House Republican leaders have a simple strategy for dealing with Rep. Michele Bachmann: Ignore her.
“We treat her like all Members,” a GOP leadership aide said.
Paying the tea party firebrand any special attention would only heighten her profile, empower her and potentially create schisms within the new House majority, Republican aides said.
Republican leaders might have reason to try to manage the conservative Minnesota Republican more directly, however. Bachmann hasn’t been quiet in the weeks since the 112th Congress began: She officially launched the conservative Tea Party Caucus and offered her own response to the State of the Union.
“I think there are a lot of people in the leadership that wish she would step back so the Republican Party can put up a face that appeals to moderate and independent voters, and she does none of that,” one Republican operative said. “She has a segment of the Republican Party or the tea party that’s staunchly anti-government, anti-spending, anti-tax. There is no middle appeal with her, and I think there’s a great deal of concern that the Republican Party is going to be branded as the party of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann.”
Bachmann has a fresh following in Congress: Many of the freshmen ran on the very tea party platform she espouses. Yet she has nothing more than a casual relationship with the GOP leadership team.
Bachmann spokesman Doug Sachtleben maintained his boss and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) “have a very good relationship.” And in a statement, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said “Rep. Bachmann is a valuable Member of the House Republican Conference — she brings a unique enthusiasm and perspective.”
Rep. Steve King said he has not noticed leadership trying to silence Bachmann, a close ally. Instead, the Iowa Republican suggested that her national profile helps boost the party’s message and should be embraced by Congressional leaders.
“I think her message supplements that of the Republican Conference and they should be glad that her voice is there,” King said during a brief interview. “Now that she has a national support base out there, she has increased her political influence substantially. I would think her name recognition would be right up there with John Boehner’s.”
Bachmann, first elected in 2006, has never been a quiet player in Congress. She made headlines during the 2008 presidential cycle when she suggested then-candidate Barack Obama held “anti-American” views.
She also made news after she led a campaign against the controversial community organizing group ACORN, criticized the U.S. census and started developing the tea party platform.
Bachmann seems comfortable in her role, and she made no apologies for her State of the Union response, which was widely panned outside the halls of Congress. But even under the Dome, Bachmann’s appearance won some jeers.
Freshman Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), a member of the Tea Party Caucus, said the rebuttal was “a distraction” from the official response given by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
“We’re all Republicans. I think it was a distraction that she did it, and it was just fodder for the media … to try to create this separation within the party,” Walsh said during an interview with Chicago radio station WLS last month.
“I mean there is no more tea party freshman on the planet than myself, but I’ll be the first to say, respectfully, Michele had no business making that speech last night,” Walsh said during the interview.
Several Republicans said that Walsh represented the sentiment of many new Members, who want to push a conservative agenda but don’t want to upset leadership. Those aides also suggested that new Members are more inclined to seek Boehner’s advice than Bachmann’s.
Bachmann briefly entertained a bid for Conference chairman last year, but she decided to withdraw in the face of heavy odds. Her exit from the race handed the job to the favorite, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas). Later, Boehner gave her a slot on the Intelligence Committee.
Just a month into the job as Speaker, Boehner has done his part to keep his caucus unified. He has shrugged off questions about Bachmann’s media appearances and potential presidential aspirations. Asked by reporters last month whether he watched Bachmann’s State of the Union response, Boehner replied, “I had other obligations.”
Bachmann hasn’t shown any intention of stepping away from the spotlight. In addition to talking about a possible White House run, she announced on Wednesday that she would travel to the early primary state of South Carolina later this month. She will also travel to Montana on Saturday to join Rep. Denny Rehberg at a Lincoln/Reagan dinner where the Montana Republican will officially announce his challenge to Sen. Jon Tester (D).
Tester seemed to relish the opportunity to add Bachmann to his anti-Rehberg talking points.
“The Congressman is kicking off his campaign with Representative Bachmann,” Tester said in a statement. “That raises serious questions about whether he supports Congresswoman Bachmann’s plan to cut veterans’ benefits and freeze VA health care funding, which would pull the rug out from under folks who put their lives on the line for our freedom.”