Individual Tea Partiers were more scathing. Robin Stublen, a Florida activist who has previously argued against working with the GOP, warned in an email to TPMmuckraker of "a back door attempt by the RNC to put their "stamp" on the movement that welcomes all conservatives regardless of political party."
And Everett Wilkinson, a Florida Tea Party leader, forwarded to TPMmuckraker an email he said he sent last week to Steele. Wilkinson's email questions the credentials of Karin Hoffman, the Tea Party activist who organized today's parley, and urges Steele not to represent the sit-down as a "tea party meeting."
"We will not allow our movement to be 'hijacked' by any individual or political party," writes Wilkinson. "I am a registered Republican, but feel firmly that the tea party movement needs to be kept outside of the Republican Party."
Not even the Tea Party Express -- which was created by GOP consultants and has been attacked by other Tea Partiers as a front for the Republican Party -- would endorse the Steele meeting. A spokesman for the group declined to comment to TPM.
Earlier today, Steele told TPM in a statement:
The Republican Party has always been a grassroots party and I respect the healthy debate that is going on in the states. It is extremely important to find common ground and fight together for smaller government, lower taxes and free enterprise. As Chairman I will continue to listen and work with the tea party movement to elect officials that represent these principles.
The controversy over the meeting is only the latest manifestation of a split in Tea Party circles between those who favor working with the GOP, and those who want to ensure the movement remains independent. Many Tea Partiers kept their distance from the National Tea Party Convention earlier this month, citing in part the event's ties to the organized Republican Party. Sarah Palin spoke at the confab, and at least two other Republican members of Congress were invited.
Additional reporting by Christina Bellantoni