House freshman Republican Jason Chaffetz of Utah — rumored to be a right-wing challenger to Orrin Hatch in 2012 – tells me he is outright “opposed” to the existence of a tea-party caucus in the House. “The more you try to put structure around the tea-party, the more compromised it will become,” he tells me.
Chaffetz elaborated in a tweet: “If any one person(s) tries to co-opt it, the Tea Party will lose its identity and effectiveness. Go Tea Party! But not with DC ‘leadership.’”
Michele Bachmann, who consistently captures the tea-party movement’s enthusiasm for civic engagement, introduced the caucus as “a forum for members of Congress to be able to listen to what people have been trying to tell us.” Which doesn’t seem all that new of a message from some vocal Republicans on the Hill. Earlier this year, Minority Leader Boehner said: “While the other side is busy mocking the tea partiers and calling them names, we’re going to listen to them, stand with them, and walk among them.”
Chaffetz’s comments reflect an overall confusion among conservatives on the Hill this morning, unclear about the need for the caucus, given that both the Republican Study Committee and the leadership have been open to and encouraging of tea parties (remember the tea parties on the Hill?).
Records and leadership and agenda-setting should be the tests, not box-checking memberships.
Caucuses generally are the stuff of inside baseball, though. As long as joining it doesn’t become a litmus test, one more group on the Hill hailing the Constitution and liberty can’t be a bad thing.