WASHINGTON — The head of the brand new Tea Party Caucus in Congress said Wednesday the organization won't be a mouthpiece for the movement but will serve as a listening board for average Americans.
The just-formed caucus had a coming out party of sorts as its chairwoman, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., some six lawmakers and a handful of self-professed Tea Party members answered reporters' question after the group's first meeting.
"We are not going to be the mouthpiece of the tea party," Bachmann said. "The people are the head of the Tea Party. We are here to listen, to be a receptacle." [See who is giving money to Bachmann's campaign.]
Bachmann said the caucus now has 24 members, including the third-ranking GOP member of the House, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana. She said she also hopes Democrats will join the caucus, although none has. House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio also has declined to become a member.
Behind the formation of the caucus, Bachmann said, was a belief that Congress was not doing a good job listening to the tea party movement. She wants the caucus to make it easier to hear the voices of "real people with real lives."
The tea party members in attendance were a diverse group that sought to put to rest the allegations of racism within the movement.
Danielle Hollars, a black mother of five from Woodbridge, Va., said she was drawn to the tea party because she "wanted her government back." She said people needed to understand that the movement was not racist.
"I am not white and I am not rich, so this is not about that," she said, while bouncing Damian, her nine-month-old baby in her arms.
Despite Bachmann's hope that Democrats would join, a number of speakers criticized Democrats and President Barack Obama.
Ana Puig compared Obama to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, saying the United States is creeping toward dictatorship. "It's no longer a bloody war it's an ideological war," she said.
Republican lawmakers in attendance had nothing but praise for the caucus and the movement.
The caucus expressed "the most powerful political force in America," said Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga. Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, said he'd "never seen a greater gathering of patriots than he saw this morning" when the caucus met with tea party members.
Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., said the day's speakers should "dispel once for all a lot of the rumors," Burton said. "The Tea Party movement is all across this country, across all ethnic groups, it's everywhere."
But members of the movement were reluctant to embrace the caucus.
"While I appreciate the efforts of Congresswoman Bachmann, I am taking a wait-and-see approach to find out how they will actually be representing the ideas and efforts of the tea party patriots all over the nation," said Dawn Wildman, national coordinator for the 2,300-chapter Tea Party Patriots.
Bachmann said the caucus may meet again next week, before Congress heads into the August recess. She said she was unsure what it would do after that.