Although Representative Justin Amash was endorsed in 2010 by both Tea Party Express and the self-proclaimed “Tea Party HQ” FreedomWorks, he has not joined the Tea Party Caucus headed by Rep. Michele Bachmann. Instead (to no notice beyond the official registry of the Committee on House Administration), Rep. Amash has formed his own House Liberty Caucus.
This is no mere duplication of effort; in a series of key votes Justin Amash has parted ways with Michele Bachmann and the Tea Party Caucus. On February 8 and again on February 14, Amash voted against reauthorization of the Patriot Act, and released this statement to explain his vote:
Like many Republicans and Democrats concerned with protecting civil liberties, I have serious reservations about the USA PATRIOT Act provisions up for renewal. The business records provision allows the government to order the production of ‘any tangible things’—e-mails, phone logs, and even library records. Worse still, the company turning over the records to the government is forbidden from telling the records’ owner of the order. Likewise, the Act’s roving wiretap provision goes far beyond a similar provision in criminal law. It may allow the government continuously to monitor pay phones or public computers, even when a suspect is not using the devices. The breadth of the provisions raises serious Fourth Amendment concerns in my mind, and I cannot support them as currently written.
Representative Amash’s concern for the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution was not matched in this instance by Michele Bachmann or a majority of the members of the Tea Party Caucus. The following 47 members of the Tea Party Caucus voted against Justin Amash’s position and for reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act:
Only 7 members of the Tea Party Caucus voted against reauthorization of the Patriot Act:
The Patriot Act is not the only issue for which Justin Amash’s home lies outside the Tea Party Caucus. On February 18, Justin Amash voted to cut $56 Billion from the budget of the Defense Department; Michele Bachmann and an overwhelming majority of her Tea Party Caucus voted against cutting the budget. Justin Amash voted to cut wasteful V-22 Osprey contracts from the military budget; Michele Bachmann and an overwhelming majority of her Tea Party Caucus voted against the spending cut. Michele Bachmann and half of the Tea Party Caucus voted against cutting a second engine for the F-35: an engine that the military itself doesn’t want. Justin Amash voted to cut the contract for that second engine. Justin Amash voted to kill Defense Department spending on the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, a project that is far over budget, is not ready to deploy after decades of development, and that multiple military leaders want to end. But every single member of the Tea Party Caucus voted for the government to keep spending money on the EFV that the military doesn’t want.
Justin Amash is no Democrat; he has voted to ban abortion coverage from health care plans, moved to protect polluters in places across the country on land and in the water, and voted to ban the government from entering into agreements with organized labor. But Rep. Amash has made a stark divergence from the Tea Party Caucus on the issues of waste in the military budget and unconstitutional surveillance. These divergences place Amash more firmly in alignment with Tea Party rhetoric on spending and the constitution than the majority of Tea Party Caucus members, and they may partly explain why Amash has chosen to go his own way and form a separate House Liberty Caucus.
As the term of the the 112th Congress extends, watch the House Liberty Caucus carefully. Is it transparent, publishing a list of members? Do those members follow the example of Justin Amash in opposing unconstitutional surveillance policies? Will the caucus organize against military waste? If the answers to these questions are yes, yes and yes, then the caucus’ formation may signal a significant split within the Republican Party.