CEDAR SPRINGS — Congressman Justin Amash called out his colleagues in the House and the Senate — specifically Speaker of the House Paul Ryan — during an interactive and spirited town hall meeting Monday evening.
“We’ll get to have Q&A for a long time tonight,” Amash, the Republican representative for the state’s 3rd District, told the sizable audience at Cedar Springs High School, and he came through, delivering nearly three hours worth of interaction with constituents while walking around and personally handing his microphone to audience members.
“My concern is your Republican party,” a man in the audience said. “Your party has fumbled its health care bill miserably. I don’t really see parties getting together, it’s just basically no, we’re not going to do it. Congress is nonfunctional most of the time.”
This led to Amash sharing some candid thoughts about his colleagues.
“The problem is the process, which has been broken for a long time,” Amash said. “There is a level of partisanship now that I’ve never seen. It’s very difficult to address because the people in charge, namely the Speaker of the House (Paul Ryan) and the Senate Majority Leader (Mitch McConnell) and the President of the United States, don’t seem too interested in addressing it. They’re not interested in breaking the partisan gridlock in Washington.
“Our job is to reflect the will of the American people, and that can only be reflected through a process,” he said. “The only way you fix it is by electing a Speaker of the House who will fix it. A non-partisan speaker could bring change, but it takes tremendous will do that, and I haven’t seen that from our current speaker or our former speaker. We need either a change in direction from this speaker or a new speaker.”
Amash called on his colleagues to host town hall meetings — as he is well known for doing — to actually interact with their constituents instead of living in the Washington bubble.
Congressman John Moolenaar, the Republican representative for the state’s 4th District, wrote an op-ed in March promising to arrange a “listening session” for his constituents at a central location sometime in April. The Daily News asked Moolenaar’s office on Tuesday if that event has been scheduled yet. His office said a date and location will be announced within the next two days.
Moolenaar spent Monday doing a ride-along with an Edmore mailman and touring a health care facility in Greenville.
“It’s true I do these town halls, but most members of Congress are frankly not that innovative with their communities,” Amash said. “I think they’re quite detached from the everyday concerns of Americans.
“Our U.S. senators haven’t held any town halls,” he noted. “We have two Democratic senators (Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow) who haven’t held any town halls. We’d like to have them come to our communities and have some town halls. They should hear from the people as well.”
A man in the audience complimented Amash on his thoughtful approach to government but asked him to consider building more partnerships instead of being a lone voice in the wilderness.
“We can support you, but you can’t do it alone,” the man said. “You hold up the Constitution so much that you define a black and white line for yourself and it doesn’t allow these partnerships to happen.”
“I know when people hear about the Constitution, they think it stands in the way of doing what’s right,” Amash countered. “I would disagree with that. I think the Constitution guides toward doing what’s right.
“It’s very easy to go to Congress and just go with the flow, just do what everyone else does,” he said. “It’s one of the easiest jobs in the world. Your party tells you how to vote. There’s no critical thinking. When we go home for the week, they give us a set of talking points. When some of my colleagues have a town hall — if they have one — they just read their talking points. That’s no way to represent your community.
“Congress isn’t going to change and our government isn’t going to change if we keep doing the same things,” he said. “I want Congress to change and to become a better place that is more reflective of the will of the people. The reason I’m doing what I’m doing is I want my colleagues to change their bad habits. They don’t have the courage to do so. Someone needs to set an example for them. Someone needs to go rushing into it … and the hope is that they will see a person like that can be successful and they will want to change.”
Syria dominated much of Monday evening’s discussion as Amash was specifically looking to obtain feedback about how Americans feel regarding President Donald Trump’s missile strikes on a Syrian military base in retaliation for that government’s chemical attack on its own citizens. Amash has been outspoken in his belief that Trump should not have ordered missile strikes without Congressional approval.
To clarify a claim from an audience member about the War Powers Resolution, Amash pulled his smartphone out of his pocket to quickly look up and read the exact wording of the resolution, which was enacted by Congress at the end of the Vietnam War in 1973.
“The War Powers Resolution is often used to justify one-off missile strikes,” Amash said. “I want to be clear: If you read the War Powers Resolution, it does not give the president the authority to do what he did.
“The president does not have the authority to do that,” he repeated to applause from the audience. “There are circumstances in which we would want the president to act quickly under the War Powers Resolution without waiting for Congress. But when the president launches offensive strikes, not defensive strikes, he must come to Congress first.”
Amash said in a classified briefing he recently received about Syria, the Trump administration didn’t do much to attempt to justify the missile strikes.
“We have a Congress that has ignored its own duty to keep the White House in check, and this is not just in this administration, but in previous administrations,” he said. “You can rest assured that I will not support sending our people over there (Syria) without community consensus.”
Amash said he didn’t support a recently failed health care bill because it didn’t actually repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). He believes if the proposed bill been brought to the floor for a vote, between 50 and 80 Republicans would have voted “no” on it.
“It would have been really embarrassing, actually,” he said. “That’s why they pulled it.
The ACA is not functioning the way we would like it to function,” he said. “It’s not the type of law that can be fixed. I think we need to start over in a bipartisan way. We have to have a free market for insurance. We have to have a competitive marketplace. At the same time, you have to have a safety net for people who have pre-existing conditions. We have to protect the most vulnerable.
“I don’t think it’s something that we should rush,” he cautioned. “We want to get it right. I still believe that the best system is to allow the states to decide how to handle health care because the states have different constituents, they have different communities and you want this country to be a country where different things are tried out and we learn from the best system. We need to make sure we have a variety of alternatives out there.”
David Andrus, a retired tool and die designer from Rockford, attended Monday’s town hall because Amash by turns inspires him and frustrates him.
“Some of the things he’s saying have really gotten my nose bent,” Andrus said. “He says Trump should have gotten Congressional approval — and he should have — but Trump made a decision. We don’t have a wimpy president anymore and Congress should accept that. Our 44th president — I don’t even like to say his name — put Trump in a position where he had to make a statement, and I think Congress lacks the spine to see that.
“I’m just interested in saving our Constitution,” he added. “I feel it’s under assault by our own Congress. I am a registered Republican, and I am not proud of it.”