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Rep. Amash Of Michigan Explores Third-Party Presidential Bid

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Election Day is only six months away. We are in the middle of a pandemic, and the field of candidates may actually now be getting a little bigger. Congressman Justin Amash of Michigan announced he is exploring a run as a third-party candidate in November. Amash left the Republican Party and became an independent last year after he voted to impeach President Trump. Now he plans to shake up the system that he claims led to Trump's election in the first place.

JUSTIN AMASH: I've been in Congress now for nine years, and increasingly what's happened is a few people at the top control the entire process. There are very few opportunities for rank-and-file members even to amend legislation or debate legislation. And this creates a situation where partisanship is elevated because the members of Congress who don't have any policy importance anymore because they're not involved in policy decisions turn to personalities. This frustrates people at home who no longer feel represented. So millions of Americans end up feeling left out of this process.

MARTIN: A lot of critics have pointed to the timing, though. I mean, former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang tweeted out this - and I'm going to quote here - "I like Justin. I love democracy, but I do think a third party run increases the chances of Trump's reelection." How do you respond to Andrew Yang and others who are saying this?

AMASH: Well, Andrew Yang is a guy I admire in many respects and a man who often talks about math. And anyone who knows much about math or statistics here will tell you that you can't figure out how any additional candidate affects the entire race. It's not possible.

MARTIN: But you're going to pull votes from someone. I mean, that's what third-party candidates do. Unless you're going to animate a whole new sector of the electorate, you're going to pull votes from either Donald Trump or Joe Biden.

AMASH: Well, certainly, there are Republicans and Democrats who would consider my campaign. But it's hard to say where the votes come from exactly, whether they come more from Democrats or more from Republicans. But the other point which you make is that there are millions of Americans who don't even participate in the process. And it would be kind of silly to say, well, they don't deserve the chance to vote for someone other than Donald Trump or Joe Biden. It's just another choice on the ballot. And if people don't want to vote for me, they don't have to vote for me. They can vote for Donald Trump. They can vote for Joe Biden. In our system of government, our democratic system, we put people's names on the ballots and then we vote. And the person who gets the most votes wins. And adding more people to the ballot doesn't change that.

MARTIN: What's your assessment of President Trump's leadership during this crisis?

AMASH: Disastrous. He creates a lot of uncertainty and a lot of grief for people that is unnecessary. So I think it's been disastrous. That doesn't mean that all of the decisions have been wrong. It just means that he has been such a terrible messenger and terrible operator throughout this entire process that people have lost whatever little trust they had in him.

MARTIN: Congress passed a number of economic relief packages as a result of the pandemic. You would be running on a platform as a libertarian of less government intervention in people's lives. How do you come down on that?

AMASH: Well, I think most Americans would prefer the libertarian approach to this. And it's not an approach that every libertarian would take, but it's the approach I take. So I have proposed $1,250 per adult and $500 per child for every month. But I think it could actually be higher than that because the amount of the stimulus has gone up, and if we're going to spend that kind of money, I would prefer that we give it directly to the people. So it could be a larger number like $2,000 for adults. And the wrong approach is the one that has been taken, which is a very anti-libertarian approach.

MARTIN: I don't have to tell you how divided the country is right now. Do you have what it takes to unify a deeply fractured society?

AMASH: I do. I spend a lot of time in my district talking about the need to respect each other and love each other. And too often, what we see in politics is this hate and elevation of hate, that people are told they need to fight the other side and they need to defeat the other side. Everything is about crushing the opposition. And I don't think that's a healthy way to live. I don't think that's a healthy way to govern. And my message for the American people would be that we need to love each other and respect each other. And we can learn to live with each other regardless of our differences if we have a system that is respectful of the people.

MARTIN: Congressman Justin Amash, independent of Michigan, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

AMASH: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.