Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., speaks to the media as Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., listens after the first meeting of the newly formed Tea Party Caucus Wednesday on Capitol Hill. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
CAPITOL HILL | Twenty-four members of Congress met Wednesday in a closed-door meeting in the Rayburn House office building, and then stepped in front of the cameras outside of the Capitol building to talk about their new caucus — the Tea Party caucus.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., a favorite of the tea party movement, described the tea party as a set of ideas, not a political party. She named the primary ideas: that Americans are taxed enough already, that the federal government should spend less than what it collects in taxes and that “Congress needs to go back to acting within the limits placed on it by the Constitution.”
Members of Congress at the press conference insisted they are not “a mouthpiece” for the tea party, just a listening device to help tea partiers trying to “take our country back.” Legislators requested that Congress allow them to use Skype to communicate with their tea party constituents.
“We are here to listen to the concerns of the tea party,” Bachmann said. “We are not taking the tea party and controlling it from Washington, D.C. The people are the head of the tea party movement.”
The main message of the event — that the tea party is not racist and not a terrorist organization — came from some of the tea party activists on hand, who included an African-American mother of five toting her baby and several Latinas, including a day laborer.
Mark Meckler, a Tea Party Patriots spokesperson, said at the press conference that his organization was distancing itself from what he called fringe elements of the tea party movement that use racist rhetoric.
The Tea Party Federation, a group vying to become a national organization for all tea party groups, recently expelled the Tea Party Express group from its ranks after organizer Mark Williams wrote a supposedly satirical letter filled with racist language.
Members of Congress in attendance included conservatives John Carter, R-Texas, Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., Dan Burton, R-Ind., Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and Steve King, R-Iowa. The Tea Party also reports that Reps. John Mica, R-Fla., Mike Pence, R-Ind. and head of the National Republican Congressional Committee Pete Sessions, R-Texas, have signed on to join the caucus, bringing the total number to 29. You can see the entire list here.
Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., say they are undecided about joining. Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, doesn’t join caucuses as a matter of personal policy, according to his office.