Rep. Michelle Bachmann's (R-MN) House Tea Party Caucus debut yesterday mimicked the tea party movement it hopes to represent in Washington -- it was confusing, bumbling and offered a dearth of solid policy goals.
Bachmann says the caucus aims to be a "receptacle" in Washington D.C. for the tea party's frustration with spending, taxes, socialism and, uh, billboard design. But if the caucus' first day is any impression, Bachmann's group will also mirror the amateurish political organizing of the movement.
[TPM SLIDESHOW: Meet The Tea Party Caucus]
Before yesterday's unbelievably diverse press conference introducing the caucus got underway, a Bachmann staffer handed out a list of the 28 Republicans that Bachmann's office said were members of the caucus. Before we fourth estaters could fold the thing up and dutifully bury it in a pocket somewhere, we were told the list was wrong -- it was missing Rep. John Mica (R-FL), we were told.
The trouble is, Mica isn't in the Tea Party Caucus -- as a general rule, he doesn't join caucuses ever, his staff told reporters. Turns out that wasn't the only thing wrong with the list -- or the last stumble of the caucus roll-out.
As David Frum's blog reported all day yesterday, Bachmann's caucus list was about as good an example of a poorly-run organization as you can find this week, save for the Department of Agriculture. The Tea Party Caucus list changed throughout the day, with names disappearing and reappearing as reporters called to verify things. The list itself disappeared from Bachmann's website for a time, before finally showing up again and staying up for good.
One Capitol Hill Republican with knowledge of the process told me the embarrassing debacle of the list was a 100% Bachmann affair -- the caucus list is run out of her office and its errors were, as far as my source knew, thanks to Bachmann's staff.
But Bachmann can't be blamed for the other fail of the tea party caucus rollout yesterday: the complete and total lack of any policy specifics. The tea party, as Bachmann and other Republican representatives at the press conference yesterday rightfully stated, is one of the most powerful political groups on the radar at the moment. The movement strikes fear in the hearts of Republican moderates everywhere (and often causes total loss of perspective in less-Republican circles, like the aforementioned Dept. Of Agriculture.) Yet the movement has often been hard to read policy-wise, making it hard for anyone to understand exactly what the movement stands for.
The Tea Party Caucus rally yesterday was no different. Though the gathered members talked a lot about "taking our country back" and "not taking it anymore," they offered essentially no specific policy agenda moving forward. Here's how the New York Times reported what that sounded like:
The caucus will work against new taxes and government spending in an effort to keep activities of the federal government within "constitutional limits," Ms. Bachmann said. She would not elaborate on how the group would move forward, whether, for instance, the Tea Party Caucus would offer legislation of its own or whether its members would work collectively for or against bills put forward by either party.
For reporters there, it was a struggle to find anything specific to write in our notebooks. Mine has these two phrases underlined several times: "Add Skype" and "cite Constitution." Those represented the two clear policy goals I heard from the Tea Party Caucus and its members. The first came from Bachmann, who called on Speaker Pelosi to allow the use of the popular video phone service at the Capitol so that caucus members can speak to tea partiers more easily.
The second came from Rep. Steve King (R-IA), a caucus member and tea party superstar in his own right. Asked by reporters after the event what specific laws he'd offer as a legislator carrying the tea party banner into the House, King said the only thing he could think of for the moment was a law requiring members to cite the Constitution when sponsoring legislation.