Michele Bachmann on State of the Union: Tea party response OK with GOP?

Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman, plans to respond to Obama's State of the Union address on behalf of the tea party movement. The Michelle Bachmann response is not the official GOP rebuttal, but Republicans dismiss appearances of a divided party.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Rep. Michele Bachamnn (R) of Minnesota is pictured on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Jan. 24. Bachmann will be giving the Tea Party response to Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night.

Republicans are rushing to defend Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) of Minnesota, who plans to deliver a response to President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night on behalf of the tea party movement.

The official Republican rebuttal will come from Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Some television networks plan to show at least some of Congresswoman Bachmann’s response, after Congressman Ryan’s, creating the appearance of a divided Republican Party with dueling messages.

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But that would be a false impression, Republicans insist.

"I think you get a variety of opinions and all Republicans aren't the same, but I don't see it as trying to usurp somebody else's prerogative," said Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky, a tea party favorite, in a CNN interview Tuesday. He foresees “one main Republican message, but other voices as well."

Tim Pawlenty, the Republican former governor of Minnesota, called Bachmann’s planned speech “cool” in a CNN interview Monday. “It’s all good,” said Mr. Pawlenty, who is probably running for president and has every reason to play nice with the tea party and Bachmann, a fellow Minnesotan who has suggested she also might run.

Still, Republican House majority leader Eric Cantor seemed less than amused Monday by the Bachmann factor. He told reporters that he looks forward to “all comments,” but that Ryan is giving the official GOP response. When reminded that the reactions of other House members to Obama’s speech won’t be carried live on a network TV pool feed, he posed a rhetorical question: “Maybe I should ask why is that the case?”

In other words, maybe by showing Bachmann’s response, network news is trying to whip up a sense of division within the Republican Party?

Or maybe they’re just showing viewers something that might actually be interesting. After the Republicans’ stunning victory in last fall’s midterms, the big question has been how the conservative tea party movement and the establishment GOP would mesh. Certainly, parsing any differences between the rebuttal delivered by Ryan – no slouch as a conservative – and that of Bachmann, who founded a Tea Party Caucus last year in Congress, will be part of any post-SOTU analysis.

A cofounder of the California-based Tea Party Express, which endorses candidates and organizes bus tours to rally activists, says the group meant no disrespect to Ryan when it organized the Bachmann response.

“The Republicans couldn’t pick a better person to make their response,” Sal Russo, a Tea Party Express founder, wrote in an e-mail to Slate’s David Weigel. “But we thought the Tea Party should have their own, and Bachmann is a perfect match for that. We are going to do our response after Ryan so we don’t step on his remarks. I am sure they will be hitting similar themes because Ryan has views that are closely aligned with the Tea Party."

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