This 35-year-old Republican congressman could revolutionize the House. He should be speaker.
The race to replace John Boehner is on. And things got even more pressing when Boehner announced yesterday that the House GOP would hold early elections for new leadership — on Thursday, October 8 — a move that seems intended to stop the opposition from having enough time to organize.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is clearly the odds-on favorite to become the next House speaker. Still, conservative Republicans are casting about for Tea Party-friendly alternatives who might be able to capitalize on the fact that McCarthy doesn't quite have the votes. But their picks, like Reps. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) and Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), don't exactly fire the imagination.
I have a better suggestion: Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.). Here are five reasons why.
1. Amash is a stickler for House rules who has never missed a vote. Yes, literally never. And he kept watch on the House floor during the PATRIOT Act debates this past spring, ensuring Republican leadership couldn't sneak through an extension of the spying bill while other representatives were out of town.
Amash is also a stickler for the Constitution, a commitment that has earned him a reputation as a reliable opponent of mass surveillance, undeclared wars, and similar rule of law violations other Republicans might be willing to let slide. He even voted against the Keystone Pipeline — a project he in theory supports — because the bill awarded an unconstitutional benefit to a single favored corporation.
2. Amash personally explains every vote he casts on his Facebook page. And again, that's a lot of votes. If he continued this practice as speaker, Amash could offer Americans an unprecedented look at the internal workings and politics of Congress. This hypothetical transparency upgrade isn't on the table with any other candidate for the next speaker.
3. He'd make time for lawmakers to actually read the bills they pass. Among Amash's peeves about the way Congress is run: Lawmakers are often not given enough time to read legislation — let alone process and research it — before it's time to vote. "I vote 'present' when: (1) not given time to review; (2) procedural/constitutional concerns on legislation with desirable ends; or (3) conflict of interest," he explained in 2011, defending his habit of avoiding a "yes" or "no" vote on major bills he couldn't study in advance.
Amash has backed resolutions to guarantee more time for legislators to prepare for key votes and successfully passed a rule change that makes it easier for Congress (and the public) to understand exactly what effects a new bill will have on existing law. "Voting on legislation with little understanding of it is no way to govern," he argues — and as speaker, he could ensure this commonsense reform continues.
4. Amash represents a new generation of Republicans — literally. At just 35 years old and an Eastern Orthodox Christian of Syrian and Palestinian descent, Amash would bring some much-needed diversity to the national GOP.
His ideas are fresh, too: Amash was elected at the height of Tea Party fervor, but he's better described as a libertarian Republican, more in step with millennials' concerns about privacy, peace, and personal liberty.
Amash himself recognizes the significance of these generational differences, commenting that "[Boehner] and a lot of the leadership team come from a different generation. They were first elected several years ago, sometimes decades ago, and it's not surprising that their perspective is going to be different than a lot of the newer members."
"I often take sort of a mini-leadership role on the House floor," he added. "I represent an important Republican perspective, and there are a lot of members who come to me on the House floor and maybe even rely on me to provide an alternative perspective to what they're hearing from leadership."
5. John Boehner does not like him. Boehner is leaving office with extremely low favorability ratings (many conservatives outright cheered the news of his resignation), so his history of antipathy for Amash should work in the Michigander's favor.
In late 2012, Boehner purged Amash from the budget committee even though he'd voted with the committee's Republican chair 95 percent of the time. Boehner also backed efforts in 2014 to challenge Amash's seat in his primary election, a plan which ultimately failed. And while Amash has always been publicly gracious toward Boehner, he did return the favor by voting against him in his most recent confirmation as speaker.
As Amash commented at the time of his committee ouster, "I don't relish this situation, but if one thing is clear based on the response from the grassroots, it's that leadership's actions will backfire."
Three years later, that prediction has proved true for Boehner. Now, House Republicans should give Amash a shot at providing a very different sort of leadership.