Congressman Justin Amash sees his Republican primary as an indicator of what direction the party will go in the future.
Amash represents Battle Creek and Grand Rapids in Third District. He is often described as "libertarian leaning" or a "Ron Paul" Republican. Amash faces a challenge from Grand Rapids area businessman Brian Ellis in this summer's primary. The Congressman prides himself on never missing a vote and explaining every vote he casts on Facebook. Amash sat down with WMUK's Gordon Evans and Battle Creek Enquirer reporter Jennifer Bowman at Western Michigan University's Kendall Center in downtown Battle Creek. A summary:
There will apparently be no debates between Amash and Ellis this summer. Amash has said Ellis is not a credible candidate. Amash says Ellis is running a "smear campaign." Amash says he has worked hard to be transparent and explain his votes. He also holds regular town halls. Amash says Ellis isn't interested in a true discussion of issues.
When asked for examples of Ellis distorting his record, Amash says Ellis has taken one vote on the issue of abortion out of context. The Republican Congressman voted against a bill that would have banned abortion for purposes of sex selection. Amash says the bill included a provision that would require medical personnel to report suspicion that another doctor had performed an abortion for gender selection. Amash says he's "100% pro-life," but he says people should not be put in jail because of "inaction." Michigan Right to Life has endorsed Ellis in the primary.
National Security Agency
Amash has gained national attention for his efforts to limit surveillance by the NSA. Ellis has criticized him, saying he is making it more difficult to gather information on terrorists overseas. Amash says the NSA has used the Patriot Act to spy on ordinary Americans. He says few Americans support such surveillance regardless of ideology or party affiliation.
Going to War
Asked when Congress should authorize military force, Amash says only when the U.S. or its interests are in imminent danger. He says there may be rare occasions when action is necessary to stop genocide. But he says military action should always be authorized by Congress.
Traditional vs. Tea Party Republicans
The Republican primary has been seen as an establishment challenger taking on a tea party incumbent. But Ellis says he supports some tea party positions on reducing spending and debt. Amash says his opponent has little support among conservatives or the tea party. Amash says the Republican party is moving back to its traditional positions of limited government, economic freedom and individual liberty. He says Ellis is the one who is out of touch with Republican voters.
Direction of the party
Amash says Brian Ellis and the Republican establishment "have already lost." He says establishment candidates in Congress are having tougher re-election campaigns. And in some cases, like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, they've been defeated. Amash says he's being criticized for being "too independent." The Republican Congressman says he is confident about his own race and that the Republican party will soon be led by candidates who are independent, support civil liberties and oppose corporate welfare.
Discussion of other issues can be heard in the web version of the interview.
As part of the discussion about abortion, Amash was asked about his voting "present" on a bill to de-fund Planned Parenthood. The vote was also cited by Right to Life of Michigan in their endorsement of Ellis. Amash says he doesn't support any taxpayer funding for abortion providers. But he says legislation should not single out an individual or group. Amash says legislation should be written to do something, not to make an example out of anyone.
Amash has been accused of not compromising, and being too rigid in his beliefs. But the Congressman says he has worked to reach out to Democrats for his balanced budget amendment. And Amash says he led a bi-partisan effort to curtail NSA data collection and surveillance. He says many so-called "compromises" don't address real problems such as the deficit.
Balanced Budget Amendment
Ellis has criticized Amash for his vote against a balanced budget amendment. But Amash says the proposed amendment would have led to tax increases. The Republican says he did vote for a different balanced budget amendment. Amash says any balanced budget amendment will need support from both parties and from the states which would have to ratify an amendment to the Constitution.
Amash says health care reform should really happen at the state level. He says the problem with the current system is that no one knows the actual cost of anything. Amash health insurance should not cover routine medical coverage. He says insurance should pay for unexpected or "catastrophic" events. But Amash says the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, simply shifts health care costs.
Business groups have complained that Amash's office has been unresponsive for routine matters. But the Congressman says his staff works hard when people approach them. Amash says there is a difference between small owners and groups like the Chamber of Commerce. He says he won't seek earmarks for special favors for anyone.