Occupy the Russell Building!

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 17 2011 2:47 PM

Occupy the Russell Building!

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Mike Lee greets Tea Party activists as they enter Hillsdale College's Kirby Center, the new location for the Tea Party Debt Commission's "hearing."

David Weigel

Today, FreedomWorks planned to roll out its long-in-the-making Tea Party Budget with an event at the Russell building, one of the U.S. Senate's office buildings. It was supposed to happen in the same hearing room that FreedomWorks and other groups had once launched the "Cut, Cap, and Balance" pledge. But there was a snag. The press release had called the event a "hearing." Sen. Mike Lee, who had participated in some hearings in Utah, was all set to kick the proceedings off. But he was told that calling the event a "hearing" put it outside the rules. That, plus a (totally unrelated) scare over a suspicious package at Jeff Sessions's office in Russell, meant that people showing up for the event saw a bunch of Capitol police securing the hallway, and taking placards off the tables in the room.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Lee went to work. His staff secured a new location at the Kirby Center, one of Hillsdale College's buildings, a short walk from the Senate offices. He took command of the hearing room -- sorry, just "room" -- and told everyone to follow him. A confused group of activists, some of whom had been bussed in from two or three states away, followed him down a winding staircase, into a hallway that looked like it led to an exit, then into an actual exit. One Indiana activist asked Lee if he thought the clampdown was political.

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"I don't have the power of mind reading," he said, "so I'm not in the habit of assuming the motives."

Things smoothed over once the (extremely packed) hearing got underway. Lee retold the history of the failed occupation.

"They can kick us out of the Senate," said Lee, but they can't shut us down!"

FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe pumped his arms as the crowd cheered. "Whatever you do today," said Kibbe, "don't imitate a hearing!"

But there was more bad news. House members wouldn't be making it into the hearing. "The House just moved up votes!" said one moderater. That got a knowing jeer from the crowd -- hey, they knew what was up. And Rand Paul had arrived, so it wasn't all bad.

"You all know how the Tea Party is different from Occupy Wall Street," said Paul. "We had a lot of protests, we carried a lot of signs. When the rally was over, when the protest was over, we picked up our signs. We cleaned up our trash. We took a bath. And on Monday we went back to work.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.