Tea Partiers in Washington riling up new members and lameducks

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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Tea Partiers have brought their watchful eyes to Washington and are riling things up as Congress returns for its lame duck session and newly elected representatives come to the district for freshman orientation.

In one instance, incoming freshmen just elected to Congress received hundreds of phone calls and e-mails from Tea Party activists demanding they attend a Tea Party event. In another, Republican members thinking of not supporting legislation that places a moratorium on pork-barrel earmarks are being threatened with a more conservative primary challenger in the next election.

“They will not get a free pass,” said Phil Kerpen, a vice president at Americans for Prosperity, to loud applause from the sign-waving audience during a noon rally Monday on the Capitol grounds. “So we’ve got to keep all the heat on them.”

Activists organized by national groups are back in Washington trying to keep the heat on outgoing members who can still vote in the lame duck session that began this week. They’re also trying to exert control over the incoming members who were swept into power with the energy of the conservative movement, who are now in Washington for freshman orientation.

The several hundred who showed up to the Americans for Prosperity event Monday to hear Republicans like Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Indiana Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana warn members about voting for big government legislation were also encouraged to visit congressional offices and demand that members not support earmarks.

At the rally, Kerpen also mentioned two other huge fights with the “zombie congressman” who are leaving Congress at the end of the year, but who might be willing to vote for liberal legislation on their way out. Those fights, he said, include bills over spending and extending the Bush-era tax policies.

“If they get their way on spending, we are going to get a trillion dollar omnibus spending bill that funds Obamacare, funds the EPA, funds everything that we want to stop,” Kerpen warned to those assembled.

Another well-known Tea Party group held events in Washington this weekend for newly-elected members of Congress who won’t be sworn in until January, though it wasn’t exactly pretty.

In an effort to encourage new members to attend their own weekend freshman orientation, the Tea Party Patriots, a national umbrella organization of local Tea Party groups, distributed the private e-mail addresses and phone numbers of the incoming class to activists. That angered a few of the newly-elected.

After much complaining from the new members, the Tea Party Patriots asked supporters to stop making the calls. But in an e-mail obtained by The Daily Caller, it appears one coordinator for the group thinks the calls were worth it.

Coordinator Debbie Dooley suggested in an e-mail chain with other activists that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s declaration Monday that he’s now for banning earmarks might have been because of the calls: “Just might have something to do with the unending phone calls the freshmen received. He did not want that unleashed on him and other Senators.”

One incoming freshman Republican from Missouri, Billy Long, told TheDC he “wasn’t too happy about” the calls.

“I mean, my name was already printed as going to be at their event,” he said Monday. “Still I woke up to 167 emails the other day, countless phone calls on my personal cell phone, so I think that they might have lost some credibility on that. They need to watch what they’re doing.”

Still, Long said the atmosphere at the orientation this weekend was “congenial” and not tense at all. Dooley did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment, and the national leaders of the Tea Party Patriots could not be reached to speak about the weekend event.

Former Republican leader Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks also held a retreat last week for new lawmakers.

At the Monday rally, Rep. Louie Gohmert, Republican from Texas, lavished praise on the Tea Party organizations, who have played a large role in the political process this year, but who are not always in agreement with each other.

“I was recently asked by someone — a reporter who didn’t know my heart — about these Tea Party groups…like Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks: ‘What do you think of all these groups?’ And I responded, ‘They’re an answer to many years of prayer.’”

Also on Monday, a coalition of 17 local Tea Party activists and leaders of GOProud, a gay conservative group, penned a letter to the Republican congressional leadership urging the GOP to “avoid social issues and focus instead on issues of economic freedom and individual liberty.”

And some Tea Party groups are already focusing on future election cycles. On Tuesday, the group American Majority will hold a press availability with Tea Party leaders from across the country to discuss “what’s next for the conservative movement and how leaders of reputable tea party groups will affect election outcomes in 2011 and 2012.”

Leaders of the Tea Party Express, a political action committee that played a large role in this year’s elections, did not return a request for comment about what the group is doing post-election.

Chris Moody contributed to this report.