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'Tea party' caucus turnout: 10 freshmen – out of 87

Only 10 members among the 87 GOP freshmen in the House signed on for the 'tea-party' caucus before its first meeting Monday. In the Senate, only four Republicans signed on before the first meeting in January.

March 02, 2011|By Kathleen Hennessey, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — The freshman class may have ridden the 'tea-party' wave into office, but they're pretty skittish about jumping into the pool. Only 10 members of the 87 Republican freshmen in the House signed on to the tea-party caucus before the group's first meeting on Monday.

The paltry turnout resembled the scant participation on the Senate side. When Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) called the first meeting in January, only four senators signed on to join.

Conservative firebrand Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is the organizer of the House caucus, which was founded last year as many lawmakers were seeking to bolster their credentials with conservative activists ahead of the November elections. Since then, several members have dropped off the membership list, including Reps. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Tom Graves (R-Ga.) and Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas).

More surprising, however, is the freshman reluctance to get involved in the caucus, which intends to meet regularly to listen to 'tea-party' leaders and discuss priorities for the small government movement. In January, Bachmann and the caucus organized a seminar on constitutional law with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Some members initially said they were waiting to see how the caucus shaped up before joining. Others expressed concerns about overextending themselves when still new to the job.

"With working as an assistant whip and membership in three committees, including a subcommittee chair in veterans' affairs, the congressman does not want to commit to too many caucuses at this time," said Christopher Sanders, a spokesman for Rep. Marlin Stutzman, a freshman Republican from Indiana. Stutzman attended Monday's meeting but did not join the caucus.

Fitfty lawmakers have joined the caucus, according to Bachmann's office. The 10 freshman are Allen West, (R-Fla.), Sandy Adams, (R-Fla.), Stephen Fincher, (R-Tenn.), Tim Walberg, (R-Mich.), Joe Walsh, (R-Ill.), Vicky Hartzler, (R-MO), Tim Huelskamp, (R-Kan.) Mick Mulvaney, (R-SC), Rich Nugent, (R-Fla.) and Dennis Ross (R-Fla.).

kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

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