(New York Times)
WASHINGTON — The incoming leadership of the new House Republican majority hardly had a chance to relish its dismantling of the Democrats before the Tea Party came calling in the form of Representative Michele Bachmann.
Ms. Bachmann, the Minnesota Republican and Tea Party heroine often seen exhorting conservative activists at rallies and on cable television, announced that she intended to seek the No. 4 position among House Republicans.
She said she could provide the viewpoint of a constitutional conservative, one she evidently sees lacking in Representatives John A. Boehner of Ohio, Eric Cantor of Virginia and Kevin McCarthy of California — the three likely leaders.
Mr. Cantor and other influential Republicans are rallying instead behind Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, a fiscal conservative, and Ms. Bachmann has only an outside shot at winning the race.
But her candidacy vividly illustrates the central tension facing Mr. Boehner and his team: balancing the demands of new lawmakers, some of whom ran against the Republican establishment and advocate a no-compromise stance toward the Obama administration and Democratic policies, against the need to deliver some accomplishments at a time of economic distress.
Ms. Bachmann is by no means the only Tea Party voice moving to exert influence over the new Congress.
In a draft of a confidential memo to be distributed to all incoming House Republican lawmakers, Dick Armey, a former Republican majority leader who is chairman of the conservative group FreedomWorks, and Matt Kibbe, its president, told lawmakers that a repeal of the Democrats’ health care law was “nonnegotiable” and warned that they would face a severe backlash from voters if they did not succeed in reversing the law.
“Politically speaking, your only choice is to get on offense and start moving boldly ahead to repeal, replace and defund Obamacare in 2011, or risk rejection by the voters in 2012,” Mr. Armey and Mr. Kibbe wrote.
House Republicans said they recognized the inherent conflicts, and the pressure that they would be under from the new majority-makers. But they also said they believed they could meet the challenge, given that veteran Republicans shared many of the newcomers’ goals.
When asked how the leadership planned to educate new members, particularly those who had never served in government, Representative Greg Walden of Oregon said, “My guess is these incoming freshmen are going to be giving us the training session.”
Mr. Walden, who is leading the Republican transition effort for the new majority, added: “They are coming with that energy, to bring that skill set and what they have heard in the heartland. They are going to be telling us.”
Flush with victory, top House Republicans and strategists said they saw little distinction between incumbent members and those who would be joining them as freshmen. They noted that both benefited from the Tea Party activism that helped them trounce Democrats and said that the support deserved to be rewarded.
“We are who we said we are, and we are ready to do what we said we would do,” said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for Mr. Cantor. “We need to produce results for the people who spoke out so loudly on Tuesday.”
Mr. Boehner, the presumptive House speaker, has political views that make him attractive to Tea Party followers even though he has been in the House since 1991 and hardly qualifies as an outsider.
He has long opposed providing money for the home-state projects known as earmarks, even as his fellow Republicans have feasted on them, and he entered Congress as a rabble-rouser himself. He courted the Tea Party heavily during the campaign and has made repealing the health care law a priority.
Even as he and his fellow Republicans tried to chart a path forward, Mr. Boehner said Thursday that he was seeing signs that President Obama and Congressional Democrats failed to realize that Republican gains in Congress resulted from a potent backlash against the Democratic agenda.
“There seems to be some denial on the part of the president and other Democratic leaders of the message that was sent by the American people,” Mr. Boehner said in an interview with ABC News. “When you have the most historic election in over 60, 70 years, you would think the other party would understand that the American people have clearly repudiated the policies they’ve put forward in the last few years.”
Given the chance in the interview to agree with Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, that the party’s goal should be to make Mr. Obama a one-term president, Mr. Boehner responded only that this was Mr. McConnell’s opinion, suggesting that Mr. Boehner was interested in staying out of that particular fight right now.
While the leadership team sees a chance to meld the Tea Party view into the House Republican ideology, there are bound to be conflicts. As the party now controlling the House, Republicans have to produce a budget, spending bills and other legislation that the 40 or so new lawmakers strongly allied to the Tea Party might balk at supporting, leaving the leadership scrambling for votes. Over all, there are at least 80 incoming Republican freshman, and the party is expected to control at least 239 seats. A vote next year on increasing the debt limit — an increase many Tea Party candidates could reject as a fundamental matter of principle — looms as a real test case.
And with the newly energized movement promising to watch closely, the incoming lawmakers will be very leery of seeming to be co-opted by the Congressional establishment, even if it is the leadership of their own party.
Ms. Bachmann’s candidacy suggests that while Republican leaders may face pressure from their Tea Party caucus, it could be manageable. Mr. Hensarling, while not as closely associated with the movement as Ms. Bachmann, is a popular lawmaker who headed the Republican Study Committee, a group of more than 100 conservatives. He has received praise from Tea Party leaders and Republican activists along with his leadership endorsements.
It is not clear if Ms. Bachmann can rally the incoming lawmakers to her side, though she has already won a few public supporters, including Representative John Kline, a fellow Minnesotan, and Representative Steve King, a conservative ally from Iowa.
Mr. Walden predicted that House Republicans would ultimately be able to band together.
“Remember, all of us just stood for election, all of us just faced the same voters in our own states,” he said. “All of us are coming back here understanding that voters want this place to change, and in a meaningful way.”