Rep. Michele Bachmann, the head of the Tea Party Caucus in the U.S. House, said Tuesday she hopes the newly formed group will provide a voice in Congress for "real housewives, real farmers, real businessmen, real plumbers."
Bachmann, R-Minn., who will preside over the inaugural meeting of the caucus on Wednesday, said she doesn't intend to speak for the broader tea party movement but hopes to give them a platform to reach lawmakers.
"People across the country are desperately trying to get the attention of members of Congress. You've got our attention. We're listening to you," Bachmann told The Associated Press in an interview.
The caucus is nine and counting. It has attracted members of the Republican leadership — Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, the No. 3 GOP member in the House, and Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, who heads the committee to help elect Republicans. But the top Republican, House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, said he would not join.
At a news conference in Washington on Tuesday, Sessions said he hopes the caucus will promote tea party ideals. He quickly added that he doesn't agree with every idea put forward by activists, who are fervently anti-Washington and have recently sparred with the NAACP over allegations of racism within the movement.
"I will just tell you, as in any group, I'm sure there's 1 percent that not everybody completely identifies with. You know, maybe within every family there's somebody that you don't strongly identify with," Sessions said.
Bachmann said the caucus is nonpartisan, but no Democrat has joined so far.
Bachmann's office said the members-only caucus meeting will feature a handful of people talking about the effects of economic policies on their families and businesses. The media are not invited, but Bachmann plans a news conference afterward.
Since the tea party movement's emergence this election cycle, critics have accused it of being little more than a Republican front group, a charge that tea party members have challenged. But the all-GOP makeup of the Tea Party Caucus raises concerns for some tea party members who don't want to be drawn into an established political party.
"If this is just another fundraising opportunity or an opportunity to try to funnel the tea party members into a GOP contact trap, then we'll reject it," said Toni Backdahl, who recently resigned as Minnesota coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots but still considers herself a concerned citizen.
Tim Dake, who heads a Milwaukee-area tea party group, was more enthusiastic.
"To see someone take action and try to bring the discussion about fiscal responsibility, constitutionality and limited government back into Congress and formally want to do something about it is very pleasing and kind of surprising," Dake said.