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Michele Bachmann stirs talk of a GOP divided

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann's decision to give a second response to President Obama's State of the Union -- after the official GOP response -- draws fire and revives talk of Republicans as split into mainstream and 'tea party' factions. CNN's decision to televise her critique also is criticized.

January 26, 2011|By James Oliphant | Washington bureau

If Michele Bachmann had hoped to introduce herself to America as a potential candidate for the White House -- well, it could have gone better.

First was the small controversy the Minnesota congresswoman sparked by accepting an invitation from a "tea party" group to provide a second response to President Obama's State of the Union address, which made it appear she was delivering an alternative Republican viewpoint.

The official GOP response was given by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Bachmann's remarks came afterward, about an hour after the president finished speaking. The conservative, known for her unapologetically inflammatory rhetoric and her strong ties to the tea-party movement, reportedly is considering a presidential bid and will make a second trip to Iowa next month, CNN said Wednesday.

In terms of substance, there wasn't much of a difference between Ryan's critique of the president and Bachmann's -- Ryan's was more conciliatory and Bachmann's more aggressively negative -- but that didn't quell widespread media coverage Tuesday that revived talk that the Republicans were again divided into a mainstream wing and a tea-party faction. It served as a distraction on a day when the GOP sought to portray itself as firmly united against much of the president's agenda.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters Wednesday that he didn't watch Bachmann's response. ""I had other obligations," Boehner said.

Then, after Obama finished his speech and Bachmann departed the House chamber, she got stuck in a traffic jam caused by the presidential motorcade, forcing her speech to be delayed.

Finally, to viewers who watched Bachmann's remarks live on CNN, it appeared the congresswoman was looking off in the distance, somewhere over their left shoulder. As it turned out, Bachmann apparently was addressing a different camera than the one that delivered CNN's feed. No other network carried her speech, so the CNN version was the only one most voters saw, unless they watched it on the Web.

CNN's decision to carry Bachmann's address was criticized by some pundits, who said the network made it appear the Republicans were more divided than they actually were.

"Michele Bachmann is not the national spokesperson for the Republican Party," said liberal talk show host Rachel Maddow on CNN rival MSNBC. "She is unlikely anytime soon to be chosen to be the spokesperson for her party. But tonight, inexplicably, a national news network decided that they would give Michele Bachmann a job that her own party never did."

In her speech, Bachmann said she wasn't trying to outflank Ryan and the GOP, saying she was there on behalf of the Tea Party Express, a political action group, and "not to compete with the official Republican remarks. The tea party is a dynamic force for good in our national conversation."

Bachmann has been keeping the cable-news talkers busy. On Monday, CNN's Anderson Cooper blasted her for remarks she gave during a speech in Iowa over the weekend in which she said the United States was founded on notions of diversity and that the Founding Fathers worked to end slavery.

Of America's founders, Bachmann said: "It didn't matter the color of their skin, it didn't matter their language, it didn't matter their economic status. Once you got here, we were all the same."

In a segment titled "Flunking History," Cooper said Bachmann's comments were "either a deliberate rewriting of our history or signs that she has a shaky grasp on our history."

In spite of the criticism, Bachmann has made clear that she is remaining on the national playing field. Earlier this week, she released her own blueprint for massive federal budget cuts, one that would eliminate farm subsidies and many other federal grants, dismantle the Department of Education, eviscerate the Environmental Protection Agency and repeal the Democratic healthcare overhaul, the Democratic financial regulation law and a recently passed food safety bill.

Her cuts would slice $400 billion from the federal budget, Bachmann said.

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