Rep. Amash stokes talk of campaign against Trump

Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashDemocrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Here are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump Amash says he will vote in favor of articles of impeachment MORE, the lone Republican in Congress to call for President TrumpDonald John TrumpLawmakers release defense bill with parental leave-for-Space-Force deal House Democrats expected to unveil articles of impeachment Tuesday Houston police chief excoriates McConnell, Cornyn and Cruz on gun violence MORE’s impeachment, says he has no desire to play “spoiler” if he launches a third-party bid against Trump in 2020.

“I have no interest in playing spoiler. When I run for something, I run to win,” the Michigan Republican told The Hill on Wednesday as he descended the steps of the Capitol toward his office.

“I haven’t ruled anything out,” Amash replied when asked if he’s made a decision about a possible presidential bid.

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But if he does run, some of his GOP colleagues worry that the five-term Libertarian-leaning congressman from Grand Rapids could siphon tens of thousands of votes away from Trump in a general election, potentially moving Rust Belt states that Trump won in 2016 — such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — into the Democratic column next year.

Some Republicans acknowledged that an Amash candidacy could be enough to hand the White House to the Democratic nominee, be it former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenGabbard says she won't participate in next debate even if she qualifies House Democrats expected to unveil articles of impeachment Tuesday FBI head rejects claims of Ukrainian 2016 interference MORE, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersLawmakers release defense bill with parental leave-for-Space-Force deal Gabbard says she won't participate in next debate even if she qualifies Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments MORE (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenGabbard says she won't participate in next debate even if she qualifies On The Money: White House, Dems edge closer to trade deal | GOP worries about Trump concessions | DOJ argues Congress can't sue Trump on emoluments | Former Fed chief Volcker dies UN International Anticorruption Day highlights democracy as a human right MORE (D-Mass.) or someone else.

Rep. Doug LaMalfaDouglas (Doug) LaMalfaBipartisan group reveals agricultural worker immigration bill Republicans storm closed-door hearing to protest impeachment inquiry GOP moves to block provision banning use of Defense funds for border wall MORE (R-Calif.) said a third-party bid by Amash “could screw things up.”

“I respect Libertarians, I like them a lot. But it doesn’t take away from the Democrats. It will take away from the conservative viewpoint and that hurts our side,” LaMalfa said. “You guys want to elect Biden or Crazy Bernie, then that’s the way to do it.

“I don’t have anything against him, but when people do this stuff, all it does is tear down the ability of Republicans to unite,” he added. “Maybe it’s some sort of vendetta against Trump.”

Some GOP colleagues close to Amash, 39, predict he ultimately will not challenge Trump next year.

“He has no plans to run,” said one close friend.

But other Republican lawmakers said the headline-grabbing steps Amash has taken in recent weeks suggest he is gearing up for a presidential bid.

Amash rocked Washington last month when he became the first Republican lawmaker to declare — after reading the 448-page report from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump MORE — that Trump had obstructed justice and engaged in “impeachable conduct.”

On Wednesday, Amash broke with Republicans again when he was the only GOP member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee to vote in favor of holding Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrDemocrats rip Barr over IG statement: 'Mouthpiece' for Trump Comey in op-ed after IG report: 'Barr needs to stop acting like a Trump spokesperson' Graham: FBI investigation in 2016 turned into a 'criminal conspiracy' MORE and Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossPelosi gets standing ovation at Kennedy Center Honors Space race is on: US can't afford congressional inaction in this critical economic sector Trump escalates fight over tax on tech giants MORE in contempt.

That move came just days after Amash resigned from the House Freedom Caucus he helped launch four years ago with Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsWatchdog report finds FBI not motivated by political bias in Trump probe The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - A crucial week on impeachment Lawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing MORE (R-N.C.), Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanTrump, first lady take part in National Christmas Tree lighting The Hill's Morning Report - Dem impeachment report highlights phone records Lawmakers to watch during Wednesday's impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ohio) and other conservatives. The caucus has stood for reduced federal spending, limited government and protecting the Constitution, and helped send then-Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFormer Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock From learning on his feet to policy director MORE (R-Ohio) into an early retirement in 2015.

But after Trump’s election, Amash grew increasingly frustrated that many caucus members exhibited what he considered blind loyalty to Trump, defending the president at any and all costs.

“Justin’s not running for reelection” to the House, said Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzTempers flare at tense Judiciary hearing on impeachment Gaetz questions Democratic counsel about political donations GOP lawmaker criticizes Democratic counsel over facial expression: 'Be very careful' MORE (R-Fla.), a Trump loyalist. “Justin’s running for president.”

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Trump is now taking direct aim at Amash, huddling with Vice President Pence, Meadows and others to discuss the prospect of backing a GOP primary challenger to Amash in his reelection bid in the House, Politico reported Wednesday.

A new poll out this week showed Amash trailing little-known GOP challenger Jim Lower by 16 points — 49 percent to 33 percent.

But Amash seems unfazed by it all, saying he’s not worried by the threat of a Trump-backed primary challenge and that he would have no regrets if his call for impeachment ended his political career.

“I’ve spent my whole time in office under fire from different people, so it doesn’t worry me. I’ve had multiple elections where people thought I was the underdog and won by large margins,” Amash said in Wednesday’s interview. “I don’t really worry about any of that stuff. I have a lot of confidence in what I’m doing, in the American people, and especially the people in my district.”

“First I’m not going to lose, and second, I don’t have any regrets about doing the right thing,” he added, referring to a House race. “I didn’t run for office to sell out my principles to the party or to any one person. I’ve promised the people of my district I would operate in a certain way, uphold the Constitution, uphold the rule of law, fight for limited government and liberty, and that’s what I’m doing.”

Amash, the first Palestinian American to serve in Congress, won election in the Tea Party wave that swept Republicans into power in 2010. The attorney and former state lawmaker burnished a reputation as a strict constitutionalist and constant thorn in the side of GOP leadership.

His divorce from the ultraconservative Freedom group has been a trying episode. 

“It’s certainly sad. It’s not like a happy moment to leave a group I helped found,” Amash said. “But I felt it was the right move under the circumstances.”

He also said he remains friends with Jordan, Meadows and others in the Freedom Caucus. On Wednesday, Amash sat next to and chatted with Jordan during an Oversight hearing before the contempt vote.

When asked Wednesday if he was aware of an Amash presidential bid, Meadows told The Hill: “I only have heard about his desire to run for reelection for his congressional seat. Nothing more.”

Amash’s call for impeachment put many of his GOP colleagues in an extremely difficult spot. Many Republicans want to be able to say that Amash is standing on principle and a man of conviction, one senior GOP lawmaker explained, but they don’t want to incite the wrath of Trump.

“He’s radioactive right now,” the GOP lawmaker said. “Even his closest friends and most trusted allies are in an awkward position of defending him as a person, because then they become part of the headline.”

Asked if Amash is a man of principle, Rep. Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisHouse passes bill meant to restore Voting Rights Act Hillicon Valley: Trump officials propose retaliatory tariffs over French digital tax | FBI classifies FaceApp as threat | Twitter revamps policies to comply with privacy laws | Zuckerberg defends political ads policy GOP criticizes Pelosi for sidelining election security for impeachment MORE (R-Ill.) replied with a smile: “Justin is a friend.”

Davis described a possible Amash presidential bid as “a quixotic adventure.”

“I just don’t see it happening. It’s going to come down to the president and a major Democratic candidate,” said Davis, former chairman of the Republican Main Street Caucus. “He is somebody who marches to his own drummer. What we are seeing with Justin right now is not new to the Republican conference.”

One Freedom Caucus colleague, Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), called an Amash presidential bid “political suicide.”

Amash’s push for impeachment “was really over the top. He got elected and is entitled to his own position, but I totally disagree with him,” Lesko said. “I think he should change his mind and get out. He has no chance.”

More than 50 House Democrats have now called on their leadership to launch an impeachment inquiry into whether Trump obstructed justice and committed other crimes. Amash’s Michigan colleague, freshman Democratic Rep. Rashida Tliab, who has known Amash for years, has introduced a resolution calling on the Judiciary Committee to explore impeachment.

But Amash said he is not prepared to sign on as a co-sponsor to any of the Democratic pro-impeachment resolutions, especially since Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse Democrats expected to unveil articles of impeachment Tuesday Impeachment witness to meet with Senate GOP Tuesday Press: Pelosi strikes back, hatred is a sin MORE (D-Calif.) has not expressed any desire to move forward on impeachment.

“Unless the Speaker is interested in acting, the resolutions don’t really have much meaning at this point,” Amash said. “If the Speaker doesn’t want to move forward, the whole thing is dead in the water anyway.”

Juliegrace Brufke contributed.