At first blush, the description of events may seem routine and unremarkable. A member of Congress who sits on the House Oversight Committee read Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report “carefully and completely,” and soon after came to some important conclusions. First, the lawmaker determined that Attorney General Barr has “deliberately misrepresented” Mueller’s findings.
And second, Donald Trump “engaged in impeachable conduct.” The lawmaker added in a statement published over the weekend, “Our system of checks and balances relies on each branch’s jealously guarding its powers and upholding its duties under our Constitution. When loyalty to a political party or to an individual trumps loyalty to the Constitution, the Rule of Law – the foundation of liberty – crumbles.”
To be sure, we’ve seen similar statements from plenty of Democratic lawmakers since a redacted version of the special counsel’s report was released to the public. But what made these conclusions so notable was that they didn’t come from a Democrat at all; they came from Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican congressman from Michigan.
In theory, the White House could’ve ignored the GOP lawmaker’s statement, downplaying its significance in the hopes it would go largely overlooked, but the president just couldn’t seem to help himself. Trump, utilizing his idiosyncratic approach to English grammar, published a pair of tweets yesterday, giving the story some additional oxygen:
“Never a fan of [Amash], a total lightweight who opposes me and some of our great Republican ideas and policies just for the sake of getting his name out there through controversy. If he actually read the biased Mueller Report, ‘composed’ by 18 Angry Dems who hated Trump, he would see that it was nevertheless strong on NO COLLUSION and, ultimately, NO OBSTRUCTION.
“Anyway, how do you Obstruct when there is no crime and, in fact, the crimes were committed by the other side? Justin is a loser who sadly plays right into our opponents hands!”
My favorite part of this was the implication that Trump, unlike Amash, “actually read the biased Mueller Report.” For one thing, that’s almost certainly backwards. For another, it’s curious that the president keeps attacking a report he insists “totally exonerated” him.
But putting these details aside, there’s a bigger picture to consider: what happens now that a Republican member of Congress has endorsed Donald Trump’s impeachment?
For those unfamiliar with Amash, it’s worth noting for context that he’s a rather unique member of Congress. Some may have seen the headlines about his support for impeachment and assumed that he’s a moderate, but those assumptions are wrong: the Michigan Republican is one of the most steadfast libertarians on Capitol Hill. (Amash has even left the door open to running for president as the Libertarian Party’s nominee.)
Picture Rand Paul, but with far more interest in principles and ideological consistency.
Amash’s unique perspective matters, not just to better understand his point of view, but to appreciate the real-world implications of his statement: the GOP lawmaker doesn’t speak for a sizable congressional contingent. For all intents and purposes, on an issue like impeachment, Amash is a caucus of one.
Or put another way, proponents of Trump’s impeachment might have seen Amash’s statement and hoped it would serve as a metaphorical spark that would light a fire within the Republican Party. With the GOP lawmaker taking a risk, the argument goes, his principled colleagues would soon follow his lead.
That’s extraordinarily unlikely. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), for example, praised Amash yesterday for doing something “courageous,” though the senator quickly added that he’s not on board with impeaching the president, the evidence of wrongdoing notwithstanding.
As for Democrats, the party’s leaders have argued that bipartisanship is a practical prerequisite to pursuing impeachment. Does Amash’s announcement change the Democratic calculus, giving the process a bipartisan veneer? Apparently not: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said yesterday that without support from the Senate Republican majority – the members who’d be chiefly responsible for weighing articles of impeachment if approved by the House – the process is unlikely to move forward.
All of which leads to an unsatisfying conclusion: it’s striking to see a Republican member of Congress endorse Trump’s impeachment, but the political landscape this morning isn’t much different than it was before Amash’s announcement.