WASHINGTON — Rep. Justin Amash said he “wouldn’t rule out” a run as a third-party presidential candidate but plans to seek re-election to Congress in his Michigan district as an independent after leaving the Republican Party.
“I believe that I have to use my skills, my public influence, where it serves the country best,” Amash said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, days after he declared his “independence” from the GOP in a July 4 Washington Post column. “I believe I have to defend the Constitution in whichever way works best.”
Amash said on CNN that a run for the White House was “not something that’s right on my radar right now” and that he is “very confident” about retaining his seat in Congress as an independent.
A libertarian-minded lawmaker, Amash had been the lone Republican member of Congress to back impeaching President Donald Trump. He’s said a full reading of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election convinced him that Trump engaged in “impeachable conduct.”
Amash criticized Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for not starting the impeachment process, saying it was both a moral and strategic mistake if she agrees there is impeachable conduct documented in Mueller’s report.
“People at home aren’t reading the Mueller report,” Amash said on CNN. “They expect their members of Congress to do the work for them.”
Amash’s decision to leave the Republican Party came less than a month after he said he’d quit the House Freedom Caucus, a group of about three dozen hard-line conservatives that he helped create in 2015. Since then, Freedom Caucus members helped oust House Speaker John Boehner and have often broken with their party on legislation they deemed not conservative enough.
Amash rejected a suggestion that the group’s brinkmanship and aversion to compromise had exacerbated the very political inflexibility that he said drove him from Republican Party.
“The Freedom Caucus was about opening up the process,” he said on CNN, noting the power that party leadership has over what bills and amendments come to the floor. “It’s supposed to be a deliberative body.”
In a July 4 tweet, Trump said Amash was a “total loser” whose departure from the party was “great news.” In a nod to the coming election, Trump said Amash “knew he couldn’t get the nomination to run again” in his GOP-leaning district.
Jim Lower, a Republican state representative in Michigan who plans to run for Amash’s seat in 2020, has said he is already seeking Trump’s endorsement.
Amash said on CNN that he doesn’t think people “appreciate” the president’s insults and only tolerate them because of the strength of the economy — an assessment backed up in an ABC-Washington Post poll released on Sunday.
“What the president is doing is actually lowering the tone across the country,” Amash said. “He’s creating a lot of partisan divide. He’s enhancing it, and I think that’s very dangerous for our country.”
The new poll showed that Trump’s approval has been boosted by perceptions that he’s dealt effectively with the economy, and that about one-fifth of those who say he’s acted in ways that are not presidential still approve of the job he’s doing.