Amash: Washington ‘much worse’ than 'House of Cards'

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News

Grand Rapids — Newly independent U.S. Rep. Justin Amash greeted his West Michigan constituents on Wednesday with a dire assessment of Washington, D.C.: The two-party system stinks, and the congressional process is broken.

While residents packed Grand Rapids coffee shops to hear from the former Republican who has called for President Donald Trump’s impeachment, some liberal voters angry over recent mass shootings left frustrated by Amash’s opposition to gun control regulations.

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash speaks to constituents at the Rising Grind Cafe in Grand Rapids on Aug. 21, 2019.

“One of the problems we face is that people at home are often unaware of how bad the system is,” Amash said at Rising Grinds Cafe, where he referenced a television show about a lawmaker who exacts revenge on opponents to make his point about dysfunction in the nation’s capital.

“You’ll see 'House of Cards' or whatever and say, 'Oh, it can’t be like that. That’s fiction in some of these shows that depict Washington.' Well, actually, it’s much worse in most respects. It’s much worse than 'House of Cards.'”

The fifth-term Cascade Township lawmaker wasn’t referencing the violence of the Netflix show, whose second season began with a politician murdering a journalist by pushing her in front of a train.

But in "House of Cards," he argued in between sips of hot cocoa, “people actually seem to care about policies a lot of the time. And in Washington what actually happens is they care about the party first. It’s very much about some sort of self-preservation.”

Amash, whose mini town-hall-style events were organized by his congressional office, not his campaign, is risking his own self-preservation by running for re-election without the backing of a major political party.

Five Republicans and five Democrats have filed to run in the 3rd Congressional District, which Trump won by 10 percentage points in 2016 despite an ongoing shift toward Democrats, especially in the increasingly liberal pocket of Grand Rapids.

During the first two of five planned stops, Amash railed against partisan leadership in Washington, including Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Republican former House Speaker Paul Ryan and GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“They’ll do everything in their power to marginalize you if you don’t play ball with them,” he said, explaining that GOP then-House Speaker John Boehner removed him from the budget committee after his freshman term even though he voted with the party 95% of the time.

“When they do something for you like they put you on a committee or they give you a chairmanship, they actually give you a bill that says how much you have to raise for the party,” he said. “It’s total corruption.”

Congress is ruled by political party power considerations, not policy, Amash told residents.

While the 39-year-old legislator will need crossover voters to win re-election after bucking the Republican Party, Amash touted his fiscal conservatism, championed 2nd Amendment rights and said he was wary of proposed campaign finance reforms because they could limit free speech.

In a stop at the Common Ground coffee shop, Amash faced pushback from residents demanding Congress pass new gun control measures in the wake of the latest mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.

“You like the Constitution more than the lives,” one woman told Amash after he explained his due process concerns with so-called red flag gun laws that would allow gun confiscations from residents deemed a threat to themselves or others.

“The Constitution is what protects our lives,” Amash responded.

Local retiree Rosemary Conlin, 65, left early as the congressman continued to answer other questions.

“What I’m hearing is, ‘We’re not going to do anything, play the odds and you probably won’t die by gunfire,’” Conlin told The Detroit News. “That to me is not enough. It is not useful.”

Conlin said she is a Democrat who respects Amash and his decision to leave the Republican Party, “but this is why I can’t vote for him.”

Amash, after fielding more than 10 minutes of questions on gun policy, used the debate to hammer home his point about the need for process reforms in Congress.

“I know a lot of you disagree with me on the 2nd Amendment or on gun issues,” he said. “But there are other people in Congress who do agree with you, and they can’t be heard because the process is so shutdown.”

Amash criticized Ryan for first implementing a rule that barred lawmakers from proposing amendments on the House floor.

And he noted the legislative logjam in the Senate, where McConnell has refused to take up many bills approved by the Democratic-led House. He said he would not have voted to confirm Merrick Garland but blasted McConnell for blocking former President Barack Obama’s 2016 nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.

‘Why should it be one person controlling the whole system?” Amash said. “It shouldn’t work that way.”

The critique of federal dysfunction appealed to 72-year-old Steve Straayer, who said he voted straight-ticket Democrat in 2016 to protest Trump but has backed Republicans in the past and plans next fall to support Amash.

“His stand as far as the impeachment thing really impressed me,” said Straayer at Rising Grind. “And I was already impressed because he was so independent in his voting.”