Why senators are avoiding the Tea Party Caucus
Some tea party favorites stayed away from the Thursday's meeting of the new Senate Tea Party Caucus, as newly elected Republicans try to define themselves in Washington.
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After that speech, "tea party Republicans are now going to have a hard time finding a place in this debate, because their entire argumentative style is based on saying everything [Obama] believes is wrong and is fundamentally harming the fabric of the Republic," says Professor Dyck. "When they say those things, it doesn't sound like they're willing to engage in this sort of softer, post-partisan debate."Skip to next paragraph
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In addition, Tuesday's rough-around-the-edges tea party response to the State of the Union address by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) of Minnesota raised concern among some Republicans that the tea party wing of the party could undermine a concerted conservative challenge to President Obama. In fact, at least one tea party-backed House Republican has privately said they now have reservations about joining the Bachmann-led House Tea Party Caucus.
"Invitations [to the caucus] would be viewed more favorably if it were led by someone else," one aide to a Republican lawmaker told the Times.
Tea party activists around the country are carefully watching the political calculations of Republicans calibrating their approach to issues such as cutting spending, repealing the health-care law, and finding a viable presidential candidate to challenge Obama in the next election.
"There is some concern," says Shelly Pettus, a tea party activist in Florence, Ala., "about what [senators] were thinking by not joining that caucus, but I don't know that I would say that means they're pulling back from what they were sent there to do."
Ultimately, she says, politicians' labels are less important than their actions. She says she is heartened, for example, by the House vote to repeal the Obama health-care reform law, an issue torn straight out of the tea party playbook.
"I don't care if somebody calls themselves a tea party person as long as they act like a tea party person," she says.
The four senators who have publicly joined the Senate Tea Party Caucus – Sens. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky, Jim DeMint (R) of South Carolina, Mike Lee (R) of Utah, and Jerry Moran (R) of Kansas – offered up a new $500 billion spending-cut plan and vowed to offer a counterweight to politics as usual. They said Thursday they plan to hold quarterly meetings to discuss issues among themselves and with constituents.