Tea party firebrand Michele Bachmann to quit House next year

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) of Minnesota said Wednesday she will not seek reelection to a fifth House term. The tea party standard-bearer and former GOP presidential hopeful did not disclose her future plans.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) of Minnesota speaks at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., March 16. Bachmann said Wednesday, that she will not run for re-election in 2014.

One of the tea party’s most controversial lieutenants, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) of Minnesota, will not seek a fifth term in Congress in 2014.

Representative Bachmann, who had run campaign ads as recently as last week, is facing several investigations concerning alleged financial impropriety in her 2012 presidential campaign and was rumored to be considering retirement after a bruising reelection fight in 2012.

She announced her decision to leave the House after her current term in a video on her campaign website early Wednesday morning. 

“I’ve always strived to be first and foremost a public servant, and do what is best for the people – never acquiesce to being a political servant,” Bachmann said in the video. “There’s a difference.”

The problem for Bachmann is – and always was – that her congressional career was more of the latter than the former.

“Love her or hate her, there is Michele Bachmann the candidate, and then there is Michele Bachmann the national media personality,” wrote the Cook Political Report, describing her close reelection race in 2008. “The candidate can come across to 6th [Congressional District] voters as polished, down-home, and cheerful. The media personality can sometimes come across to a national audience as extreme, abrasive, and even incendiary. Both personas are fiercely conservative, but on occasion, the second has become the enemy of the first.”

In her video, nearly nine minutes long, Bachmann speaks of some Minnesota-centric goals for the remainder of her term – trying to reopen an airport in her suburban Twin Cities district, for example. But the message is also full of discussion about political pursuits that achieved little legislative success but got millions of YouTube hits.

In 2013, for example, she was the main sponsor of the bill to fully repeal President Obama’s health-care reform law, the House GOP’s passionate and most quixotic quest. When the House voted to do so two weeks ago, it was the third time Republicans put on record their intent to rip out the entire sprawling legislation. (At a conservative gathering earlier this year, Bachmann argued that the law was “literally” killing scores of Americans.)

That measure was the first Bachmann-led legislation to clear the House in her four terms in office. 

Bachmann's legacy will likely be found in her short-lived 2012 presidential campaign (she won the Iowa straw poll and knocked fellow Minnesotan Tim Pawlenty, a former governor, out of the race, before her campaign stumbled) and in her long list of off-key public statements.

Delivering the tea party response to President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address, Bachmann compared the nation’s debt crisis with the World War II war effort, ominously alluding to the need to “beat back a totalitarian aggressor.” In her farewell video, she denounced several midlevel members of the Obama administration as terrorist sympathizers and accused the administration of “allowing, and perhaps even for encouraging” the IRS targeting of conservative nonprofit groups for extra tax scrutiny.

“I will continue to work vehemently and robustly to fight back against what most in the other party want to do – to transform our country into becoming ... a nation that our Founders would hardly even recognize today,” Bachmann said. 

Then there were her garden-variety slips. She once waxed poetic in New Hampshire about being in the state where the Revolutionary War began (the first shots were fired in Massachusetts), swore once that “Lady Liberty and [former vice presidential pick] Sarah Palin were lit by the same torch,” and once disclosed potentially classified information about Pakistan’s nuclear program, which she had learned as part of her work on the House Intelligence Committee, during a presidential debate.

In Wednesday’s video, Bachmann made a circuitous connection between her trip to the funeral of Britain's late former prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, and the need to repeal the financial regulatory law known as Dodd-Frank.

Bachmann was little known before the rise of the tea party and the GOP’s thundering success in the 2010 midterms, but she seized the movement’s momentum on Capitol Hill, founding the Tea Party Caucus and becoming a prodigious fundraiser. Bachmann has some $2 million in the bank already in 2013, a massive amount for a House member at this point in the election cycle.

But the 2012 election was less kind to some of the boldest flame-throwers of 2010, as fellow tea party stalwart Rep. Allen West (R) of Florida was deposed in a nasty contest and Bachmann was reelected by a slim margin of 4,300 votes.

Neither a tough reelection contest nor investigations by the FBI and the Federal Election Commission into alleged impropriety in her presidential campaign were reasons for stepping aside, she avowed in the video.

Does her departure strengthen Democrats' chances of picking up this House seat? No, wrote Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report earlier this month, arguing Bachmann's retirement could actually dash Democrats' hopes.

Bachmann’s near-loss to Minnesota hotelier Jim Graves – who in 2012 got little help from the national Democratic Party but who has received a shot of party attention this time – showed that the congresswoman’s penchant for controversy was wearing thin, even in Minnesota's ruby-red Sixth District. (Mitt Romney carried it by 15 percentage points over Mr. Obama.)

While Bachmann spent her political career as a partisan, she showed flashes of a more accommodating side within the Minnesota delegation on Capitol Hill.

For the past three years, she whipped up a “hotdish” (a Minnesota speciality of casserole that is served, and this is key, in a Pyrex dish) for the state congressional contingent’s annual hotdish cook-off. During the past two, she spent the event bantering with her colleagues and putting good-natured pressure on the bipartisan panel of judges.

But Bachmann came up short in 2011 and 2012, missing even an honorable mention. In 2013, she named her entry after her newly redrawn congressional district. (Minnesota Sen. Al Franken (D), also up for reelection in 2014, called his entry “Willmar Stew.”)

In 2013, too, Bachmann couldn’t break through, and Rep. Tim Walz (D) took home the top prize.

But she may not be done yet.

“My future is full, it is limitless, and my passions for America will remain,” Bachmann said in the video. “There is no future option or opportunity, whether directly in the political arena or otherwise, that I won’t be giving serious consideration.”

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