The newly formed Tea Party Caucus shouldn’t be seen as leaders of the movement, its members said Wednesday.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who led the formation of the caucus, disclaimed leadership following the group’s first meeting.
“I am not the head of the Tea Party,” said the conservative Minnesotan, noting that none of the other caucus members are, either.
The press conference, held at the Capitol after the group’s first official meeting, featured Bachmann surrounded by fellow lawmakers and self-identified regular America Tea Party followers, none of whom were older white men.
The conservative movement has been dogged by allegations of racism in recent weeks, having faced an NAACP resolution accusing Tea Party groups of being hospitable to racists.
A parade of “ethnic” voices followed Bachmann’s opening remarks, all of whom decried accusations that the movement was “racist.”
Katrina Pierson, a Tea Party activist from Dallas, said point-blank that the movement is not about racism, nor will it ever be.
Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) said all groups are involved.
“The Tea Party Movement is all across this country, there’s all races involved, all ethnic groups and they speak for America,” Burton said, gesturing to the diverse faces of movement members intermixed with lawmakers.
As of Wednesday morning, 29 lawmakers had signed up to join the Tea Party Caucus. Bachmann said 24 members participated in the Wednesday morning meeting.
Right now they are all Republicans, but Bachmann said one Democratic lawmaker had approached her about joining, although she did not say whom.
Rep. Walt Minnick’s (D-Idaho) office confirmed the lawmaker has been asked to join the group. They didn’t say what his decision would be.
Minnick, the only Democrat to be endorsed by the Tea Party, gave back the endorsement last week following a controversy over a blog post written by one of the movement’s leaders, Mark Williams.
Williams posted a mock letter to Abraham Lincoln from Benjamin Jealous, the president of the NAACP. It came on the heels of the NAACP’s July 13 passage of a resolution calling on Tea Party leaders to repudiate racist elements of the movement.
Two members of the House GOP leadership, Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) and Rep. Pete Sessions (Texas), the head of the House GOP campaign committee, have joined, and Bachmann has invited House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to join.
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he wasn’t adding his name to the roster because of his longstanding policy not to join the various member caucuses.
Boehner also said Wednesday that Bachmann had not discussed her intention to form the controversial caucus before creating it.
The Ohio lawmaker, however, has reached out to the Tea Party movement and participated in a number of rallies.
He told reporters he takes offense at those who mock the activists and warned that they represent millions who are frustrated with a growing federal government.
“People can dismiss this, they can laugh at them, they can mock them like some of my colleagues across the aisle are doing. I’m going to tell you what: These folks are the tip of the iceberg, 90 percent of an iceberg you never see. They represent the same values, concerns, frustrations, anger and fear that you see from tens of millions of other Americans that aren’t in the streets yet. They should not be dismissed; they should not be mocked,” Boehner said at a Wednesday lunch hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.
Jordan Fabian and Shane D’Aprile contributed to this article.
-- This post was updated at 11:43 a.m., 12:33 p.m. and 7:40 p.m.