Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Tale Of Two House Republicans-- Justin Amash And Lynn Westmoreland... And The Asshole Factor


Boehner has something in his eye-- Justin Amash

With Ron Paul no longer in Congress, libertarian Justin Amash (R-MI) now has a voting record second only to New Yorker Chris Gibson as the most consistently at odds with the House Republican leadership of anyone in the GOP caucus. Presumably that's why Boehner, Cantor and Ryan kicked him off the Budget Committee-- rather than the stated reason. (Boehner lapdog Lynn Westmoreland, always in a fierce contest with Gohmert for the title of "Dumbest Member of Congress," has told anyone who would listen that Amash was kicked off the committee because of the asshole factor. If, like everyone else, you've forgotten who Lynn Westmoreland is, let's allow Stephen Colbert to remind us:

OK, anyway, Amash doesn't disagree with Boehner and Cantor so frequently because he's a liberal; far from it. He disagrees with them because he's an independent conservative thinker and because he takes seriously the idea of voting to uphold the principles he campaigned on. His constituents appreciate it and seem to recognize that their congressman isn't just another run-of-the-mill GOP zombie (like Westmoreland, for example; watch that video again. That guy has been reelected several times since it aired on national TV-- and with the kinds of massive margins that indicate he's the perfect representative for the folks living in Carrollton, Peachtree City, La Grange, Griffin, Thomaston and points in between.)

Last week NPR's Don Gonyea tried gauging what Amash's constituents think about his tussle with Boehner. Remember, Amash was given credit for leading the rebellion against giving Boehner another term as Speaker and he was the brave first NO vote when the roll was called. But "he's finding," says Gonyea, "that being a Washington gadfly can be a plus back home."
A crowd of about 175 people turned out for the town hall in downtown Grand Rapids.

"It's been a very eventful last month or two in Congress, to say the least," Amash said, alluding to his newfound notoriety. "Even I'm sick of seeing myself in the paper."

But the very warm reception was also a reminder that for a conservative Republican elected from a conservative district, being labeled a troublemaker by the establishment is not necessarily bad politics back home.

Amash said his two main goals as a congressman are to get a handle on spending and to bring transparency to the process. He says Americans need to better understand how Washington works and what Congress does to begin to fix things.

"There's a system in Washington, D.C., that is not right. And it's not because people are Republican or Democrat. The whole thing is broken," said Amash, who has garnered attention for using Facebook to explain each of his House votes.

Wednesday night, he was also again critical of the deal to address the so-called fiscal cliff. He was a no vote, citing the lack of any serious attention to spending cuts.

Amash is a Tea Party favorite, though he describes himself as a libertarian. Both groups were well-represented at the town hall. And there was plenty of ire directed at Washington in general.

There was this question about President Obama: "You've been great in standing up in what you can do, but is there nobody in this Congress [that's] got the guts to deal with this guy?" a woman asked. "He's scaring me to death."

Amash replied: "I'm not a fan of President Obama, but I also want to reiterate what I said before, which is, 'If we think that the problem is President Obama then we have missed the point.'"

That kind of response does set Amash apart from a large portion of the Tea Party, which applauds the way he's stood up to Boehner, the Ohio Republican.

Amash is one of four Republicans stripped of key committee assignments in the new Congress, a move seen as punishment for insufficient loyalty to Boehner and the GOP leadership.

Amash lost his seat on the Budget Committee. That prompted the toughest question he got at the town hall, from college senior Zack Sikkema: "I'm very confused as how getting kicked off the Budget Committee and then voting against leadership, whether they're right or wrong, helps us as your constituents when you serve us."

Amash responded: "At the end of the day, the kind of, where you go along with everyone just to get along politics, it doesn't really do much for the American people. It doesn't do much for you as my constituents-- the people I'm representing."

Amash and the other Republican caucus rebels seem certain to remain a thorn in Boehner's side. David Rohde, a congressional scholar at Duke University, says it's a product of the very slim majority (233 to 200 currently) that Republicans hold in the House.

"It just shows there is a group that is prepared to withhold their support from Boehner's initiatives in specific circumstances. So when he's trying to organize procedural devices on specific issues as they go down the line, like the debt ceiling for example, he may not have the votes among Republicans to do it," says Rohde.

Amash rejects any suggestion that his relationship with Boehner is a problem for him or for his district. He also makes it clear that he and the others who voted against Boehner last week will be watching him closely in the coming months as new battles over the debt ceiling and automatic spending cuts approach.
Amash retains his seat on Darrell Issa's Committee on Oversight and Government Reform where he's Vice Chair of the subcommittee on Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Labor Policy. Boehner hopes that'll shut him up and keep him out of his hair. Boehner is probably in for a very rude awakening. After the Grand Rapids townhall meeting, he spoke with reporters and blamed Beltway leadership in general, not just he Democrats, the way most Republicans do, making their credibility suspect to anyone with an IQ even a point or two over Lynn Westmoreland's.
"There are two parties here," Amash told reporters after the event. "There's a systematic problem in Washington, D.C., that we need to look at. It's not right for one side to blame the other for all this dysfunction."

Amash pointed to his propensity for explaining all his votes on his Facebook page as a way he manages to be different.

"People can decide for themselves whether I'm independent or whether I'm continuing the same kind of rhetoric that the rest of the party is doing," Amash said.

...Pressed for specific cuts or changes by one audience member, Amash said he wanted to reform Social Security and Medicare. He also called the nation's defense budget "bloated."

"There are missions that we probably shouldn't be on," said Amash, who last month signed a bipartisan letter with 13 other lawmakers calling for defense spending cuts.

"There are probably wars that we should not be fighting," he added, later pointing to Afghanistan as an example.

..."It's pretty clear that the public doesn't agree with the way things are going from either party, and when you have a town hall like this and you can see I took questions openly, I didn't screen anyone," Amash said.

"You can see the public is much more openly supportive of my position than leadership in both parties right now," he said.

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