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Establishment Republicans who have for years operated under the threat of "getting primaried" by conservative challengers are hoping to turn the tables in Michigan, where there’s an all-out brawl to oust tea party favorite Rep. Justin Amash.
Amash has become a polarizing figure within the Republican caucus, according to Politico, and some of his colleagues aren’t pulling punches in taking on the Michigander and his hardline anti-tax, anti-spending, anti-federal government stances.
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., called Amash, "al-Qaida’s best friend in the Congress." Harsh.
A fellow Michigan Republican, Rep. Mike Rogers, said Amash is "completely out of line with" voters in his district.
"He votes more with the Democrats than with the Republicans, and that’s not out of principle, that’s out of him branding himself as something different," said Rogers, who has contributed $5,000 to Amash’s primary opponent, Brian Ellis.
Amash’s countered: "I vote less often with (House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi, the real San Francisco Democrat, than any member of Congress."
How can you vote with Democrats more than Republicans and rarely vote on the same side as Pelosi, the House’s top Democrat? Something isn’t adding up here, so we decided to take a look.
How Amash has voted
A spokesman for Amash linked us to OpenCongress.org, a website from the nonpartisan Sunshine Foundation that aggregates voting records.
The site also studies which colleague on each side of the aisle votes with members of Congress most and least since January 2013.
That’s partly achieved by Amash staking out positions that put him against most of Congress on widely bipartisan measures.
For example, Amash was one of only two House members to vote against a bill to reauthorize spending for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to assist local law enforcement agencies in training for and coordinating efforts to rescue missing children. On Facebook, Amash said the bill created federal bureaucracy and the tax dollars would be better spent locally. (Republicans can criticize Amash’s record, but he’s unique in his diligence about explaining nearly all of his votes on Facebook.)
So if Amash seldom votes with Pelosi, is it possible he still votes with Democrats more, as Rogers said? In a word, no.
As a whole, Amash has more often sided with the GOP caucus. Amash’s profile on OpenCongress.org says he has voted with his party 82 percent of the time since January 2013.
There are certainly many Republicans who toe the party line more closely. Rogers, for example, was with the majority of his GOP colleagues for 96 percent of roll calls since 2013. But there are Republicans who vote with the GOP less often than Amash this Congress, too, though none in Michigan.
On some issues, though, Amash has joined forces with Democrats. His high-profile fight to curb NSA funding for metadata collection — which put Amash on the map with civil libertarians — enlisted a coalition of Republicans and Democrats weary of the military-industrial complex.
The vote on his measure narrowly failed, with 111 Democrats supporting it — despite strong objections from President Barack Obama — alongside 94 Republicans.
So where does Rogers’ claim come from?
Rogers spokeswoman had no response but forwarded our request to Amash’s challenger Ellis. They noted that in 2012, a Congressional Quarterly analysis found Amash’s votes put him on the same side of President Barack Obama 51 percent of the time.
It’s an interesting tidbit, but it won’t help Rogers on the Truth-O-Meter.
The analysis only looked at 61 votes that year where Obama had a stated position. It includes many consequential bills, but it’s just a fraction of the total votes taken in 2012. Further, in 2011 and 2013, Amash was opposite Obama 75 percent of the time.
But it did help us find a few interesting examples of Amash voting with Obama’s favored positions.
For example, Amash voted "no" on a GOP bill in 2012 that would have extended lower rates for student loans and pay for it with cuts to Obamacare. It passed the House despite a veto threat from Obama.
On his Facebook page, Amash said he sided against it because he didn’t believe the cuts covered the cost of lowering student loan rates.
Also in 2012, he voted against Republicans on a bill to replace across-the-board spending cuts (the so-called "sequester") with other more targeted cuts, while lifting spending caps on the military. Obama, instead, wanted to replace the sequester with tax increases and cut in other ways; Amash said he opposed the Republican proposal because it increased spending.
More recently, Amash was one of just three Republicans (and 20 lawmakers in total) not to vote for more sanctions against Iran last July. At the time, the Obama administration was asking for some leeway from Congress to approach the newly elected Iranian regime with alternatives. Amash later said of his vote: "If our goal is peaceful reform within Iran, it would be wise to give the new president an opportunity to talk before turning to new threats."
But again, these are a relatively small number of high-profile votes. Congressional Quarterly found Amash never voted with his party less than 85 percent of the time in a given year.
Rogers said Amash "votes more with the Democrats than with the Republicans." Rogers didn’t back up his claim, but we found two sources that showed that Amash has sided with Republicans upward of 80 percent of the time. That may be lower than many of his colleagues, and we found found a few high-profile examples of his voting against his own party. But by the numbers, he votes far more often with Republicans than Democrats.
We rate Rogers’ statement False.
Politico, "Establishment takes on die-hard tea partier," May 8, 2014
Politico, "Justin Amash prevails as amendment fails," July 24, 2013
Washington Post, "Tea Party favorite Amash draws GOP primary opponent," October 8, 2013
Email interview with Kelsey Knight, spokeswoman for Rep. Mike Rogers, May 12, 2014
Email interview with Will Adams, spokesman for Rep. Justin Amash, May 9, 2014
Email interview with Megan Wells, spokeswoman for Brian Ellis, May 10, 2014
OpenCongress.org, Rep. Nancy Pelosi profile page, accessed May 9, 2014
OpenCongress.org, Rep. Justin Amash profile page, accessed May 9, 2014
OpenCongress.org, Head-to-head voting comparison: Amash and Pelosi, accessed May 9, 2014
Congressional Quarterly, CQ Voting Studies: Rep. Justin Amash, accessed May 9, 2014
House of Representatives, Roll Call: 460, Motion to Suspend Rules and Pass H.R. 3092, Sept. 17, 2013
House of Representatives, Roll Call: 412, Amash Amendment to H.R. 2397, July 24, 2013
Congressional Quarterly, House Roll Call Vote 644: Sequester Replacement - Passage, Dec. 20, 2012
New York Times, House Vote 195 - Extends Student Loan Rates, April 27, 2012\
New York Times, "House Passes Student Loan Bill Despite Veto Threat," April 27, 2012
New York Times, House Vote 427 - H.R.850: On Motion to Suspend the Rules and Pass, as Amended, July 31, 2013
Facebook, Rep. Justin Amash explains vote on H.R. 4628, May 3, 2012
Facebook, Rep. Justin Amash explains vote on H.R. 6684, Jan. 10, 2013
Facebook, Rep. Justin Amash explains vote on H.R. 3092, Oct. 10, 2013
Facebook, Rep. Justin Amash explains vote on H.R. 850, Oct. 13, 2013
Email interview with Ryan Kelly, Senior researcher at CQ Roll Call, May 12, 2014
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