Justin Amash: I'm running again for Congress as an independent -- and won't rule out a run for president

So, as expected, he won’t commit to challenging Trump but he will commit to running again for his seat and is “very confident” of victory even though he’s said that Michigan’s straight-ticket ballot option for voters “makes it prohibitive to run outside of the major parties.” (Jake Tapper’s research team must have missed that quote or else I assume he would have challenged his guest with it here.) If anything, it’s apt to be harder to run as an indie next year than it would have been to run last year since having two presidential candidates at the top of the ballot is likely to encourage more straight-ticket voting.

I don’t think Amash is nearly as committed to running again as he claims here, though. That’s something he’s saying for the moment to retain what tiny bit of influence he still enjoys within the House. If the polling back home looks dismal in a few months, he’ll be better off retiring than enduring a humiliating third-place finish — or parachuting out of his House race and running for the Libertarian Party nomination instead. In fact, ironically, that’s a reason for Trump to hope that Amash *is* surprisingly competitive as an independent in his House race. The more realistic his chances of holding on to his seat, the less he’ll want to abandon that race for a presidential campaign. That is, there’s an unlikely but not impossible scenario here in which Trump loses the presidency because Amash’s chances of being reelected to the House became so hopeless that he decided he might as well run for the White House and try to play spoiler in the midwest.

Watching this interview, though, you’re left wondering why he’d want to run for the House again at all. Amash emphasizes repeatedly that his decision to go indie isn’t about Trump, even saying at one point that he would have quit the party whether Trump was president or not. It’s all down to the fact that rank-and-file members of the House currently have no power whatsoever. They don’t introduce bills; they don’t debate them in any meaningful way; they certainly don’t get to offer amendments to legislation that’s on the floor. They exist solely and purely as a rubber stamp for the leaders of their caucus. Hence his reply when Tapper asks whether he fears he’ll be booted off the Oversight Committee. I might be, says Amash, but so what? Committees don’t do anything anymore except follow orders from the Speaker or the minority leader, as the case may be. All he’ll miss if he’s expelled is the occasional opportunity to ask questions during hearings. He makes a convincing argument that Congress is irreparably broken. Not such a good argument about why it’s worth wanting to continue to serve there.

Another question I’d like to have seen him answer: Does he think Congress has gotten more top-down because voters on both sides have sent so many ostentatious populists to the House over the past decade? Between the tea partiers on the right and the AOC progressive “Squad” on the left, Boehner, Ryan, and now Pelosi had reason to fear that legislation might change radically (in every sense of the word) if amendments were freely offered on the House floor, especially in a partisan media environment in which centrist legislators would feel pressure to vote with the base. It may be that the more voters elect populists to Congress, the more hierarchical Congress will become as the establishment seeks to curtail those populists’ influence. In theory, electing a majority of populists to the House would break that dynamic, but (a) we’ll probably never have a majority of populists in either caucus and (b) populists have a funny habit of behaving like establishmentarians once they supplant them. So maybe they’d simply inherit the hierarchy and apply it to their ends.

The bit where Amash talks about his electoral prospects comes right at the 10:00 mark but I strongly recommend watching all 13 minutes if you can spare the time, as it’s a useful glimpse at legislative sclerosis. Plus, it ends with a big finish — Amash exhorting Pelosi to cowboy up and impeach Trump already.