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U.S. Congressman Justin Amash joins the show today to discuss the failures of Congress.

Aaron Ross Powell
Director and Editor
Trevor Burrus
Research Fellow, Constitutional Studies

Justin Amash is an American lawyer and politician who has served as the U.S. Representative for Michigan’s 3rd congressional district since 2011.

Justin Amash has been in Congress since 2011 and in that time period he has seen many of his colleagues pick party over principles. In 2019, he announced that he was leaving the Republican Party. He views the two‐​party system as an existential threat to American politics and institutions.

Do Congressmen have principles? Did Trump corrode the Republican Party? Are Congressmen friends with each other even if they are on opposite sides of the aisle? Are there incremental ways we can make Congress accountable again?

Further Reading:



00:07 Trevor Burrus: Welcome to Free Thoughts. I’m Trevor Burrus.

00:09 Aaron Ross Powell: And I’m Aaron Powell.

00:10 Trevor Burrus: Joining us today is Rep. Justin Amash, he’s the Libertarian Congressman from Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District. Welcome to Free Thoughts, Representative Amash.

00:18 Rep. Justin Amash: Hey, guys. Thanks for having me on.

00:20 Trevor Burrus: When you walked into Congress in January of 2011, what surprised you the most in those first months after getting into Congress?

00:31 Rep. Justin Amash: What surprised me was how little people knew about the functioning of Congress. So I went to the House floor and asked about procedures, and very few people knew the answers. They didn’t even know the types of procedures we were voting on, like when we’d vote on ordering the previous question, or a motion to recommit, or various other procedural votes that we take. And for me, process has always been paramount to protecting liberty, the idea that you understand the process and you utilize the process in a way that protects people’s rights, and the fact that they didn’t know how the process was working out was really concerning. This is besides the fact that they didn’t know what they were voting on, substantively, the legislation, they weren’t very familiar with, but not knowing the process is really dangerous ‘cause if you don’t know the process, people can slip all sorts of things past you.

01:30 Trevor Burrus: Is there like an orientation? ‘Cause, I mean, a lot of people… You could get elected to the Congress and not know much about actually how that body works. Do they bring you in and say, “Welcome to Congress,” and take you on a tour and all this stuff?

01:42 Rep. Justin Amash: There is orientation, but it’s not the type of orientation that would be very useful for actually doing your job on the House floor, and that’s on purpose. The leadership team likes to keep members in the dark, it works to their advantage. Obviously, if a few people at the top know all the information, know how the system works, and the people who are rank and file members don’t know anything about it, that works to the advantage of leadership. And then they can rally support for whatever legislation they wanna pass or rally opposition, and a lot of the members don’t really know the ins and outs of the battle, and that works to their advantage.

02:23 Trevor Burrus: That sounds almost like dastardly, like that they are… They’re colleagues, they are supposed to be… They might be in the same party, or they were for some period of time, and they’re like actively working against you.

02:35 Rep. Justin Amash: Yeah. I mean, you could put it that way, that they’re actively working against you. I mean, at the end of the day, what the leaders want on each side is power, and the way they maintain power is by maintaining their numbers. So, they look at it as more of a collective. We’re not individual representatives, we are there as part of a collective, as part of a particular team, Team Red or Team Blue. And now I’m on Team Gold, I’m on my… I’m doing my own one‐​man team right now. But they look at it as just a collective, and you are just pawns in their operation, and as long as they have a bigger team, they get to control the process and they get to control what comes to the floor and they get to control the narrative.

03:24 Rep. Justin Amash: So, each side, whether it’s Nancy Pelosi or Kevin McCarthy, each side is trying to get the upper hand in terms of numbers, and they don’t really care about the individuals as individuals, it’s just, “How can we get another number to keep ourselves in power.” And that’s why they are pretty much okay with members of all stripes as long as you fall in line when it counts. So as long as you don’t cause problems for whatever operation they’re running, they really don’t care whether you’re a nationalist or a libertarian or anything else, but when the big votes come up, you’d better vote with them. So you put… You better set aside your principles when the big vote comes up.

04:17 Aaron Ross Powell: How much of the willingness to, I guess, be part of that collective when it comes to voting is a selection bias of the kinds of people who typically end up in Congress? So if you run as a republican and then you get elected by republican voters, you are the kind of person who is already predisposed to go along with the sorts of things that republican leadership wants, versus, you’ve got your own ideas, you’ve got your own principles, the things you wanna do when you’re running for Congress but when you get in, you kind of subsume those into the collective or, at least, more willingly overlook them when leadership wants you to do something else.

05:00 Rep. Justin Amash: So, I mean, people come in with principles, there is no doubt about it. A lot of people come in with pretty strong principles, but they are willing to cast those principles aside, and I don’t know if this was the question directly, but they’re pretty willing to cast those principles aside to stay in the game. At the end of the day, they think to themselves, “Well, if I’m voted out of office, then what use are my principles?” So they are pretty willing to bend those principles, and it usually starts with something small, and as time goes on, it becomes something bigger and bigger until eventually you don’t have any principles and you’re just a different person.

05:44 Rep. Justin Amash: Like, when I look at some of my colleagues who come into Congress over a period of five or six years, they are almost completely different people. You could talk to someone on day one and they’re one thing, and on day 1000 of being in Congress, it’s a different human being altogether, and almost like a zombie. And there is no hope for them, you can’t bring them back. They are just… And they are going to try and zombify other people. So it’s scary, it’s scary what happens. And when I go to town halls, for example, in my district, I often hear from people, “Why are these people in Congress doing X, Y and Z, and hurting us, and violating our rights, and don’t they have any principles?” And everyone seems to think, when they’re on the outside, “Well, if only I were in there, I would have principles and I’d stand up for what’s right.” But actually, what happens repeatedly is, people come to Congress with those principles and then the system beats it out of them, and they don’t have principles after sometimes only after a few months. But usually, after a few years, those principles are gone. And there are things they might talk about, but not really follow through on.

07:07 Trevor Burrus: So, this is sort of public choice, 101 is true, I guess, that maybe the name of getting reelected becomes the predominant concern, and then realizing that you have to work with the party leaders to help facilitate that means that you just subsume yourself to that, the general team, correct?

07:26 Rep. Justin Amash: Yeah, that’s correct. And a lot of it has to do with financing of elections, and I’m not one of these guys who’s for the government getting all involved in financing elections or anything like that, but there is a problem. I don’t know how to resolve it because I’m a big believer in free speech. I believe that people should be able to raise money and spend money on these campaigns. That’s freedom, that’s part of our system in order to protect our rights. But it does cause problems when Nancy Pelosi or Paul Ryan or John Boehner or Kevin McCarthy right now, on the Republican side, when they can amass so much in terms of resources and they have so much political power to control donors. They can direct donors, “Donate to this person, don’t donate to that person.” There’s a few people at the top who control so much of the power structure that people are left helpless. If you really had, for example, a libertarian financing structure that was competing with Republicans and Democrats, you’d have a lot of people who become libertarians, ‘cause they’d be less worried about getting voted out of office.

08:43 Rep. Justin Amash: Or if you had people who are protecting the principled members of each party, the principled progressives or whatever, you’d have more principled progressives. But the fact is, the people at the top control so much of it, and the other people just have to fall in line or they’re out, and they know it. They know they’re out. They’re not going to survive that election if they don’t fall in line. It’s a rare thing to develop the kind of rapport like I have in my district, where I was able to be an independent. It’s pretty rare, it doesn’t come often, For most members of Congress, you defy your leadership and you’re out pretty soon.

09:21 Aaron Ross Powell: The way you’ve just described most, many members of Congress is quite negative, and I’m curious if the giving up of the principles, they become zombies, they subsume themselves to the needs and desires of leadership, and so on. Is that a characterization that they would, I guess, admit to behind closed doors? Or do they still think they have principles?

09:49 Rep. Justin Amash: Yeah, [chuckle] I think some of them would admit it, others think they have principles but they’re being practical. For them, it’s just a matter of being practical about their principles. “Yeah, I’m still principled,” they think to themselves. “But I’m being practical about it. I’m trying to stay in the game so I can fight and live to fight another day,” or something like that. But they never get to that other day. They always say, “Well, I’ll just sell out a little bit on this one, and then I’m still in the game and I can fight on the next one.” But you’re never rewarded for having sold out on the previous one. It’s not like the next time leadership comes to you, you’re like, “Hey, I did what you wanted last time. Now, you’ve gotta give me a pass on this one.” No, no, no. Leadership says, “No, you’re gonna sell out on this one too, or else you’re toast.” And it repeats itself, and they never break out of it. There’s no way to break out of it.

10:47 Rep. Justin Amash: And you can tell who’s gonna be a good rep and who’s going to be a bad rep based on their character, based on their strength of personality, pretty quickly. It doesn’t take long to see who’s going to break and who’s going to stick with it. You can tell by their personality. And even if they’re principled for a little while, you can see certain characteristics where, this guy has a pretty weak personality, or he wants to be loved by people too much, the people around him. And if you wanna be loved by the leadership team and loved by the lobbyists and loved by the others who are surrounding you on Capitol Hill, you’ll break pretty quickly and you’re not coming back.

11:34 Trevor Burrus: Yeah. It’s interesting because it seems like some of the collective action problem where the leadership has the money, as you said, which is important, they also can, I guess, dangle committees as a big part of their power, correct?

11:49 Rep. Justin Amash: That’s correct, yeah.

11:49 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, which affects your fundraising abilities. But…

11:53 Rep. Justin Amash: Yeah, and people should know the committees are basically just fundraising projects, for the most part. The committees don’t even have the power they used to. If you went back generations, you would find that the committees were actually quite powerful and able to move their own legislation. But now, they’re really just reflective of the leadership team. So, the speaker controls the committees right now on the Democratic side, and McCarthy controls it on the Republican side, and they don’t have the same leeway to do what they want. So really, what the committee has come down to is fundraising. It’s a fundraising outlet. If you get put on Financial Services, well, you’re going to get some money from banks and financial institutions. It’s that kind of thing.

12:43 Trevor Burrus: I’m sure you probably had interesting… I think Representative Lewis had been the longest serving member until he passed, but with the people who went back, older members of Congress, maybe people who were no longer members of Congress, who talked about how things used to be? Did you ever have those conversations?

13:02 Rep. Justin Amash: About how things used to be? Well, there are people, I’m not one of these guys who thinks that the past was perfect and things were great. There were some things that were better about the past, and some things that were worse in terms of legislative process. But yeah, I’ve talked to members who think that it was more bipartisan in the past, that you could break from your party more often in the past, the parties were more flexible in that sense. The committees had more influence and more independent power separate from the party apparatus. So yeah, there were some good things about the past in that respect, that there was more independence, there was more of a willingness to break from your team and money didn’t dominate it as much as today.

13:57 Rep. Justin Amash: On the other hand, there was certainly less transparency 30 or 40 years ago. You didn’t know what was going on. So we don’t know what kind of deals were cut. We don’t know what kind of corruption happened. We don’t know all of that stuff, the same way we know now. It’s possible that a lot of the hostility that people feel toward Congress today has to do with the fact that we can see a lot more of it. That we can see what’s going on. If something bad happens, we see it upfront. If someone was doing something terrible in the past, we might not even see it. And so that probably helps their image.

14:38 Aaron Ross Powell: I think a lot of our listeners probably still have the Schoolhouse Rock view of the way a bill becomes a law, and so it might be interesting if you could give us maybe a revised version of that based on how you see things actually working from the inside.

14:56 Rep. Justin Amash: Well, there’s a lot to this, but in the simplest sense, the leadership team is really in charge of the legislation. There is not a process where a member comes up with a great idea and then it’s run through a committee and it’s amended in an open process, and then it comes to the floor and you get a nice beautiful open process where members offer their amendments and suggestions and we have votes. It doesn’t really work like that, except in very, very unusual circumstances. You might have some rare circumstances where that still happens, but it’s highly unlikely in most instances. Things come to the floor pretty directly now. The leadership comes up with an idea, you can see even it’s gotten more pronounced during this COVID-19 situation, but the legislators aren’t even doing any of the legislative work, we’re told to come back to DC when the bill is done and then it’s take it or leave it.

15:58 Rep. Justin Amash: And, in fact, I’ve brought this up before, and a lot of people at home might not know this, but when I’m talking about how in the past you might have brought bills to the floor and have been able to offer amendments, Paul Ryan, when he became Speaker became the first Speaker in history, in the history of our country, to not allow any amendments on the floor that were not pre‐​approved by the leadership team. So he had to approve of the amendment before it could come to the floor. We have what’s called an open…

16:34 Trevor Burrus: So he changed the rules? Did he change the actual rules?

16:36 Rep. Justin Amash: Well, no, it’s just that we have bills come to the floor under three different systems. There’s an open, what’s called an open rule, there’s a structured rule, and then there’s a closed rule. And in the past, you more often had in the distant past, you more often had open rules where a bill comes to the floor and anyone can offer an amendment, and as long as it’s germane to the bill, you can vote on that amendment and it either passes or it doesn’t. And the leadership team doesn’t really have anything to do with it. They can’t stop it, as long as it’s germane to the bill.

17:11 Rep. Justin Amash: Over time there was more of a move to structured rules which means you have to offer your amendment to The Rules Committee and The Rules Committee will decide whether you can have a vote on that amendment, and then there’s something called a closed rule where the process is completely closed. A bill just comes to the floor and it’s take it or leave it. Now, what’s happened increasingly over the years is we’ve gone from having more open rules to no open rules. So currently, since Paul Ryan became Speaker, there was a period in Paul Ryan’s speakership where we stopped having open rules and we still haven’t had any. Through Speaker Pelosi’s speakership. We just stopped. Congress just stopped. They decided there will be no more votes on the House floor that are open to amendment, where you can just bring your idea to the floor, and if it’s germane you can offer it.

18:14 Rep. Justin Amash: Increasingly, we have what’s called structured rules, but especially increasingly closed rules where you just take it or leave it. Now, we still have had structured rules under Ryan and Pelosi, but what that means in practice is that you have to get your amendment approved by the speaker, and if your amendment isn’t approved by the speaker, you can’t vote on it and you can imagine what kind of amendments they approve. They’re only going to approve your amendment if it doesn’t do anything, so it’s totally useless. It’s maybe some kind of messaging amendment or something that doesn’t really do anything in practice. Or if they’re very confident it has no chance of passing. It’s a wild idea, but they wanna give you something and you’ll have a vote on it, but they know it’s not gonna pass.

19:04 Rep. Justin Amash: So, if you offer an amendment that has a good chance of passing and is a good idea, they’re not going to let you have it on the floor. And this changes the way the legislative process works, because what happens now with members of Congress, if they know that the amendment won’t get approved for a vote on the floor, what happens? They stop offering amendments. Why are you gonna waste your time drafting a really good amendment and getting all sorts of support from your colleagues, bipartisan support, when you take the Rules Committee and you know they’re gonna reject it? Because it’s popular. They will reject it because it’s popular. So people just stop amending things. And now we’re left more and more with structured rules where the amendments are kind of puff amendments that don’t do much and closed rules where it’s completely take it or leave it. And that’s increasingly been the case where we’re told, “Come back to Washington DC, we’re gonna have a vote on a bill, take it or leave it.”

20:13 Trevor Burrus: My head is spinning. That would end up being a very long Schoolhouse Rock episode that would have a lot of ins and outs to it. Is there… So caucuses, you used to be a member of the House Freedom Caucus. And is it feasible to work behind the scenes to the point that you could get enough people supporting you, that you can flip the leadership, or do they not even listen to that? It seems it’s something so popular, “Look, I have 330 members of Congress supporting this amendment.” And they would still stop something like this?

20:50 Rep. Justin Amash: Yeah, it’s basically impossible because you won’t get… Now, if you really had 330 and it was bipartisan, you might be able to get some movement on it because you can always threaten to have it brought to the floor directly. If you collect enough signatures, you can bypass the normal process and bring something to the floor. But that is very rare because it requires some cooperation between Republicans and Democrats. It requires Republican and Democratic leadership to sort of accept that this is gonna happen. What the leadership teams will do if they start to see something like this moving that’s popular, and if they wanna shut it down, they will start to threaten the people who have influence, so they’ll start to threaten the committee chairs. They will threaten some of the people who are close to leadership. “No, don’t do this, don’t sign on to that. Don’t be a part of this.”

21:54 Rep. Justin Amash: And if you get enough of those people it starts to trickle down. So, if you can convince for example, 40 of your members not to sign on or not to participate. And these are 40 prominent members… For example, they’re chairmans or chairman of committee or of sub‐​committees or something like that, then other people will also follow their lead because they don’t wanna get on the bad side of the people they need to get ahead.

22:27 Trevor Burrus: That reminds me of… Well, actually have you seen the show Veep or do you have the show Veep?

22:33 Rep. Justin Amash: Yeah, yep.

22:35 Trevor Burrus: ‘Cause I’ve always said it seems like it’s a documentary, but I’ve been at Cato my whole time in Washington, so I actually haven’t been around working in Congress. But there’s a line in Veep where she says about a senator, said, “He’s like a Russian nesting doll, he comes with multiple senators stuffed inside of him.” Right?

22:52 Rep. Justin Amash: That’s right.

22:54 Trevor Burrus: When you’re going for the leadership in that regard. Now, you’ve mentioned the partist party’s element, and I said the Freedom Caucus seemed like it’s gonna be a good thing and maybe that’s a way of getting some people together on some issues in forming thing, and maybe crossing party lines on some issues such as national security, but it doesn’t happen as much as you’d hope. How much is the animosity level, the partisan animosity level. How high is it? Just like inter‐​personally even.

23:22 Rep. Justin Amash: Well, I think in terms of our relationships in terms of I’m not a very partisan person at all, so that’s why I’m not in one of the two parties right now.

23:36 Trevor Burrus: Yes, you’re not representative, yes I agree.

23:36 Rep. Justin Amash: But I would say, as a general matter, people have good personal relationships. I think that’s where people at home are misled quite a bit. There’s other ways in which they’re misled, but they’re definitely misled about this one. A lot of what you see on TV is theater. In other words, you could see two people who are so hostile to each other, two representatives, two senators, but actually they’re friends. But on TV they’re enemies, on Twitter they’re enemies, and you don’t even know it. You wouldn’t know it based on what they’re saying to each other, they might call each other names, they might do all sorts of things to insult each other, but then behind the scenes, they’re actually friends.

24:24 Trevor Burrus: This reminds me of pro‐​wrestling. It reminds you of pro‐​wrestling.

24:24 Rep. Justin Amash: It is a little bit like that. Yeah, absolutely. Because the goal for so many of them is just to stay in power. And the way they stay in power is by catering to their base. So they’re willing to, I guess, fake it to make it. They will fake the animosity in order to survive. They have to pretend they hate someone. There are people, I’ll see… AOC is a good example, right? She has a good relationship with many, many members of Congress and many Republicans but you’d never know it. You’d never know it. In person, she’s actually a person that gets along with people. But you wouldn’t know it based on the way people react to her on Twitter, or on TV, these same people who behind the scenes might be friends with her will say vicious things. And I mean, personal things.

25:24 Rep. Justin Amash: It’s fine to disagree on policy. I disagree with her on many, many policies. But it’s so strange to me for someone to be that two‐​faced where they will be kind to someone in person, they’ll be kind to her in person, but then go on TV and say horrible things. Just be nice to people or don’t be nice to them, but choose. Which one are you? Are you friends with someone, or are you enemies? Make your choice. Just because you’re friends with someone doesn’t mean you have to agree with them on the policies. I have lots of friends on both sides of the aisle, who I don’t agree with on policies, but we’re good friends.

26:09 Rep. Justin Amash: But I don’t try to pretend then on social media or on TV that I hate the person. I’ll just say I disagree with them on the policy. And so I think people at home are misled they’ll watch these committee hearings and they’ll see the Republicans and Democrats saying really vicious things about each other. “Is the gentleman saying blah, blah, blah? Well, I think that’s racist or whatever.” They’ll say all sorts of things. They’ll accuse each other of all sorts of things. Then they’ll go and have lunch together or they’ll have a good laugh when the cameras are off. And I don’t know, I don’t understand it. I don’t understand that kind of stuff. Disagree on the policy, but don’t pretend you’re something you’re not. If you’re friends with someone, don’t pretend you’re enemies.

26:54 Aaron Ross Powell: Shifting gears just a little bit, the Constitution grants a certain set of powers to the Executive and a certain set of powers to Congress. But one of the things that we have increasingly seen is Congress abdicating its powers to the Executive or letting itself be guided by the Executive more than a lot of us would like. And… Well, it seems to be the case as you describe it, that members may do what House or Senate leadership wants them to do. Why would House and Senate leadership and representatives in general be so willing to abdicate power to the Executive?

27:38 Rep. Justin Amash: That’s a great question. It’s the same reason that the members are willing to abdicate power to the leadership. You think the members might rise up and say, “We don’t like this system, we want a system where we have more openness and we can participate.” But actually the members like the system. They like the idea that the leaders decide things for them, they don’t have to really think, and then they get money from the leadership team to stay in office, and they also get bills handed to them. So you might see a member of Congress who passes quite a few bills. You’ll notice that there’s a very high correlation between members of Congress who are in tough districts and members of Congress who pass a lot of bills. Because those bills don’t really do anything, but they’re handed those bills so they can say they help veterans or seniors, whoever it is, with some kind of ticky‐​tack bill that doesn’t really do much, but then they can run a campaign ad. So the members of Congress love this kind of stuff, where they don’t have to think, they don’t have to do much of anything, they don’t have to really be legislators, and they get re‐​elected to Congress because the leadership team basically takes care of them, “Fall in line, and you’re taken care of.”

28:57 Rep. Justin Amash: Well, a similar dynamic plays out with the White House, where… If you can leave things to the White House to make critical decisions, like about war, for example, well, then you don’t have to take the blame. So they can say, “Well, the President decided to do that,” and if they like what the President ultimately did, if it turns out well, they’ll say, “Yeah I was with him all along.” And if they don’t like it they say, “Oh, I can’t believe he did that. I can’t believe he took us to war, and I can’t believe he used his powers in this way. Or he misused powers. He used powers he doesn’t have.” They can’t believe it. But it’s another way of passing the buck and not having to face the pressure. They would rather someone else take the heat. And so, over time you’ve had that kind of transfer of power, but I wanna mention very quickly one more way in which the power is transferred. I talked about how the leadership teams have power concentrated within those teams. In other words, the rank and file members don’t have much power or influence.

30:10 Rep. Justin Amash: Well, this is another way in which the Executive Branch gains power, because the President knows when he is dealing with any piece of legislation that he only has to negotiate with a few people, primarily the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader. So really, the President is working in a three‐​person negotiation and often one of those persons will be someone from his own party. So there’s a three‐​person negotiation, it’s pretty easy, the President gets a lot of leverage in that situation. Imagine a different system, the way it’s intended to work where the rank and file members have a lot of power, you have an open process, things are very amendable. The leadership team is not dictating outcomes, but the process leads to a discovery of outcomes. Imagine a system like that. Now, when a bill comes to the President’s desk, he has very little ability to negotiate something that he wants. He’s basically left with what Congress wants. Because if he wants to make a change, he knows that the speaker is going to bring it back to the full House and there’s going to be an open process, and it’s quite possible he doesn’t get that change that he wants.

31:23 Rep. Justin Amash: So, this concentration of power at the top has really empowered the Executive Branch, and it’s probably the most significant way in which the Executive Branch has been empowered and yet it is never talked about. I don’t think there are many people talking about it other than me. I just don’t hear it very often, that the concentration of power at the top of Congress leads to a more powerful Executive Branch. But that is a critical aspect of why power has shifted toward the Executive Branch.

31:56 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, I’ve written… Contributed or written hundreds of briefs, amicus briefs to the Supreme Court on why the Executive’s too powerful and studies [32:05] ____, but I’ve never heard this, what you just said. It’s a fascinating dynamic. I think one of the things that… As a constitutional scholar, one of the things that the framers probably would’ve be most surprised at, just would not predict, is that Congress would not jealously guard its power. That it would not resist encroachment by the Executive, but instead would willingly give it away. Which is interesting, ‘cause of course that process that you know, you went to law school, has been for a very long time, since the New Deal. But you came up at a time when you, and the Tea Party wave, when you created the opposition Congress and all the animosity toward President Obama, and now you see what’s happened in Trump. How has that changed… When you’re a opposition party, and then you kinda go back and forth, how has that changed in terms of the relationship with the Executive? And I guess later we can just talk about Trump himself, but more about the shifting too.

33:03 Rep. Justin Amash: Well, I think… Everyone knows there’s bias out there, there is a belief that your party is good and the other party is bad. That’s pretty widespread among people who are politically active. Most Americans are not very politically active, and I don’t think they think this way, but among those who are politically active on Twitter, political pundits, and those types of people, there’s a sense that, yeah, your President is a good President and the other President is a bad President, the one who is from a different party, and they’re held to different standards. So when I came in, in 2011, I was under the impression that Republicans wanted to limit government and cut spending and hold the Executive Branch accountable and make Congress more open and accountable to the people, I thought that that’s what Republicans wanted, but we’ve seen over the past several years that that’s not really what they want. They wanted to stick it to President Obama.

34:18 Rep. Justin Amash: So I’ve been consistent in this in opposing excessive Executive power and wanting to restore our constitutional system, but a lot of my colleagues, the vast majority of them have not been that way. And when President Trump comes in and says he wants to use emergency powers or he wants to use the military on American soil, imagine if Obama had said that. There would be such an outrage, they would have impeached him within a day if he had said something like that.

34:51 Trevor Burrus: There’s about three million things that if Obama would have said, that Trump said that they would have impeached him on this.

34:57 Rep. Justin Amash: That’s absolutely right. So there’s an inconsistency, there’s a bias and it’s part of life that there are biases and inconsistencies, but really our system where power has gotten so concentrated at the top has really magnified this problem and made it much larger than it otherwise would be. When only a few people control all of Congress, you stop thinking about policies, you stop thinking about what’s right and what’s good and what your principles are, and you start thinking more about teams. And that’s the focus really in Congress now, it’s very much along those lines. And then because Congress is so focused on this team mentality, team red versus team blue, that trickles back down to society, and you see the same thing back home, and then they see people back home thinking team red versus team blue, and then that trickles back up. It’s a feedback loop and nobody’s able to break out of it.

36:13 Aaron Ross Powell: All of this seems particularly egregious under Trump, it almost feels like the Republican Party has turned into a personality cult. Is that true, is that fair? Has it gotten better? And I guess related to that, what do you see as the future of the Republican Party post‐​Trump? Can we dig out of… Can the Republicans dig out of this, or is this personality cult nature gonna permanently harm the party?

36:45 Rep. Justin Amash: Well, I would say when we talk about personality cult, it is a significant segment of the party now, but not the entire party. I think that there are a lot of Republicans out there who don’t particularly like Donald Trump, to this day, they don’t like him, but they put up with him because they view him as sort of their man fighting the fight against the left, and if he’s the best we can do right now, he’s the best we can do. So I think that a lot of those people would be thrilled to have a different Republican as President or someone else who’s more respectful and has a very different approach, but I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. I think Donald Trump is a reflection of a shift that’s been happening within the Republican Party toward nationalism and populism. And he is not the cause of it, he’s more of a symptom. And while it’s not the majority of the party, it’s a substantial portion to the point where it’s very difficult to reel it in, because a lot of these individuals are the most politically active, the most aggressive, and the most willing to fight for what they want.

38:19 Rep. Justin Amash: And so I don’t think that that’s gonna go away anytime soon. I think that there’s this myth that developed that Republicans, for example, who don’t like Trump are just so easily going to be swayed to vote for Joe Biden or to go with the Democrats. And while there are Republicans who will do that, I think they tend to be Republicans who are more in the coast, in professional power centers, you’ll see these people on Twitter with blue checkmarks. But if you talk to Republicans throughout the country, I don’t think you see that very often. I think these individuals who don’t like Donald Trump will still vote for him. And when this election happens, whatever happens, if Donald Trump wins or loses, I think Trumpism is here to stay for a while. Donald Trump is not going to go away if he loses, he’s going to keep tweeting, he’s going to remain very influential within the Republican Party.

39:31 Rep. Justin Amash: And it’s possible he’d run again. You couldn’t rule that out, that he wouldn’t run again, four years later. You certainly can’t rule out that his son wouldn’t run. Or someone else within this Trump world isn’t going to run for President. And if he wins this election, then Republicans are going to have to deal with the fact that this is here to stay for a while. This isn’t some temporary thing. I think a lot of Republicans have put up with him with the idea that it’s a temporary thing, but if he wins again. I think they’ll see, they’ll start to see this is not a temporary thing. And this is where as a libertarian and someone who’s a member of the Libertarian Party, I think there is an opening for classical liberals to leave the Republican party and join the Libertarian party. I think that is possible, regardless of whether Trump wins or loses. I think when people start to see that Trumpism is here to stay, there will start to be a shift.

40:42 Trevor Burrus: That would be great ‘cause you got maybe a little bit terrified when you mentioned his son running.


40:47 Trevor Burrus: I hadn’t considered that.

40:48 Rep. Justin Amash: Oh yeah, I don’t think they’re going away anytime soon.

40:51 Trevor Burrus: No, I agree with you and then there are people like Josh Hawley, and yes. In the 2016 election, we saw… I think I have to believe, you’ve had private conversations and you don’t have to, of course, give anyone up. But so many of your colleagues in both Houses had to have been astonished and not like Trump, but then what they said in public was different. And now, did you think there would be more holding him to account or did you kind of expect these forces that you just discussed to fall into line, and then once again the Executive has too much power and kind of holds the Senate and the House in his clutches?

41:33 Rep. Justin Amash: So they did hold the line for a while. I believe that for a while, the Freedom Caucus, and Conservatives and others who care about principles or cared about principles at the time, were going to hold the line and hold Trump accountable. And if you look back at the first year, in which Trump was in office, the Freedom Caucus pushed back against him a lot. He called for the Freedom Caucus to be defeated in elections. He literally tweeted about defeating the Freedom Caucus, that they had to be defeated. There was not perfect pushback, not the kind of pushback I would like to see, but there was pushback at first. And then what happened was the 2018 election. And what Republicans saw in the 2018 election was that by not sticking with Trump as much as they maybe were being pressed to do by the President, they lost, they lost, they…

42:51 Rep. Justin Amash: Trump was able to say after 2018, “Look, in 2016, we ran a very Trump‐​y campaign and we won. In 2018, you guys tried to walk away from me, and you focused on the issues rather than sort of the cultural divide or the personality politics, and you lost. You lost seats in the House, big time.” So what happened after 2018 was Republican leaders, both for the party itself, like Kevin McCarthy, and in the Freedom Caucus, start to shift. They said, “Hey, we have to take a different approach, we’ve gotta stick with this guy.” And you could see the shift very clearly. They established a much closer relationship with the President, they basically started to adopt his talking points and his… And they embraced him.

43:48 Rep. Justin Amash: McCarthy instead of trying to shy away the way that Paul Ryan did… You know Paul Ryan was always hesitant. McCarthy just embraced Trump and said,” Yes, we’re fully with Trump.” And that’s where I think it went past the point of no return. I think there’s no going back from that in the near future. The party fully embraced it. Party leaders embraced it, the House Freedom Caucus embraced it and there was no going back at that point. And Trump, smartly, and I do think Trump is a strong campaigner, even if I totally repudiate and disagree with his approach. Trump smartly embraced these people who he was fighting with before. He embraced establishment leaders, he embraced the Freedom Caucus. He brought them into his administration and by doing so, he basically took over the entire party. And I don’t think that there’s any going back from that in the near future.

44:50 Trevor Burrus: So, can we do anything to fix it? In both the immediate and long term?

44:55 Rep. Justin Amash: I think there’s no way to fix it in the short term, in terms of changing the party. The party is what it is. Now…

45:01 Trevor Burrus: What about Congress and [45:02] ____?

45:06 Rep. Justin Amash: I joined… That’s an even…

45:06 Trevor Burrus: That’s a bigger question, yeah.

45:07 Rep. Justin Amash: That’s a bigger issue and that’s a matter of moving power away from leadership, but the only way that’s gonna happen is through grassroots efforts. It’s not going to happen from the inside. If I ran for speaker on the notion that I’m going to force everyone to vote on all sorts of things, they’re gonna take all sorts of tough votes. “And by the way, I’m also not going to go around the country raising money for you, you’re gonna have to do that yourselves. I’m not just gonna start handing out cash if you vote with me as speaker.” You’d be laughed off the… Out of the race. They’d say, “Why would we want you a speaker? You’re gonna make us take tough votes and you’re not gonna give us money?” So, there’s no way to change it internally, you have to change it from the outside. It’s only through awareness, but the media won’t cover this. I’ve gone on TV and I’ve written op‐​eds and done other things. The media ignore this. It’s the biggest problem we’ve faced right now in terms of our legislative system, and it’s totally ignored.

46:18 Rep. Justin Amash: So I don’t think you’re going to change that anytime soon. I don’t think you’re going to get rid of Trumpism anytime soon. I joined the Libertarian party because I think that in the next decade or so there needs to be a strong opposition through a political party. I want a future where everyone is an independent. Where you don’t have to have party labels, but I think that is more of a long‐​term thing. People want to feel like they’re a part of something. And right now, if you’re going to defeat Trumpism, which I think is a threat to our country just the same as I think socialism is a threat to our country, if you’re going to defeat Trumpism, you have to have a strong alternative. And I believe the Libertarian party can be a strong classical liberal party that will bring people in from the Republican Party and from the Democratic Party that you can form a strong coalition of people who are not represented by the two parties right now. And then it can compete. And maybe by 2022 or 2024 the Libertarian party can pull enough people away from the Republican party, can pull enough Democrats who are disenchanted with the Democratic party and have a strong coalition going forward. And be a strong competitor and maybe displace the old parties.


48:01 Trevor Burrus: Thank you for listening. If you enjoy Free Thoughts, make sure to rate and review us on Apple Podcasts or in your favorite podcast app. Free Thoughts is produced by Landry Ayres. If you’d like to learn more about Libertarianism, visit us on the web at www​.lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org.