The Tea Party Caucus was a congressional caucus of the United States House of Representatives and Senate first launched and chaired by Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann on July 16, 2010. The caucus was dedicated to promoting what it considered fiscal responsibility, adherence to the movement's interpretation of the Constitution and limited government. The idea of a Tea Party Caucus originated from Kentucky Senator Rand Paul when he was campaigning for his current seat.
The caucus was approved as an official congressional member organization by the House Administration Committee on July 19, 2010 and held its first meeting on July 21. Its first public event was a press conference on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, also on July 21. Four Senators joined the caucus on January 27, 2011.
Relation to the Tea Party movement
An article in Politico stated that many Tea Party activists see the caucus as an effort by the Republican Party to hijack the movement. Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz refused to join the caucus, saying 'Structure and formality are the exact opposite of what the Tea Party is, and if there is an attempt to put structure and formality around it, or to co-opt it by Washington, D.C., it’s going to take away from the free-flowing nature of the true tea party movement'.
In an attempt to quell fears that Washington insiders were attempting to co-opt the Tea Party movement, Rep Michele Bachmann stated 'We're not the mouthpiece. We are not taking the Tea Party and controlling it from Washington, D.C. We are also not here to vouch for the Tea Party or to vouch for any Tea Party organizations or to vouch for any individual people or actions, or billboards or signs or anything of the Tea Party. We are the receptacle.
Additionally, Senators Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Marco Rubio of Florida, all Tea Party supporters, refused to join the caucus. Toomey said he would be 'open' to joining, and spoke at the first meeting, but did not ultimately join. Johnson said that he declined to join because he wanted to 'work towards a unified Republican Conference, so that's where I will put my energy.' Rubio criticized the caucus, saying 'My fear has always been that if you start creating these little clubs or organizations in Washington run by politicians, the movement starts to lose its energy.'.
Relation to the Republican Party
All 66 former members of the Tea Party Caucus are members of the Republican Party. Three of them are part of the Republican leadership. Thomas E. Price serves as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, making him the seventh ranking Republican in the House, John R. Carter is the Secretary of the House Republican Conference, ranking him the ninth ranking Republican, and Pete Sessions is the number six Republican as the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Other former members of the Tea Party Caucus hold committee chairmanships such as Rep. Lamar S. Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the top contributors to the Tea Party caucus members are health professionals, retirees, the real estate industry and oil and gas interests. The Center said the contributions to caucus members from these groups, plus those from Republican and conservative groups, are on average higher than those of House members in general and also those of other Republicans. The average Tea Party caucus member received more than $25,000 from the oil and gas industry, compared to about $13,000 for the average House member and $21,500 for the average House Republican..