Tea Party groups target ‘defectors’ on debt vote

Tea Party organizations are working to punish conservative Republicans who plan to vote yes on Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) debt-ceiling proposal.

Tea Party leaders announced in a release Thursday that they are targeting Republican Reps. James Lankford (Okla.), Allen West (Fla.), Mike Kelly (Pa.) and Bill Flores (Texas), all four freshmen and declared yes votes for Boehner.

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The four represent necessary votes for Boehner, who spent Thursday whipping members of his conference, only to postpone a vote on his proposal because of a lack of votes. One lawmaker told The Hill that fears of Tea Party primary challenges in next year's election have hurt the GOP whipping operation.

The four lawmakers swept into office in 2010, midterm elections in which the Tea Party movement has been credited with a significant role in winning back the Republican majority in the House.

West has been particularly vocal in his support of Boehner’s plan, which many consider a surprise endorsement by the Tea Party firebrand not known for falling into line behind his party’s leadership.

Tea Party leaders want West and the others to know they consider voting for Boehner’s plan “caving in,” and could mean losing the support of the Tea Party in 2012.

[UPDATE: Tea Party Nation and Tea Party Express both distanced themselves Friday after learning they were named in a press release warning the four lawmakers of repercussions. 

Representatives of the two groups, the best known of the four organizations mentioned in the release, said they had not been consulted or given approval for the release.

“We recognize that the real obstruction to progress is hard-line Senate Democrats and the president himself who are against any real fiscal reform, and who are unwilling to compromise, without regard to the will of the American people,” said Levi Russell, communications director for Tea Party Express. “The press release that went out used a quote from Amy [Kremer] without her permission.”

The release attributed a quote to Kremer, the co-chairwoman of Tea Party Express, that said: “Any Republicans that abandon the core values of fiscal responsibility will find themselves being challenged in 2012.”

Tea Party Nation Founder Judson Phillips said his group's name was used without permission.

"The group that put this press release out used Tea Party Nation’s name without our permission. No one at TPN was shown this press release in advance. Had we been shown that press release, we would have vetoed the use of our name."

Both Phillips and Russell said their groups did not endorse a strategy of making threats to lawmakers.]

The toughest criticism in the release came from Tea Party Founding Fathers and United West. 

Any vote for a plan that raises the debt ceiling without enacting greater spending cuts or passing a balanced-budget amendment has enabled a “debt-ceiling giveaway,” said Tom Trento, the director of the Tea Party Founding Fathers.

Trento, who also oversees the Tea Party National Convention, called the four lawmakers “Stupak defectors,” comparing them to former Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), whom Trento says “famously betrayed conservatives” by changing his vote on the healthcare bill last year.

Trento warns that the Tea Party could force Lankford, West, Kelly and Flores to follow in the footsteps of Stupak, who chose to step down from his seat in Congress in 2010. 

United West also offered tough criticism of the four lawmakers on its website, where it described them as “Tea Party defectors.” 

Boehner’s proposal, a two-step plan that he says both addresses the immediate need to raise the debt ceiling and begin spending cuts that will accumulate over the next 10 years, immediately met resistance from some conservatives and the Tea Party movement for not making enough headway in addressing the federal deficit.

The Cut, Cap and Balance Coalition, representing more than 100 conservative or Tea Party-affiliated groups including the well-known organizations Freedom Works, the American Conservative Union, Americans for Prosperity and the Club for Growth, announced on Monday that it could not support Boehner’s bill.


—This story was updated at 3:15 p.m.