Congresswoman Michele Bachmann convened the first official meeting of the Tea Party Caucus for the new 112th Congress on February 28. The gathering provided the first real opportunity to gauge the numerical strength of the Tea Party Caucus in the new session.
The Tea Parties success in last election was measurable, with 85 of 135 of the congressional candidates endorsed by at least one of the national Tea Party factions winning a seat—roughly a 63% winning percentage.
Despite Tea Party success at the polls last November, the total number of members of the Tea Party Caucus increased by only one this year, to 53, up from 52 in the 111th Congress. So far, of the 85 Tea Party-endorsed congressional candidates that won, only 16 have joined the Tea Party Caucus. Only ten House freshmen, total, have joined Bachmann’s Tea Party Caucus.
The Tea Party Caucus picked up where it left off last year, with an assault on the 14th Amendment. To date, 39 members of the Tea Party Caucus have signed on as co-sponsors to H.R. 140, the so-called “Birthright Citizenship Act of 2011” which would eviscerate the 14th Amendment. As of this week, the bill has a total of 69 co-sponsors in the House.
Also of note in the House, the anti-immigrant House Immigration Reform Caucus experienced a steep decline this session, down to 65 from 96 last year, and the all-time high of 116 in 2007. Substantial overlap exists between the two caucuses, with 37 members of the Tea Party Caucus also listed as members of the House Immigration Reform Caucus—roughly a 70% crossover.
The Tea Party Caucus still includes eight of the 13 sponsors of last session’s birther bill – H.R. 1503, “The Presidential Eligibility Act.” Current Tea Party Caucus members who supported the birther bill include: Dan Burton (R, IN-5), John Carter (R, TX-31), John Culberson (R, TX-7), Trent Franks (R, AZ-2), Rep. Louis Gohmert (R, TX-1), Kenny Marchant (R, TX-24), Randy Neugebauer (R, TX-19), and Ted Poe (R, TX-2). The bill has not yet been re-introduced this session, but with Congresswoman Bachmann’s pronouncement last week that the first thing she would do in a presidential debate is to produce her birth certificate, the birther issue doesn’t appear to be going away inside the Tea Party Caucus anytime soon.
Over in the Senate, a newly formed Senate Tea Party Caucus drew four Senators to their first meeting. Founded by freshman Rand Paul of Kentucky, the Senate Tea Party Caucus also includes Mike Lee of Utah, Jerry Moran of Kansas, and Jim DeMint of South Carolina. The group held its first meeting on January 31 which featured Tea Party Express Chair Amy Kremer (also a birther), FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe, Jamie Radtke of the Virginia Tea Party Federation, Americans for Tax Reform head Grover Norquist, and Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips.
All four Senate Tea Party Caucus members were endorsed by at least one national Tea Party faction in 2010. In total, ten of the sixteen Senate candidates endorsed by at least one national Tea Party faction won in November.