Tea party vies for seats at House GOP's table

The GOP has reached out to incoming tea party freshmen. Congressional leadership elections next week will show how serious Republicans are about embracing tea party values.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
House Republican leaders John Boehner of Ohio (r.) and Eric Cantor of Virginia talk to reporters at the US Capitol in Washington Nov. 3.

Breaking with tradition, GOP leaders announced Tuesday that they'll give a larger role than usual on the influential House Steering Committee to freshman lawmakers swept into office on the Republican wave last Tuesday.

The move is an apparent nod to the conservative tea party wing of American conservatives, which provided a boost of energy and passion to help put Republicans over the top in the House, rejiggering national political dynamics in the process. Likely House Speaker John Boehner and whip Eric Cantor said in a letter delivered Tuesday they'll seat a freshman legislator at the leadership table and give an additional seat to a freshman on the Steering Committee.

IN PICTURES: Tea Parties

But as tea party champions such as Rep. Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota and Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina also vie for more prominent roles within the party structure, the GOP faces an internal conundrum: How much rope do they give to the 18-month-old movement that espouses a return to "constitutional government" by slashing federal spending, even at the risk of Congressional budget deadlock?

Representative Bachmann's bid ahead of next week's leadership elections to head the Republican House Conference points to a brewing battle "between the GOP's top House leadership and the tea party movement that helped propel Republicans into the majority," writes John Parkinson of ABC News. Bachmann raised more campaign cash than any other candidate in a midterm election that broke contribution records.

So far, many Republicans have been slow to embrace a broader role for Bachmann and Senator DeMint. His decision to back controversial – and ultimately losing – candidates such as Sharron Angle in Nevada and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware helped scuttle a bid by Republicans to seize control of the Senate, some say.

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