GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan—Days after becoming the first Republican in Congress to call for President Donald Trump’s impeachment, Rep. Justin Amash on Tuesday found himself face-to-face with a MAGA hat-wearing constituent at a town hall event, livid that her representative had “become a Democrat.”
“I’ve been your supporter since you started running for Congress, and I can’t tell you how disappointed I am,” Diane Luke said. To boos from the crowd, she dismissed Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and report as a “smear attack,” demanding that Amash explain why he would take its findings seriously.
“I haven’t changed,” Amash said. “I am who I said I was. I’m a principled, constitutional conservative who has stayed consistent regardless of whether we have President Obama in office or President Trump.”
Pressed by Luke to explain how he could accuse Trump of obstructing justice when Mueller declined to accuse Trump of committing a crime, Amash stood his ground.
“It’s just not legally true that you can’t obstruct justice when there’s no underlying crime… The reason someone may not charge an underlying crime is because justice was obstructed. So, for example, you might have a situation where someone obstructs justice and therefore evidence is destroyed or prevented from getting to the prosecutor, so the underlying crime then cannot be charged,” he said.
He went on to say he was “appalled” by some of the behavior outlined in the Mueller Report, and that it’s Congress’ job to “not allow misconduct to go undeterred.”
Pointed questions on impeachment were mostly outweighed by cheering supporters, however. Few die-hard Trump supporters appeared to be in the audience—or, at least, vocal—despite having crowded downtown Grand Rapids for a campaign rally as recently as late March. Across a town hall stretching about two hours, Amash was met with mostly applause and even multiple standing ovations as he discussed Trump. Luke was jeered repeatedly as she spoke, and when she sat down, a neighbor said he was impressed at her courage before “this crew of jackals.” Luke later said she was unimpressed with Amash’s answer, calling it “lawyerspeak.”
Another woman, who accused Amash of grandstanding —“safe in the knowledge (Trump) won’t be removed from office”—was similarly jeered.
But Amash did appear to temper calls for impeachment somewhat by reminding constituents that impeachment doesn’t mean removal from office, and that there are “so many layers that have to be moved through” before that could happen.
The town hall was Amash’s first after calling for Trump’s impeachment earlier this month. Amash published another string of tweets just hours before the town hall began, claiming Attorney General Bill Barr “deliberately misrepresented key aspects of (Robert) Mueller’s report and decisions...which has helped further the president’s false narrative about the investigation.”
“Barr has so far successfully used his position to sell the president’s false narrative to the American people,” Amash wrote. “This will continue if those who have read the report do not start pushing back on his misrepresentations and share the truth.”
Amash held his town hall in a private, Christian high school’s “DeVos Center for Arts and Worship”—which, like multiple other places in Grand Rapids, shares the name of the wealthy West Michigan clan that’s previously backed him. It was an ironic spot, though, given the news that the DeVos family has cut off its financial support for Amash.
“It was probably going to happen anyways, because (Betsy DeVos) is the education secretary,” said Corwin Smidt, an associate professor in Michigan State University’s political science department. Smidt pointed out that Amash’s independent streak on Trump puts him at odds with other DeVos family members with ties to the president, like defense contractor Erik Prince. Amash’s position on impeachment, Smidt said, appears to have simply offered an opportunity to make the break official.
Michigan GOP operative Greg McNeilly, who has ties to the DeVos family, previously told the Daily Beast that Michigan’s conservative donors were ready to back a primary challenger, describing them as “fed up” with Amash. He called Amash’s tweets on impeachment “the straw that’s broke the camel’s back.” And less than two days after those tweets, a state representative—and a self-identified “pro-Trump conservative”— made it clear he was itching for a fight.
Amash comfortably won his district with 54 percent of the vote in 2018, though that was down from 60 percent in 2016 and nearly 58 percent in 2014. It’s unclear how much his break with the president will change his re-election strategy. But Smidt said 2020 poses an interesting challenge for a candidate who rode an anti-establishment wave.
“The problem is he’s getting a primary opponent on the Trump side of things, when he ran as an outsider. Now he needs the support of the people he ran against in 2010,” Smidt said—the kind of “mainstream Republican support” at odds with the MAGA crowd.
While Amash won plenty of applause from the crowd made up of both Republicans and Democrats at Tuesday night’s event, Dean Webster is one Amash constituent who walked away disappointed. He said Amash knocked on his door in 2010 and earned his vote—but, if he insists on impeachment, he’ll lose it.
“(Trump’s opponents) will not accept who won the election—whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or an independent, that’s what democracy is about… let it go,” he said as he waited for the doors to open.
For every voter turned off by Amash’s impeachment talk, there appeared to be another one pleased with him. Amy Van Tongeren told The Daily Beast she’s “heartened” that Amash is talking impeachment and her husband, Tom, added that Amash “would likely have our vote in the primary”—though they’ll weigh their votes in the general, he said.
Amash, for his part, suggested he’s not going to lose sleep over enraging some voters, saying he puts consistency first. During his town hall, he criticized fellow members of Congress for wavering, and said that’s the last thing he’d want to do.
“I’ve seen it from my colleagues. ‘Oh, I won’t be principled on this one. And oh, on this one too… and then, a year later, they’re a zombie,” he said to the crowd. “I couldn’t look my kids in the eye and say I was a responsible person if I did that kind of thing.”