Washington (CNN) - Spirited Tea Party activists, confident they staggered the Washington establishment with their successes in the midterm elections, showed off their new found influence Thursday at the first meeting of the newly formed Senate Tea Party Caucus.
"You're not here as a tourist, not as a visitor, but as stockholders. You're here with us today because we want you to be the board of directors of what's going on here in the Congress," Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, told the 150 or so activists - famous for being grass roots outsiders - who showed up at a stately Capitol Hill hearing room to exchange views with the senators who make up the caucus.
"The seats we sit in the Senate every day are not ours,' DeMint told them. "They're yours and they're lent to us to speak for you – and we want to make sure we try to represent the constitution, our oath of office, and you. That we listen to you."
"This caucus exists not for the purpose of speaking for or on behalf of any one organization or any one citizen. It serves instead as an effective forum for which you and other constitution-loving, freedom-embracing Americans can communicate your ideas to members of the United States Senate," newly elected Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said.
DeMint credited the Tea Party movement with playing a role in the election of every Republican in the Senate. And there are several new Republican senators who closely identify with the group.
Still, the Senate Tea Party Caucus only had three formal members when the day started – DeMint, Lee and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, who spoke to the group about the importance of passing on the freedom and liberties guaranteed in the constitution to future generations, told CNN after the event that he would become the fourth member.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, a Tea Party favorite, said in a statement he is reluctant to join the caucus. "If all of a sudden being in the Tea party is not something that is happening on main street, but rather something that is happening in Washington DC, the Tea Party all of a sudden becomes some sort of movement run by politicians and it's going to lose its effectiveness."
DeMint defended the value of having senators represent the organization.
"What we want to try and do is make them feel like they're part of what's going on, remind them that we are listening. We didn't just get elected and going to forget about them. Keep them engaged in the process. Cause the key to having a more successful 2012 that did in 2010 is keeping people involved in the process," he said.
The meeting was billed as an opportunity for the grass roots activists to question lawmakers and press them to keep their campaign promises to slash government spending and reduce the massive debt. However, most of the nearly two hour session in a hearing room in the Hart Senate Office Building was filled with speeches from senators and other Tea Party organizers and only a handful of questions were answered at the very end of the event.
Activists were able to speak directly to the senators before and after the meeting, which had a campaign atmosphere. Some used the time to take pictures and get autographs. Others pressed specific policy arguments.
"What's to prevent us from putting forth $1.5 trillion worth of cuts," Lisa Miller, a Tea Party activist from Washington DC, asked DeMint.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, who won cheers for his proposal for a balanced budget amendment, told the audience it may not be as catastrophic as they may have heard if Congress doesn’t vote to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, suggesting there are other ways to avoid defaulting. He has introduced legislation that he says prioritizes spending so that debts can be paid without raising the legal debt limit.
"I think the most irresponsible thing that we can do as a Congress, the least grown up thing we can do, is just to raise that debt ceiling and continue business as usual mounting these massive deficits and debt that we have been running up," he said.
Tea Party Express Chairman Amy Kremer told the senators that Tea Party activists would be watching to make sure they stand by the principles that earned them Tea Party support.
"Each of these senators have been supported and elected by the Tea Party activists because of their principles and values of fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets," she said. "We ask that they stand on those principles with us and not waver even when it might seem it's the easiest thing to do."
Mike Kibbe, president of the conservative FreedomWorks organization, told the activists it was time for the Tea Party movement "to transition from a protest movement into a serious legislative machine" in order to repeal and replace the health care reform law, balance the budget, curb the powers of Environmental Protection Agency and protect taxpayer dollars from being wasted by the International Monetary Fund.
I'm actually glad we have the tea party. We need people in every corner of this country speaking up and giving their opinions.
The cutting taxes system of running government is based on having more companies paying lower taxes as opposed to less comanies paying higher taxes. In other words the more you sell the more taxes you get.
Inmates running the asylum...
The Sergeant at Arms should have sealed the doors. Maybe open them in 2012 if the Earth is still there....
the tea party will soon learn that there are people who bacically control what really happens and only if their ideas and causes help them move their objectives they will support them.
Once again, a picture of a Tea Party crowd shows older,white people. Are we still asked to believe that this is not a party of a very select group of individuals? It's OK if it is, but to claim diversity when clearly there is none, is ridiculous!
Judging from the photos I have seen of TEA Party meetings, the group is not a cross-section of Americans. The politicians who speak for them are not those who speak of a united America. Some of the politicians have made unfortunate statements and have shaved the truth to make it palatable for people. Senator DeMint is one member who has his own agenda. Add Michele Bachmann to the mix and the truth does get muddled. That eliminates any chance of their working together with others. I am not even sure they will work with the Republicans. This is the legacy of the TEA Party as it is for any group which has a narrow view of politics.
Anyone who would STILL try to deny global warming is occurring- a fact endorsed by EVERY reputable scientific group like NOAA, the Academy of Sciences, etc- and in the light of the MOUNTAINS of evidence from hundreds of studies proving it is occurring- is a witless slave to his own half- baked ideology. Sad.
Looks like a fun bunch.... LMAO!
An absolute failure. Tea party stands for nothing, going nowhere. Let's see how long rightwinger DeMint lasts in the party that has no party.