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

WASHINGTON — “We are not the mouthpiece of the Tea Party,” Michele Bachmann said of the congressional caucus she now heads. “I am not the head of the Tea Party …

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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