February 16th, 2010
09:58 PM ET
13 years ago

Steele appeases Tea Party activists in lengthy meeting

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/01/10/art.steele0110.gi.jpg caption="Michael Steele met privately with 50 Tea Party leaders in Washington on Tuesday."]Washington (CNN) - An uneasy truce may have been reached between the Tea Party movement and the Republican Party after Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele spent nearly four hours Tuesday trying to calm the fears of Tea Party leaders who worry that the GOP is out to co-opt their grassroots energy ahead of the 2010 midterm elections.

Steele met with about 50 Tea Party leaders from grassroots organizations around the country in a lengthy bull session at the Capitol Hill Club, a cushy Republican meeting-spot located next to RNC headquarters.

The closed-door event, organized several weeks ago, was originally scheduled to last for one hour. But participants said the confab lasted well into the evening after the RNC chairman vowed to answer every question put forth by the activists who made the trip to Washington.

Participants said their primary goal was simply "to be heard" by the party establishment and to make clear to Steele that Tea Party activists want the national party to stay out of local races. Steele, they said, listened graciously throughout the meeting and promised to keep the lines of communication open.

"We believe in this meeting that we were heard," said Karin Hoffman of D.C. Works For Us, a Tea Party organization in South Florida. "It's the beginning of a relationship."

But Hoffman, who initiated the sit-down, cautioned that the Tea Party movement is an autonomous grassroots movement and will not "be absorbed into the RNC."

Indeed, when a group of participants were asked after the meeting if they consider themselves Republicans, nearly all shook their heads and boasted that they were "American citizens." Others said they knew of fellow Tea Party activists who refused to come to the meeting because they do not trust the Republican leadership.

Steele, however, won over many in the group when he pledged that the Republican Party will not to meddle in local races - especially GOP primaries featuring candidates backed by Tea Party activists. At one point in the meeting, the divisive Senate primary battle in Florida between Marco Rubio and Charlie Crist was mentioned. The chairman said the role of the national party is to back whoever becomes the Republican nominee.

"He is leaving it up to the people, and that's what we want," said Cheryl Couture, a member of the 9.12 Project from Naples, Florida. "We don't want people interfering with the process, because that's not American."

Greg Fettig of Noblesville, Indiana - the president of "Hoosier Patriots" - said Steele agreed with those in the meeting who griped that the Republican Party had abandoned its principles. "He admitted that Republicans from 1994, from that point until today, had strayed away from their Republican values," Fettig said.

Fettig said he asked the chairman if national Republicans had recruited former Sen. Dan Coats into the Indiana Senate race, which already featured several Republican candidates before Coats declared his candidacy earlier this month. Steele, he said, assured him that was not the case. Fettig said Tea Party activists in Indiana are "adamantly against" Coats' candidacy.

Representatives from the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee - two party organizations that have backed their chosen Republican candidates in contested primaries - did not attend Tuesday's meeting.

Steele released a statement after the event thanking the members of the Tea Party movement who organized the meeting.

"We share a common purpose in stopping President Obama's agenda and standing up for principles such as smaller government, lower taxes, free enterprise, and the Constitution," Steele said. "Moving into the midterm elections this fall, I look forward to continuing to build on this discussion and to work to elect officials who will fight to protect the principles which they and a majority of Americans support."

Filed under: 2010 • Michael Steele • RNC • Tea Party movement
soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. OCaptainMyCaptain

    The Tea Party is a subsidiary of the Republican Party. It is a nice marketing campaign. I don't buy into them because of instead of starting their own party they have aligned themselves with Republicans. Who should be blamed just as much as the Democrats. The hypocrisy is unbelievable. I don't see any of them attacking Republicans who have criticized the Stimulus/Recovery Act but taken the money for their jurisdictions. They should ask that all incumbents be thrown out of office not just Democrat.

    February 17, 2010 12:08 am at 12:08 am |
  2. Aaron

    These guys are running their own candidates, so why is Steele trying to appease them? The guy should get a backbone and not give into every nutcase that disagrees with him.

    February 17, 2010 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  3. Ivan

    The Tea Party, created by the Republicans is in the process of devouring its creaters.

    February 17, 2010 01:16 am at 1:16 am |
  4. ThinkAgain

    The teabagger movement is what, a couple thousand grumpy old, unemployed white people who feel disenfranchised because a white guy isn't president.

    The teabaggers are a fringe element, in love with the sound of their own voices and only get attention because our whole society has devolved into a bunch of reality show addicts.

    Until the teabaggers can talk coherently and factually about the issues facing our country today, then they don't deserve to be taken seriously.

    I mean really, do you listen to your kid when all they do is scream and whine, or do you wait until they've calmed down and can address whatever's bothering them in a rational manner?

    February 17, 2010 01:21 am at 1:21 am |
  5. Sgt. USMC

    All you have to say is Steele and tea party... that's when you know it's a big fat joke.

    February 17, 2010 01:42 am at 1:42 am |
  6. Ken, AZ

    Didn't these folks know that they were talking to the wrong person (Steele)? They should have been meeting with Rush.

    February 17, 2010 02:05 am at 2:05 am |
  7. steve fielder

    The Republican Party leadership will curse the day they decided to get involved with the Tea Party crowd; a movement awash with paranoids, bigots, and crackpot conspiracy theorists. When the Tea Party phenomenon crashes and burns; either through infighting or outrageous acts committed by some of its' followers, the Republican Party could suffer a great deal of political damage as a consequence.

    February 17, 2010 02:20 am at 2:20 am |
  8. Watchdog

    "Appeases"?.....Nice word choice from the CNN spin machine!

    February 17, 2010 02:20 am at 2:20 am |
  9. Mike H.

    Republicans have strayed away from their values? Hmmm.... What values might those be? Encouraging a system that maintains a subserviant class of working people? Denying healthcare coverage to people who live paycheck to paycheck? Permitting American business to put our entire future at risk by sending manufacturing jobs overseas? Values that claim to be "pro-life" until a poor baby is born and then...nothing. Republican policies do nothing to build up the working poor. In fact, Republican policies do nothing for the benefit of our nation.

    I dare say that based on the past 10 years...Republicans have done more to ruin our nation than any terrorist organization that they cleverly use as a political weapon to scare the minions.

    February 17, 2010 02:52 am at 2:52 am |
  10. jules sand-perkins

    I regret that Mr. Steele still speaks for the Republican Party. He has misspoken too many times to retain credibility.

    February 17, 2010 04:40 am at 4:40 am |
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