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As Bachmann’s Tea Party Caucus launches, she repeatedly downplays her role in national movement

WASHINGTON — Michele Bachmann wants you to know one thing about her role in the Tea Party Caucus she founded: She is not in charge.

“We are not the mouthpiece of the Tea Party,” the 6th District Republican said of the caucus she now heads. “We are not taking the Tea Party and controlling it from Washington, D.C.”

Then she said it again.

“I am not the head of the Tea Party, nor are any of these members of Congress the head of the Tea Party movement. The people are the head of the Tea Party movement.”

And again.

“I’m the chairwoman of the ‘listening ear’ — that’s what I am — but I’m not speaking on behalf of the Tea Party.”

However, as chairwoman of the Tea Party Caucus, she is now at the very least that group’s titular head. Under House rules, she can speak on the Tea Party Caucus’ behalf with the strength of the caucus implicitly behind her.

She has the ability to command an audience – Bachmann’s announcement of the Tea Party Caucus (held outside on a swelteringly muggy summer’s day) drew the sort of media crowd unheard of for anyone in Washington (in any climate) not named Barack Obama, Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi.

So make no mistake that despite her protestations, no one wields more influence in Congress under the banner of the Tea Party than Bachmann now does.

And the assembled Tea Party supporters, who spoke steps from the Capitol this morning, said they plan to use their power. They’ll be watching who votes with them, and who doesn’t.

And whoever doesn’t, they said, ought to be ready to face some opposition at the ballot box.

It’s time for war, ideologically speaking
Perhaps it was fitting that the Tea Party Caucus’ first meeting was held in the Armed Services Committee room.

“It is no longer a bloody war — it’s an ideological war,” said Ana Puig, a Pennsylvania homemaker who spoke at the first caucus meeting.

Danielle Hollars, 32 of Woodbridge, Va., brought her son Damian to the caucus meeting and subsequent press conference. “We did most of the talking,” she said of the closed-to-the-press meeting.

Bachmann said the caucus won’t be a venue for action, except on the three principles she identified as core to the Tea Party’s mission:

• The federal government should not spend more money than it takes in.

• Our people are taxed enough already.

• Congress needs to get back to acting within the limitations placed on it by the Constitution.

“And you may hear us weighing in on those issues going forward,” Bachmann said.

Worded another way: The Tea Party Caucus won’t speak, except on issues of federal spending and the reach of government. Together, that’s most of what Congress deals with on a day-to-day basis.

In or out?
Twenty-eight Republicans signed on as founding members of the Tea Party Caucus, which means that when it came time to put pen to paper and sign up for the Tea Party Caucus, most of the 178 Republicans in the House did not rush to get in line.

Rep. Erik Paulsen will not be signing up for the caucus, his office confirmed. Rep. John Kline has not yet decided, he said Tuesday afternoon.

Kline, a steering committee member of the Republican Study Committee (which is responsible for developing the House GOP’s agenda) said he’s trying to decide if the Tea Party Caucus “brings any added value” or is a “detriment.”

“Rep. Paulsen … is a member of a number of congressional caucuses to promote bipartisan cooperation on policy issues such as medical technology and the National Guard.” a spokesman said.

“[Paulsen] recently met with local Tea Party members in Minnesota and, like any constituent group, is always happy to meet with them.”

Four House Republican leaders did join the caucus, and Bachmann was deferential to the GOP leaders who have decided not to join.

She complimented the YouCut program, Republican Whip Eric Cantor’s brainchild, which allows users to vote online on a proposal the GOP then tries to force to a vote.

She also name-checked Minority Leader John Boehner’s America Speaking Out website, the tool that theoretically encourages users to submit ideas but, in practice, has been plagued with outrageous suggestions from an earnest fringe and from mischievous opponents.

So far this session, Republicans in the House have formed an almost-always unanimous voice in opposition to the largest parts of the Democratic agenda, everything from health care to financial reform to carbon cap-and-trade.

But what if the GOP returns to government, as Politico’s Jake Sherman asked the assembled Tea Partiers? Would they, like the Democrats’ centrist Blue Dog Caucus, aim to influence legislation — even if it means openly opposing their leaders in Congress?

Bachmann again pointed to the three core issues.

“You may hear us weigh in on those issues going forward,” Bachmann said again.

Hollars was more blunt about the Tea Party’s role going forward.

“I don’t think it will become another part of the Republican Party. I think it will be a reminder to Republicans of how they should govern,” Hollars said.

“And if they don’t listen to the people, they’ll have to find another job.”

Founding members of the Tea Party Caucus
(House Republican leadership marked with an *)

  • Michele Bachmann, chairwoman
  • Todd Akin, Missouri
  • Roscoe Bartlett, Maryland
  • Joe Barton, Texas
  • Gus Bilirakis, Florida
  • Paul Broun, Georgia
  • Michael Burgess, Texas
  • Dan Burton, Indiana
  • * John Carter, Texas
  • John Culberson, Texas
  • John Fleming, Louisiana
  • Trent Franks, Arizona
  • Phil Gingrey, Georgia
  • Louie Gohmert, Texas
  • Pete Hoekstra, Michigan
  • Walter Jones, North Carolina
  • Steve King, Iowa
  • Doug Lamborn, Colorado
  • Cynthia Lummis, Wyoming
  • Gary Miller, California
  • Jerry Moran, Kansas
  • * Mike Pence, Indiana
  • * Tom Price, Georgia
  • * Pete Sessions, Texas
  • Lamar Smith, Texas
  • Cliff Stearns, Florida
  • Todd Tiahrt, Kansas
  • Joe Wilson, South Carolina

Comments (22)

  1. Submitted by Brian Simon on 07/21/2010 - 01:05 pm.

    Derek, you’re sounding somewhat like Dana Milbank. Amp up the snark & give him a run for his money. With Rep Bachmann on your beat, there’s going to be plenty of opportunity to hone your wit.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 07/21/2010 - 01:11 pm.

    I think it’s interesting how some people in the press insist on trying to identify the leader of this movement (I’m guessing so they can more easily aim their guns.)

    Why is it so difficult to understand that movements are a collection of like-minded people with common ideas and ideals. There’s no need for a “leader.”

    Who’s the current leader of the progressive movement? the feminist movement? the civil rights movement? the pro-life movement?

    The fact that Bachmann is simply providing an ear to her bi-partisan constituents doesn’t make her the head and the fact that most republicans in congress haven’t joined makes it clear it’s not affiliated with the republican party.

  3. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 07/21/2010 - 01:22 pm.

    The Democrats were punished until they put their loonies back in their boxes and moved to the center. Apparently, the Republicans haven’t been punished enough. They are on a suicidal path, and winning some seats as the out-party in a midterm does nothing to change that.

  4. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/21/2010 - 02:00 pm.

    Bachmann identified HERSELF as a leader.

  5. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/21/2010 - 02:12 pm.

    Bachmann’s back-stepping on the “leadership” issue gives lie to the leftist meme that the Tea Party is being funded and driven by shadowy conservative deep pockets.

    Rep. Bachmann is reacting to the cautionary objections she is hearing from kitchen tables, not board rooms.

    There is no George Soros in the Tea Party movement.

  6. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 07/21/2010 - 02:25 pm.

    It’s funny, and kind of unfair, but the tea-party always seems socially conservative because of all the things critics describe them as wanting. But the result of fiscal responsibility, limited government and free markets should be much more turbulence in American identity, values and ethnic heritage than social conservatives would tolerate or Democrats dare to promise.

    I suppose the fair thing is to assume that the people advocating liberty know what the results will be and are comfortable with a multi-lingual, pan-ethnic and nontraditional country.

    If the Tea Party ever gets down to ideas, it’ll be the end. They’ve got to keep the anger hot and avoid discussing much of anything, lest the Partiers notice how much they disagree.

  7. Submitted by Brian Simon on 07/21/2010 - 02:44 pm.

    Richard Shulze writes
    “If the Tea Party ever gets down to ideas, it’ll be the end. They’ve got to keep the anger hot and avoid discussing much of anything, lest the Partiers notice how much they disagree.”

    I couldn’t agree more. Complaining is easy. Solving problems & reaching consensus is much more difficult.

  8. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 07/21/2010 - 02:50 pm.

    “Bachmann said the caucus won’t be a venue for action, except on the three principles she identified as core to the Tea Party’s mission:
    • The federal government should not spend more money than it takes in.
    • Our people are taxed enough already.
    • Congress needs to get back to acting within the limitations placed on it by the Constitution.”

    Seems pretty coherent to me.

  9. Submitted by Cecil North on 07/21/2010 - 03:12 pm.

    “Bachmann said the caucus won’t be a venue for action”

    In that case, they found a perfect leader in Ms. Bachmann.

  10. Submitted by Karl Bremer on 07/21/2010 - 03:18 pm.

    “Congress needs to get back to acting within the limitations placed on it by the Constitution.”

    Really? But isn’t this the same Michele Bachmann who authored a bill for a Constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota, and supports a federal amendment as well? The same Michele Bachmann who has always supported a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution? And then there was her proposal for a Constitutional amendment to stop Obama from replacing the dollar with a global currency. Of all the people who should be yapping about sticking to Constitutional principles, Michele Bachmann isn’t one of them. She, more than anyone, has been all to eager to amend the Constitution to suit her own narrow ideological goal to turn this country into a theocracy.

  11. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/21/2010 - 04:00 pm.

    Perhaps the best starting point for the tea party would be to renounce and pull out of two wars that were started without a constitutionally required declaration of war.

    Seems to me that that action would move us pretty far along the route of fiscal balance that they hold so dear.

  12. Submitted by Jim Halonen on 07/21/2010 - 04:11 pm.

    I’m thinking that most of America is basically a “tea partier”, and we’ll find that out for sure in November.

  13. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/21/2010 - 04:21 pm.

    Neal, you may be surprised by the number of self identified Tea Partiers that meet you half way.

    The Iraq incursion did meet the requirements of the War Powers act, but many Tea Party members still believe it was an abuse of power.

    The military response in Afghanistan, on the other hand, is clearly a national defense action. One that has been working pretty well, by the way.

  14. Submitted by Hénock Gugsa on 07/21/2010 - 04:40 pm.

    Not in charge, not the mouthpiece of the Tea Party, not the head [of the party], only the chairwoman of the “listening ear”…

    I wish these politicians would stand back and listen to themselves for once.

    The Tea Party has the markings of a mob run by group-think of a few power-hungry individuals. Inside the Tea Party, the wolves are already mingling with the sheep!

    This is “Animal Farm” of the right!

  15. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 07/21/2010 - 08:48 pm.

    “Bachmann’s back-stepping on the “leadership” issue gives lie to the leftist meme that the Tea Party is being funded and driven by shadowy conservative deep pockets.”

    Spoken like a true believer. Someone who cannot see what’s right on front of his nose and who’s been trained to disbelieve his “lying eyes.” There’s no such thing as the “Tea Party”. That’s just a media construct for what the organizers of this “movement” want the “tea partiers” to believe so they can pretend to be modern day “Minute Men.” It appeals to the conceit of people attracted to this movement that they are a spontaneous uprising of grass roots. In reality, they are being played by the orchestrators for the chumps they are. It’s all carefully orchestrated astroturf.

    “The principal organizers of Tea Party events are Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works, two “lobbyist-run think tanks” that are “well funded” and that provide the logistics and organizing for the Tea Party movement from coast to coast.”

    When a million people showed up in New York City to protest the invasion of Iraq, the media ignored it. When you have a few hundred angry white people who happen to fit the David Brooks/Chris Matthews stereotype of the right-wing leaning silent majority (which doesn’t actually exist) it’s suddenly big news. What a coincidence! Fox News puppets just show up at these events and parrot the same nonsense the tea partiers parrot. That’s what “parroting” means. That’s how one spreads lies and propaganda. Repeating lies frequently does make it true for some people. A lot of these “tea partiers” are people who have been convinced by propaganda organ-Fox News and News Corp. that we actually have a “liberal media” in this country.

    There’s nothing shadowy about the wealthy right-wing individuals and corporations funding different tea party cells and using money and connections to inflame credulous people with lies and propaganda. There no George Soros, true. There are actually at least 5-6 George Soroses not counting their corporate interests. Richard Mellon Scaife, David Koch, Rupert Murdoch and News Corp., Don Blankenship and Massey Energy Co., to name a few:

    Plus, you have Bachmann. Right wing Republicans like her can count on support from wealthy contributors who give to both parties but more generously to the right when their Democratic lackeys don’t say “how high?” when asked to jump.

    Times are tough for a lot of people including a lot in her district. That hasn’t prevented Bachmann from filling her campaign war chest with a few million dollars. Bachmann has her followers believing she is not their leader. That they have no leader. That they are not even followers. As they say, she could sell snow to an Eskimo.

  16. Submitted by Kevin Whalen on 07/22/2010 - 01:24 am.

    I’m looking at the list of states from which the tea party caucus members hale, and I can’t help but notice: one of these things is not like the others.

  17. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/22/2010 - 08:16 am.

    Following Jon’s link, one finds that the “Sourcewatch’s” Tea Party report is, in part, “sourced” by “Media Matters”, a wholly owned subsidiary of, wait for it; George Soros’ “Democracy Alliance”.

    ‘Round and around we go…wheeee!

  18. Submitted by Tom Miller on 07/22/2010 - 10:06 am.

    The best outcome of the new T.P. caucus is that Michele Bachmann will have painted herself in a corner. On the other hand, she’s smart enough to prevent that situation should grassroots Americans turn on the T.P. movement’s funder and true leaders (by reading the link in Jon’s post), and proves it with her statement “I’m the chairwoman of the ‘listening ear’ — that’s what I am — but I’m not speaking on behalf of the Tea Party.” Bachmann will take the credit, but not the blame, for her actions.

  19. Submitted by Judy Gibson on 07/22/2010 - 11:40 am.

    Please! Elect Tarryl Clark this November to represent us in the 6th district and end this embarrassment.

  20. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/22/2010 - 11:56 am.

    Yes, Cecil; I’m saying it is not correct.

    I’m quite active in the MN Tea Party and have not received any directives from anyone I do not know personally.

    Since my social circle is sadly lacking any billionairs (I’m open to taking applications though), I can say that any claims of sock puppetry are patently false.

    Clear for you? Great.

  21. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 07/22/2010 - 02:22 pm.

    That’s interesting Thomas. That would be the Minnesota Tea Party Patriots, the “true Minnesota tea party”

    or this one?

    Or are they the same thing?

    It looks like there are 30 “sub-Tea Party Patriot” groups by county or Congressional District.

    I’m sure you’re right there’s nobody giving any “directives.” You’ve been brainwashed to believe the propaganda and lies disseminated through these organs. How would you know who’s really bankrolling the “Minnesota Tea Party”? Has it filed a report any where listing the donors and the amounts?

  22. Submitted by Cecil North on 07/22/2010 - 02:51 pm.

    Tom, I’m sorry you don’t have any billionaire friends. George Soros hasn’t been by my house much either.

    I guess it’s easy to believe stories of big money behind the teaparty movement, given the organizations that fly the teaparty flag. I just recently read that Toni Backdahl quit Minnesota’s Tea Party Patriots because of his concern that it is being taken over by the GOP. Then there’s Freedomworks, Tea Party Express, etc. Are you really claiming that big money isn’t guiding these groups? What about MNForward, the love child of Citizens United and corporate America (e.g., Target Co.)? And the entire movement has been aided and abetted (if not actually started) by Fox News, owned by a billionaire who was granted citizenship for the sole purpose of expanding his media empire to the USA.

    So no, it’s not really clear for me.

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