Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) debuted her Tea Party Caucus this morning, a collection of 29 — and counting — conservative Republican House members who Bachmann says plan to be a direct line of communication between the tea party movement and floor of the House.
The goal of the debut press conference was clearly to show how tuned in with the tea party Bachmann and colleagues like Steve King (IA), Louie Gohmert (TX) and John Culberson (TX) are. The event was light on legislative substance and heavy on tea party praise, both from the representatives in attendance and the tea partiers who spoke from the podium. But after the tough week the tea party movement’s been having, the event’s emphasis seemed to shift to the most overt possible display of tea party diversity.
[TPM SLIDESHOW: Meet The Tea Party Caucus]
Here’s what that looks like: Of the several tea partiers who spoke from the podium today to praise the creation of the caucus, just one was a white man — Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots. The others? Two African-Americans, a Coumbian, a Brazilian, and several women. Rep. Dan Burton (R-IA) made it clear what he thought the takeaway message should be.
“This should dispel any claims about the tea party,” he said. “Because we have people of all backgrounds up here.”But as anyone who’s been to a tea party rally can tell you, the diversity at the podium painted a deciedly unique picture of the tea party movement. According to polling, the tea party looks a lot more like Bachmann’s tea party caucus — all white, mostly men — than it does the diverse sample of tea partiers the Representatives touted today.
“As of today, please understand that racism is not a part of the tea party nor will it ever be,” Katrina Pearson of the Dallas Tea Party told reporters.
“We are not terrorists,” Dannie Hollars, a tea partier from Woodbridge, Virginia said. “We are not racists.”
Meckler ripped the Tea Party Express and its controversial spokesperson Mark Williams from the podium and afterwards told me that his group was doing all it could to see to it that the Tea Party Express is ostracized.
As for the Congressional side of things, Culberson told me he didn’t know who Williams even was — but said that “idiots who are racists” will not be included in the caucus’ dialogues with tea partiers. “If he’s an idiot, I’m glad they threw him out,” Culberson said.
But at the same time, Culberson and other Republicans in attendance were repeating their message from the health care debate about bigoted speech from protesters overheard by reporters during the reform bill’s final weekend. The clear suggestion was that any call of racism in the tea party was at best overblown and and worst a sabotage job from the left.
“There were plants all the way through the crowd,” Gohmert said. Culberson agreed with the sentiment, and said he saw a Democratic member heading into the crowd of protesters that weekend to try to get a rise out of the gathered tea partiers.
For her part, Bachmann said her caucus would not be the “mouthpiece” for the tea party movement, nor would it attempt to run the movement out of DC. She said her goal was to provide a voice for the movement on Capitol Hill, but also suggested the tea party is on it’s own when it comes to its more controversial moments.
“We are not here to vouch for the tea party movement,” she said.
Note: This post has been updated to include the correct spelling of one name listed.