The newly formed Senate Tea Party Caucus, all four of them, gathered yesterday for its inaugural meeting greeted by about 100 activists supporters but missing three other senators that won as tea party candidates. The caucus is meant to highlight and promote the tea party ideal of fiscal conservatism, amongst other things.
The caucus, that appears to have more supporters than members, is made up of: Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Utah Sen. Mike Lee, Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint (the senior member).
Missing from the inaugural event was Wisconsin Sen. Ronald Johnson who fears joining would be divisive to the Republican party. Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, by far the highest profile absentee, was a no show clearly avoiding the association and choosing to work within the existing Republican party structure. The other Tea Party Senator that did not join was Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, though he did stop by to support the caucus event.
Rubio justified his slight because he did not want to ‘co-opt the mantle’ of a grass roots movement into a political one. In doing so he has frustrated and angered Tea party supporters that helped him get elected. Those very same members will be looking at Rubio and the other non-Caucus members to see how they vote on issues important to them like spending cuts, conservative values and anti-immigrant legislation.