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Activists Spotlighted at First Tea Party Caucus Meeting

Updated: 5:33 p.m.

The Senate Tea Party Caucus met on Capitol Hill on Thursday in the presence of about 100 activists — some from as far away as California — and discussed plans to time its next gathering to coincide with the looming vote to raise the federal debt limit.

Republican Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.), Mike Lee (Utah) and Rand Paul (Ky.), who launched the new caucus and led its inaugural meeting, spent much of the two hours it lasted quietly in the background, allowing tea party leaders to do most of the speaking. Paul said he was pleased with the turnout and the results.

“I think the meeting went very well. I think we probably would have had a little bit of a larger crowd had we not had, what, five or 10 inches of snow last night,” Paul told reporters. “Some of the criticisms of having a Tea Party Caucus was, oh, that’s Washington taking over. I think you could see by the flavor of this that what we want is an interaction between the grass roots and us. We want to tell them what we’re trying to do. But we still want to hear from the grass roots.”

GOP Sens. Jerry Moran (Kan.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.) attended the meeting and spoke to the gathering, and Moran confirmed later in the day that he will join the caucus. Toomey indicated to Roll Call on Wednesday that he had yet to make a decision about whether to join.

It also remains unclear what level of coordination there might be between the Senate group and the House Tea Party Caucus, which was formed last year by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

Paul said he wants Lee to lead the next meeting of the caucus, in keeping with the decentralized flavor of the activist movement. The Kentucky Republican said the caucus was likely to meet quarterly, in proximity to important Senate votes. The Senator said the next meeting might be held to coincide with the vote to raise the debt limit, expected sometime in the next several weeks.

“I’m not going to be the leader of the caucus. We’re going to rotate it around,” Paul said. “I very quickly tried to get Mike Lee to do the next one.”