The Senate's Tea Party Caucus Launches

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 27 2011 11:00 AM

The Senate's Tea Party Caucus Launches

I'm in the Hart office building of Senate offices, where the Senate's Tea Party caucus is holding its inaugural meeting. There are around 100 activists here, and at least 25 members of the media -- two Washington Post reporters, CNN, Politico, the LA Times, and so on. There are, coincidentally, 25 versions of the same question: Why do this?

"Senator [Rand] Paul and I have been discussing this since the election," said Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to me. "We want to have a way for the movement to stay in touch with us. If we can hold meetings like this once a month, that would be great."

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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Variations of that question went to Paul and to Jim DeMint. There was a patina of controversy because Marco Rubio, the man the media chose to exemplify the Tea Party in 2009 and 2010, has not joined the caucus. So Paul got asked about Rubio's objection, that the movement was about outsiders.

"This doesn't look like an 'inside' crowd," said Paul, standing surrounded by mostly middle-aged Tea Party activists with varied levels of flair. 

It was all about the activists, who were interrogated by reporters after they asked the senators to commit to budget cuts.

"You're here not as tourists, and not as visitors, but as stockholders," said Jim DeMint in his introductory remarks. "We want to you to be on the board of directors."

The enthusiasm for Paul and DeMint caused the event to start a bit late. Each man moved slowly down the aisle toward the podium, stopping for pep talks from activists, signing Constitutions, Gadsden flags, or copies of Saving Freedom (DeMint's 2009 book). Also in the room were Saul Anuzis and Amy Kremer of the Tea Party Express, FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, John Tate of the Campaign for Liberty and Jeff Frazee of Young Americans for Liberty -- both started by Ron Paul -- and Gary Aldrich, the old Clinton foe who has taken over Ginny Thomas's public role as the spokesperson for Liberty Central. (Thomas was on the list of speakers, but did not show.)

The event itself: Ceremony and pep. Each senator gave a short address about what the Tea Party could expect from them. Paul and Lee both quoted from the State of the Union to prove that even the president had been "co-opted" (Paul's words) by the movement.

"Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means," said Lee, quoting from Obama's speech. "They deserve a government that does the same."

"He lies," muttered one activist next to me.

"The difference is, we mean it!" said Lee. (I don't think he heard the activist, who whispered.)

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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