This story has been updated
A group of conservative House Republicans led by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) today hailed the formation of the congressional Tea Party Caucus, claiming that it will serve as a platform for dialogue between Congress and the grassroots movement that has shaken up American politics over the last year.
Speaking at a press conference following the group's first meeting, Bachmann told reporters that the caucus will try to advance the principles of the Tea Party's members, who she said believe "that we are taxed enough already, that the federal government should not spend more money than it takes in and that Congress should act within the constitutional limitations that are given to us by the Founding Fathers."
The Minnesota congresswoman emphasized that the caucus would not be setting the Tea Party's agenda or directing its operations. "We are not the mouthpiece of the Tea Party, we are not taking the Tea Party and controlling it from Washington," she said. "I am not the head of the Tea Party nor or any of these members of Congress the head of the Tea Party movement. The people are the head of the Tea Party movement," Bachmann said.
While Bachmann's remarks contained little of the damning rhetoric that has become commonplace among Tea Party supporters both in Congress and elsewhere, the lawmakers who followed her were quick to hurl a variety of accusations at President Obama and congressional Democrats.
Paul Broun (R-Ga.) accused Democrats in Congress and President Obama of engaging in "fiscal irresponsibility" and implied that the current government has ignored the Constitution and is denying Americans their freedom.
John Culberson (R-Texas) dialed up the rhetoric, declaring that the Tea Party would "sweep out these extremists that are governing the Congress in November."
Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) went so far as to accuse liberals of infiltrating protests against the sweeping health care bill passed earlier this year. "There were plants all the way through crowd," he said of one demonstration. "In fact, I got cussed by one when I got to the end of the street. I didn't come running to the media, whining and crying."
A document circulated prior to the press event indicates there are, as of today, 28 members of the caucus, many of whom are lighting rods for media controversy. Among the members are Joe Barton (R-Texas), who just last month was strong-armed into retracting an apology to BP and Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), now famous for yelling "You lie!" at President Obama during an address to a joint session of Congress on health care.
Speaking with the Huffington Post after the press conference, Congressman Steve King (R-Iowa), himself a regular fixture in the press for his numerous controversial statements, said he expects the Tea Party caucus to "grow and it will be more energetic and dynamic than it is today."
The group sought to counter recent accusations by the NAACP and others that the Tea Party advances racist principles. The press event featured a diverse array of Americans speaking in favor of the group's mission, including an African-American mother of five and several immigrants from Latin America, all rejecting claims that the Tea Party movement is racially prejudiced.
Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) claimed the presence of minorities at the event should "dispel an awful lot of the rumors about racism," and noted that "there are all races involved, all ethnic groups. They speak for America."
[UPDATE 3:45 pm: According to the FrumForum, several of the lawmakers claimed by Bachmann's office to have joined the caucus haven't actually confirmed their membership:
Congressman John Mica's (FL-7) office told FrumForum that their member had not joined the Tea Party caucus. When asked if their boss had joined the caucus, Rep. John Fleming's (LA-4) office told FrumForum: "I don't believe that's the case."
Rep. Gary Miller's (CA-42) office told FrumForum: "We actually don't know" if the member had joined the new caucus.
Other offices said that they were taken off guard by the announcement of the caucus membership list. "It's news to me," said Steve Taylor, press secretary to congressman Todd Akin (MO-2), when asked whether Rep. Akin had joined the Tea Party Caucus. He also seemed unaware that Bachmann's office would release a list of members: "I, as press secretary, was not aware of this list. The press shop... was not consulted about this press release."
"I'm not sure if anyone was told [that Rep. Bachmann would release a list]," said Dave Yonkman, Press Secretary to Rep. Hoekstra.
The list, updated with new members since the press conference today, can be found here.]
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