Critic of the Year: Libertarian Congressman Justin Amash

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Dec. 19 2013 4:08 PM

Critic of the Year: Justin Amash

The libertarian congressman on NSA, immigration, and the year’s best video game.

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DW: Does that include you?

JA: Well, I am more skeptical of the process now then I was several months ago. It'll take a lot of work to get to me the point where I could trust President Obama to enforce the laws we’ve passed. I'm concerned about that. This president certainly hasn't been shy in taking the law into his own hands when it doesn’t comport with his views. So I’d like to see immigration reform but trust has to rebuilt between the sides, and it has to be immigration reform that is beneficial to Americans on the whole, beneficial to our country, provides adequate border security.

DW: To what extent are your colleagues moving on from immigration reform because the Democrats are hurting now, and it doesn’t seem like the GOP needs to win Hispanic votes in 2014?

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JA: It wouldn't surprise me if some people believed that, but if we're going to be a party that represents the entire country we have to be welcoming to people from all backgrounds. I think that means some reforms to our immigration system.

DW: Washington and Colorado legalized marijuana this year and didn’t collapse into dystopian nightmares. You’ve reintroduced a bill that would make the feds respect state laws on marijuana. Do you see that going somewhere in 2014?

JA: Yeah, there’s going to be more progress. People are beginning to see that an issue like this should be handled at the state and local level, and that the federal government should stick to subjects that are specified in the Constitution.

DW: Are you surprised that this president is so strict on drug laws? We’ve seen photos of him as a teenager partying with the Choom Gang. We know he knows you can smoke pot and be a member of society.

JA: Ha, well, I think things will change in the next few years pretty rapidly.

DW: After this year’s DOMA decision, do you think the GOP is basically done trying to restrict or ban gay marriage?

JA: That was a positive development, because here's an area that's not enumerated in the Constitution and it's not an issue for the federal government to deal with. Whether you’re straight or gay, marriage is not a federal issue.

DW: Back to subjects that disappointed people this year. Why did the House finish up without passing a farm bill or unemployment insurance extensions?

JA: Look, unemployment insurance has to be reformed. It can't go on for two years at a time. When we pass a farm bill we need some major reforms that end the large subsidies or phase them out, and the new bill—which hasn’t passed yet—will do some of that. It’ll eliminate some of the 1940s laws, but it adds new provisions that aren’t very good for the economy.

DW: Why can’t Republicans bring themselves to say, OK, we’re cutting food stamps—but we’ll get rid of farm subsidies, because they’re much less needed?

JA: I’ve said this many times: It sends the wrong message when our legislation is cutting welfare for those that are in need while providing subsidies to people who are quite well off.

DW: That’s probably enough about disappointments. What was the best day you had in Congress this year?

JA: Not striking Syria was a highlight. The NSA debate was the biggest highlight. Republicans and Democrats came together and stood on the House floor against their president and their leadership to make the case for protecting civil liberties. If you talk to people who were part of that debate, almost all of them will tell you it was a highlight of their entire time in Congress.

DW: Speaking of that, I suppose you noticed that your primary opponent made fun of the idea that you, or any congressman, should explain his votes by determining whether they were in line with the Constitution. He said the courts were there to sort that out.

JA: Yeah, I did. That's an embarrassing quote and nobody in the country can hope to be elected in a Republican primary if that’s his or her view of the Constitution and Congress’ role.

DW: And despite that, you don’t regret passing up the U.S. Senate race?

JA: Oh, absolutely. Republicans have a great shot at winning the Senate seat but I'm happy being a representative from the third district. I like getting the chance to get back and see my family on a regular basis. If you're a senator you have a lot more territory to cover. No, I’m comfortable with the decision, and we’ll come away with a big victory in the primary in August.

DW: This despite the year starting with you being removed from the budget committee and voting against Boehner for speaker.

JA: I feel like I have a good relationship with leadership. They understood where I can add to what they’re doing and I think they’ll utilize me more in the coming years. I think they recognize there are more and more Republicans who are leaning libertarian and that I represent a larger and larger chunk of the party. If we’re going to work together, the Republican Party has to welcome everybody, it has to welcome young people, it has to welcome libertarians.

DW: Finally, and most seriously, you’ve talked before about your enjoyment of video games. What was the best game of 2013?

JA: I’ve played Bioshock Infinite a bit—that’s my favorite game of the year. I love the way it alludes to some of our founding figures, and if you’re a history or a politics wonk it adds to what a great game it is.