Congressman Justin Amash of Michigan was speaking to the press about the GOP’s Obamacare replacement in the speaker's lobby of the House of Representatives when, as Politico reported Friday afternoon, a sudden realization dawned on him. He asked the gaggle the status of a vote on the floor. A reporter informed him that she believed a vote on an amendment was underway. Then this happened:
Amash immediately sprinted into the chamber and tried to put his card in the voting slot to cast his yea or nay, but the vote had closed.
Amash approached floor staff and leadership to see if they could either re-open the vote or call it again. Staff said there was no precedent for doing so. Amash hung his head low and was overcome with emotion, those on the floor told POLITICO.
Amash, after a 4,289 vote streak stretching back to his 2011 arrival in the House, had just missed his first vote. “When he realized his streak had just ended,” Politico’s Rachael Bade and Jennifer Haberkorn wrote, “the blunt-spoken congressman broke down in tears.”* The new streak-holder, Arkansas Rep. Steve Womack, released a statement immediately. “I am humbled by the opportunity to serve my constituents and thank God that no personal hardships have kept me from representing them on a single vote since taking office,” Amash's fellow Republican said.
Why was Amash brought to tears? Does he genuinely believe missing a single vote in more than half a decade is a substantive fault on his record? Politico implies, and Amash would certainly have voters believe, this is the case—he is “one of the few House members who personally justifies and explains his every vote on his Facebook page for constituents.”
This suggests a commitment to the service of others that might have puzzled one of Amash’s idols, Ayn Rand, whose portrait he hangs in his congressional office. Amash has praised the author of The Virtue of Selfishness for her vision of a society where limited government makes possible the unleashing of “rational heroes.” It is plausible that Amash will be turning to the consoling words of one Randian hero to console himself tonight. “I came here to say that I do not recognize anyone's right to one minute of my life,” Howard Roark says in The Fountainhead. “No matter who makes the claim, how large their number or how great their need.”
The need for Amash's voice on this vote, which failed 225 to 185, with 19 not voting, was perhaps not that great.
*Correction, March 10, 2017: This post originally misspelled Rachael Bade’s first name.