Tea Party gets official caucus

A House committee has approved the creation of an official Tea Party Caucus, triggering praise from an outspoken Republican but creating a dilemma for some of her colleagues.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), a favorite of the Tea Party movement, tweeted on Monday that the House Administration Committee had signed off on her request to form the Tea Party Caucus. Kyle Anderson, a spokesman for the panel headed by Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.), confirmed that it cleared Bachmann’s paperwork.

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Later on Monday, House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) said he would be joining Bachmann’s group.

Seizing on the potential political volatility of the House Tea Party Caucus, a Democratic leadership aide on Monday said, “We hope that all members of the Republican Conference will join the Tea Party Caucus, starting with John Boehner.”

But House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) will not be signing up.

Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith told The Hill, “As a personal policy, Boehner is not a member of any caucus other than the House Republican Conference.”

Boehner has reached out to members of the Tea Party, however. The Ohio Republican has participated in several Tea Party rallies, and in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Boehner said, “While the other side is busy mocking the Tea Party movement, we’re going to listen to them, we’re going to walk amongst them, we’re going to stand with them.”

It is unclear if House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) will join the Tea Party Caucus. His office did not comment by press time.

Earlier this year, Cantor endorsed state Sen. Robert Hurt over Tea Party activist Jeff Clark in the GOP primary to face targeted Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.). Hurt subsequently triumphed over Clark, who is now on the November ballot as an Independent.

House Republicans in tough races this fall could face criticism if they do — or don’t — join the Tea Party Caucus.

The NAACP this month denounced the movement as racist, and Democrats in Congress have worked to portray Tea Party officials as extremists.

The National Tea Party Federation last weekend expelled conservative commentator and Tea Party Express spokesman Mark Williams for a blog post about the NAACP that many deemed racially insensitive.

The lone Democratic incumbent endorsed by the Tea Party Express, Rep. Walt Minnick (Idaho) rejected the group’s support in light of Williams’s statements.

Campaign spokesman John Foster explained, however, that Minnick’s rejection of Tea Party Express does not alter his “great relationship” with local Tea Party groups.

Foster left open the possibility that Minnick would join Bachmann’s group. Foster noted that that he had not spoken with Minnick as of press time.

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Bachmann’s office on Monday indicated it was unsure how many members would join the caucus.

“Time will tell,” Bachmann spokesman Dave Dziok said. “We’re just getting the ball rolling.”

Some House Republicans have courted the support of the Tea Party, which many conservatives believe will help turn out voters and energize a GOP base that was dispirited in 2006 and 2008.

Tea Party officials note they have criticized both Republicans and Democrats for expanding government, but the movement’s principles are by and large more in line with Republican philosophies. Therefore, GOP members who do not join the Tea Party Caucus could attract criticism from Tea Party activists.

Ryan Rudominer, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said, “The question now is, whether House Republican candidates who have raced to the far right and outside the mainstream will agree to join Michele Bachmann’s Tea Party caucus if elected.”

Democrats are targeting Bachmann this cycle, but she is favored to retain her seat. Bachmann was elected in the Democratic sweep of 2006 and reelected two years later during another blue-wave election.

In a July 16 letter, Brady informed Bachmann that his committee determined that the “purpose of the organization … and registration information … appear to be in full compliance with the applicable regulations.”

Brady’s letter warned Bachmann in bold type that the caucus couldn’t use funds to pursue a legislative agenda.

Claremont College political science Professor John Pitney said Republicans who join Bachmann’s caucus would “give them a talking point when they go before Tea Party groups. Mere membership in itself probably wouldn’t be a liability.”

Yet Democrats say they will reap benefits from the movement, claiming it has forced some GOP candidates to adopt far-right positions that will boomerang on them in the general elections.

There is no Tea Party Caucus in the Senate, but Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul (R) has floated the creation of a similar group in the upper chamber.