Last month, the newly formed Senate Tea Party Caucus held its first meeting, but conspicuously absent were some high-profile senators who got elected last year with the strong backing of the tea party, including Marco Rubio (R-FL). Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) founded the caucus soon after arriving in Washington, but Rubio has long questioned the need for a formal caucus, saying he prefered the movement be left to grass roots activists, not Washington politicians. But in a radio interview Friday, Rubio leveled even harsher words at the caucus, dismissing it as a “little club” run by politicians that could cause the real movement “to lose its energy”:
HOST: When Michele Bachmann began to create this Tea Party Caucus, I got this really bad taste in my mouth. … You and I see eye-to-eye on this, right? It’s a grassroots movement, right? [...]
RUBIO: Now, specifically about the Tea Party Caucus, the concern that I’ve expressed, is that what I think gives the tea party its strength and its legitimacy in the American political process is that it’s a grassroots movement of everyday Americans. … 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. Basically, the media will jump on that and start paying attention to that instead of the grass roots movement which is really what has given the tea party its voice. … I don’t want us to anything that kind of changes its grassroots nature.
In the other chamber of Congress, a number of leading House Republicans have criticized Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) for founding the House Tea Party Caucus (which inspired the Senate version). House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) refused to join the caucus, saying the tea party movement is “certainly not of Washington and in that respect it’s better left with the people.” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who also refused to join despite his closeness to the tea party, said the movement “should be kept outside Congress.” “The more you try to put structure around the tea party, the more compromised it will be,” Chaffetz wrote warned.