The Senate Tea Party Caucus, which meets for the first time today, isn’t intended to be a “full-blown, influential caucus,” according to founding member Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
Speaking on CNN’s American Morning today, Lee said the three-member group is just the size it needs to be to fulfill its purpose. Which is? “To be a conduit of information between tea party sympathizers and the U.S Senate,” he said.
Nevertheless, Lee said he and fellow members, Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Jim DeMint, R-S.C., invited all 100 senators to the caucus — Democrats, too — and “would love” for more to join, particularly those who skyrocketed to tea party stardom during the 2010 election cycle, like Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Rubio’s decline of the invitation has been cited by many media outlets as the biggest blow to the new group. Recently, Rubio expressed skepticism about the need for a caucus, saying it could interfere with the tea party’s grassroots origins.
The tea party “is a movement of everyday citizens from all walks of life,” Rubio told a group of Florida reporters Wednesday. “That’s the strength of the tea party—that it’s not a political organization run by people out of Washington. My concern is a tea party caucus could intrude on that.”
But according to Lee, that’s not going to happen.
“That risk is not present here,” he said. “The purpose of [the caucus] isn’t to speak for the Senate or to speak for any one group within the Senate. The purpose, rather, is to provide an open forum in which members of the tea party and sympathizers out there can come and discuss with some United States Senators their concerns. That’s all it is. And it remains a leaderless movement.”
So far, the Senate Tea Party Caucus numbers only three, which pales in contrast with Rep. Michele Bachmann's, R-Minn., House Tea Party Caucus: Since the caucus’s inception in July, 52 members have joined.