House Tea Party Caucus gains fewer than a dozen House freshmen

Fewer than a dozen Republican freshmen have joined the House Tea Party Caucus, so far — a relatively anemic number given the size of the class and the fact that many were helped to victory in 2010 by Tea Party activists. 

Led by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), the House Tea Party Caucus held its first meeting of the 112th Congress at the Capitol late Monday with an estimated 30 members in attendance, including freshman Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.). He's one of just 11 House freshmen who have joined to this point. 

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While Bachmann said she expects the number of lawmakers in the caucus to increase, the list starts at just 50 members, fewer than the 52 House Republicans who were members of the caucus in the 111th Congress.  

"We've just started, so we expect that number to increase," Bachmann said after the meeting. "We had a very good showing this evening. We had far more people come than we had RSVPs for." 

Monday's meeting, which was closed to the press, was dominated by talk of the continuing resolution and the looming vote to raise the debt ceiling, according to members in attendance. West said Tea Party activists pushed members to stand firm on spending cuts and the debt limit. 

"They don't want us to get pushed around, which is exactly what I believe in," he said. "You've got to stand firm or you're going to lose credibility." 

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), a member of the caucus who's also weighing a 2012 Senate bid, said there was discussion of tying any vote to raise the debt limit to a serious concession from House Democrats — a vote on a constitutional balanced-budget amendment, for example.

Neither Franks nor West expressed any real concern about the small number of GOP freshmen who have joined the caucus so far. 

West said he's not sure whether more freshmen will join, but said he made the decision to do so "because this is a constitutional conservative grassroots movement. It's the American people and I'm supposed to be up here standing up for the American people."  

The 11 freshmen Republicans who have joined the caucus are Reps. Sandy Adams (Fla.), Tim Huelskamp (Kansas), Stephen Fincher (Tenn.), Vicky Hartzler (Mo.), Mick Mulvaney (S.C.), Dennis Ross (Fla.), Marlin Stutzman (Ind.), Tim Walberg (Mich.), Rich Nugent (Fla.), Joe Walsh (Ill.) and West. 

Of the 28 founding members of the House Tea Party caucus, at least three have not yet decided to join the caucus for the 112th Congress — Reps. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wy.). 

"It has more to do with time management," Lummis told The Hill late Monday. "I'm going to be a little judicious this year. I may join later but for now I'm just trying to manage my time a little better than I have in the past."  

Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), one of the stars of the Republican freshman class, said Monday he could join the caucus at some point, but hasn't yet given it any thought. 

"Between leadership and the rules committee, I'm just not thinking about anything else right now," Scott said.