2019, during the House Oversight and Reform National Security subcommittee hearing on 'Securing U.S. Election Infrastructure and Protecting Political Discourse.'

Washington — Talk about unfriendly fire. 

A rare flash of animosity among Michigan’s Republican delegation in Congress spilled into public view this week with several members taking a shot at fellow GOP Rep. Justin Amash.

It began when word arrived this week that the Pentagon hadn’t selected Fort Custer near Battle Creek for a sought-after missile defense site.

The Defense Department said it preferred Fort Drum in New York but also decided it doesn't need another missile interceptor site at this time.

Five Republicans in the delegation issued a joint statement Thursday, highlighting figures showing the missile defense site could have had an estimated $3.2 billion in economic impact, including 300 direct jobs and 1,800 support jobs.

They concluded with a zinger directed at Amash, whose district includes Fort Custer.

“We always thought and were led to believe that on the merits, the Fort Custer site would be the best for the taxpayer and the defense of the country to build a new missile defense site," the lawmakers wrote. 

“It appears that Congressman Amash’s consistent opposition to all defense spending bills over the years was too much for the Pentagon to accept. It did not help, and now they selected New York for the new missile defense site."

The statement was joined by GOP Reps. Fred Upton of St. Joseph, Bill Huizenga of Zeeland, Tim Walberg of Tipton, Paul Mitchell of Dryden and Jack Bergman of Watersmeet.

They noted that Defense Department's decision could be reevaluated, "and we would encourage them to do so."

But Upton and the others didn't mention that the Pentagon no longer plans to build the missile defense site in Fort Drum or anywhere else. 

Amash, a conservative who has long decried runaway spending, fired back via Twitter on Friday.

"It appears that my colleagues’ consistent support for trillions in new debt over the years was to buy the Pentagon’s affection," Amash wrote.

"Taxpayer dollars for defense should be used to boost Americans’ safety, not to boost politicians. The Department of Defense is not a jobs program."

Amash did support Fort Custer being considered as as a location for the proposed missile defense site in recent years, but wanted the site selection to be based on national security needs and not job creation.

He signed onto a delegation letter to the director of the Missile Defense Agency in 2017 supporting Fort Custer's candidacy when the agency was studying whether to add a missile interceptor site that would protect the eastern half of the country. 

But in a letter to the Armed Services committees this week, the Department of Defense said its 2019 Missile Defense Review determined there is "no operational requirement" for an East Coast interceptor site. 

Under Secretary of Defense Michael D. Griffin told lawmakers that if the need for such a site emerges, the decision will be reevaluated. He said Fort Custer was the least expensive option, but Fort Drum offered operational advantages.

Still, the statement by the Michigan Republicans was striking, considering how rare it is for lawmakers to attack a colleague of the same party while they face a primary challenge. 

Amash, a critic of President Donald Trump, has at least three primary challengers ahead of the 2020 election, with the filing deadline a year away. 

He has been pummeled party leaders in the press in recent weeks since becoming the sole Republican lawmaker in Congress to break with Trump over the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, saying Trump's conduct warrants impeachment. 

Amash was already unpopular in the delegation: None of his fellow GOP House members from Michigan donated to his 2014 campaign when Amash faced a competitive primary challenge from Grand Rapids-area businessman Brian Ellis.