House Administration Allows Formation of a Tea Party Caucus
This post originally appeared on the Washington Monthly.
Just what Congress needed, another right-wing fan club made up of House Republicans.
The House Administration Committee on Friday officially approved Rep. Michele Bachmann's request to form the House Tea Party Caucus, the Minnesota Republican announced on Facebook and Twitter on Monday.
The tea party protest mainstay, who found out about the confirmation Monday, now becomes the chairwoman of the caucus, institutionalizing the movement that has been gaining significant steam in tax day protests and GOP primaries around the country.
"She's excited to get the ball rolling," Bachmann spokesman Dave Dziok said. "The next step will be getting Members on board."
There's already been some success on this front. Yesterday, Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) was asked if he'd join Bachmann's group. " You betcha," he said.
Will the rest of the GOP leadership, which wasn't notified in advance of Bachmann's plan, also join? At this point, it's less than clear. Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he doesn't join any of the various caucuses, and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and his chief deputy, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), are on record as "undecided" about Bachmann's club.
Indeed, it's hardly a stretch to think GOP lawmakers may struggle, at least a little, with the decision of whether to be associated with the House Tea Party Caucus.
Indeed, the tea party movement is a loaded political weapon for Republicans heading into the midterm elections.
Until now, they have had the luxury of enjoying the benefits of tea party enthusiasm without having to actually declare membership. But now that Bachmann has brought the tea party inside the Capitol, House Republican leaders and rank-and-file members may have to choose whether to join the institutionalized movement.
It's probably a harder question now than it would have been a year ago. As more Americans have had a chance to get a better look at this so-called "movement," Tea Partiers have become more closely associated with extremism, and in some cases, even racism. Republicans have been thrilled to take advantage of the passion and enthusiasm of the confused, unhinged activists -- the overlap between Tea Partiers and the GOP base is overwhelming -- but taking the next step and officially joining a caucus tied to radicalism may prove to be more difficult for some.
But then there's the flip side -- what happens when the activists start considering membership in Bachmann's club something of a litmus test? What will reluctant GOP House members do when they're told by Tea Partiers, "Join the House Tea Party Caucus or you'll be ineligible for our endorsement"?