WASHINGTON — There were Gadsden flags and a tricorn hat or two on Wednesday when Rep. Michele Bachmann took the mic before a small but vocal crowd on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol.
Bachmann and a handful of Tea Party lawmakers were there to rally against both President Obama and some members of their own party. Republican leadership had begun detailing a plan to symbolically rebuff Obama’s executive action on immigration while still funding the government into next year, when they’ll have bigger margins in Congress and more leverage to take him on.
But Bachmann, with her retirement from Congress imminent, won’t be around for that fight. And so she has again sided with congressional conservatives who want Republican leaders to go even further, right now: fund the government, yes, but not the departments charged with the executing Obama’s immigration orders. Stand your ground here, rather than next spring.
It looks like a long shot — Republican leaders are ready to move forward with their plan next week, and reportedly have contingencies in place to head off objections from within the caucus. But conservatives are doing what they can to rally the opposition for an upset.
“Will we be a people that decide we’re going to go with the freight train of what Washington, D.C. wants, or will we listen and hearken to the voice of the American people that was stated unmistakably on Nov. 4?” Bachmann said at the rally. “I am here today, as part of this coalition, to do the bidding of the American people, not the bidding of a lawless president.”
This is Michele Bachmann in the twilight of her congressional career: not fading out or going away quietly, but rather once again leading the charge against what she considers “lawlessness” from the president. Today’s battle is over immigration, but it’s only the latest grievance Bachmann has against the Obama White House. Her allies — on Wednesday, they were Texas firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz and Iowa Rep. Steve King, among others — will carry on after she’s gone next month. But Bachmann’s time is running short, and she’s making the most of what she has left.
“This is our opportunity to fight, and we need to fight now,” she said. “For us to fund an unconstitutional action now and say we’re going to fight later seems a little illogical to me. It seems that we shouldn’t give him the money now to do what he wants to do.”
Not going quietly
Bachmann announced her retirement in May 2013, but she said she had no plans of coasting to an easy retirement.
“When I made my decision early on this term to not run or seek another office, I also said I was going to run through the tape, I was going to keep running hard right through the end,” she said in an interview.
The last six years of Bachmann’s eight-year congressional tenure will be marked in no small part by her clashes with the Obama administration, so it follows that she would spend so much of her final term keeping up the fight.
Early on in the Obama era, she rallied the nascent Tea Party against his health care reform bill, and she pushed Congress to repeal it after it became law. She sought to challenge Obama in the 2012 presidential election. This summer, when House Republicans voted to sue the president for taking executive actions on the health care law’s implementation, she advocated a different, more aggressive strategy: rather than sue him, she proposed impeaching lower-level officials and defunding portions of the government.
“It was one thing when the president said, I’m not going to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act, and then he said, I’m not going to enforce this law, I’m not going to enforce that law,” she said. “The first couple of times people listened to it, but they didn’t know how to react.”
Immigration is the current fight
Now, Bachmann’s opposition to Obama has manifested itself in her battle against immigration reform — a key Democratic priority — and especially the president’s executive actions. She says November’s elections were a referendum on Obama’s agenda, and Congress should heed voters’ message: according to Bachmann, a strong “no” on Obama’s immigration plans.
“I think the voters were pretty decisive on Nov. 4. They’re concerned about Obamacare, they’re also very concerned and nervous about the president issuing executive amnesty,” she said. “No question it was a big issue, because Obama had said he was going to do this after the election. … I think that the mandate was delivered on Nov. 4, and that mandate is a rejection of the president’s policies.”
Her opposition to so-called “comprehensive immigration reform” dates back longer than that, of course. Roy Beck, the president of NumbersUSA, a group dedicated to reducing all immigration, both legal and illegal, said he remembers her work with other House conservatives to oppose a Senate-passed immigration reform bill last summer.
“Right now, this is her final hurrah, a lot of people after that final election, in the lame duck, would be coasting on the way out,” he said. “Instead, she’s in the middle of the biggest fights of her life.”
King, an Iowa conservative and long-time Bachmann friend and ally, has been by her side for much of the immigration fight. Bachmann and King took two trips to the southern border this year — before and after Obama’s November executive action — to prove a point about lackluster enforcement there. In August, the pair teamed up to push Republican leaders toward a stronger border security bill than they had originally proposed.
“What you get out of her is a lot of energy, you get spark, you get ideas, you get conviction and you get action,” he said. “Whenever there’s a catalyst in her that sees she needs to act, that’s when she does.”
Fighting Republicans as well
Bachmann, King and House conservatives often find themselves fighting not just Obama but their own leadership.
Very few Republicans support Obama’s maneuvering on immigration, but much of the GOP conference seems willing to wait to tackle the issue until next year when they have control of the Senate and a stronger majority in the House. On Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner said he doesn’t expect to change his plan before members vote on it next week, before adjourning for the holidays.
“There are a lot of options on the table and I’m not going to get into hypotheticals of what we could or couldn’t do [in 2015],” he said at a press conference. “But I do know this: Come January, we’ll have a Republican House and a Republican Senate and we’ll be in a much stronger position to take actions.”
Even so, Bachmann said she thinks there’s a “critical mass” of conservatives willing to vote against that plan and complicate matters for leadership (who could, of course, still look to Democrats for votes if needed).
“We’ll find out if there are or not, but I feel like there’s a number of people who feel like I do who just aren’t going to give the president the money,” she said.
Bachmann: Listen to voters
Depending on whom you ask, a conservative immigration victory can be an abstract concept. Beck said they have already won by blocking comprehensive reform. King said it will take a change in president to move in the right direction. Bachmann said Republicans “need to be on the safest ground,” which is listening to voters and opposing executive overreach.
“I really respect the sovereign choice of the consumer and the sovereign choice of the citizen,” she said. “I honestly think they know how to lead their lives better than a couple of elites here in Washington, D.C.”
That’s a belief fundamental to the conservative cause Bachmann has pushed during her tenure in Congress. She said she doesn’t intend to leave that movement behind when she’s done in Washington, even if she won’t have the platform, or the vote, she’s had for the past eight years.
Congressional conservatives are preparing for the post-Bachmann days, too.
“The fights are going to go forward,” King said. “Certainly they’re going to have a different tone and a different character to them.”
Devin Henry can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry