The Tea Party holds no seat in Congress, but at least 10,000 of the party’s members descended on Capitol Hill Thursday to rally against a Democratic-written health care overhaul.
A plan first hatched and heralded on FOX by iconic conservative Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) grew over the weekend as she e-mailed with a handful of colleagues. By the time activists started arriving at the foot of the Capitol around 8:30 a.m., it was clear no Republican leader could stay away.
Minority Leader John Boehner, Republican Whip Eric Cantor and Conference Chairman Mike Pence all spoke.
Inside, Democrats were working to finalize a trillion-dollar health care bill that they say will deliver insurance to tens of millions of Americans who currently lack it, improve the quality of care and rein in costs both for individuals and the government.
Outside, on the grassy lawn just steps from where Barack Obama took the oath of office, an endless lineup of rank-and-file lawmakers and conservative All Stars – Bachmann, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, actor Jon Voigt and Mark Levin, author of “Liberty and Tyranny” – demanded that the health care bill be torn asunder.
“Madam Speaker, throw out this bill,” bellowed Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.).
“Oh come on, tell them how you really feel,” Bachmann yelled to the crowd from a temporary podium at the foot of the Capitol.
“Kill the bill! Kill the bill! Kill the bill!” the crowd replied.
“That’s exactly what you’re going to tell them,” said Bachmann, who was the clear favorite of the assembled masses.
“She has more cojones than a lot of guys,” said Barbara McGrath, who traveled from Troy, Ohio, to participate.
When she took the microphone, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) pointed to the three House office buildings across Independence Avenue from the rally.
“I invite you, when the rally's over, to travel in those halls, look at the walls, find your (member) and walk in," she said. "Let them know how you feel about this bill."
Within an hour, activists were lined up down Independence Avenue to go through the magnetometers in the lobby of the Rayburn Office Building so they could confront members and staff. Bachman told them to each take a page – or a piece of a page – from one of two copies of the bill at the podium and ask a member to explain the text to them.
Bachmann’s office and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s district office were surrounded by the Tea Partiers shortly after the rally ended, and the floor outside Pelosi’s office was covered in pages of the bill.
It may well be that the frustration expressed by activists – who came from Bluffton, S.C., Des Moines, Iowa, Dorris, Calif., and many other cities and towns across the country – far outstrips their influence over the final outcome of the legislation.
But they said it was important to let their elected officials how they felt.
Mary Beth Bishop of Monument, Colo., spent $500 on a plane ticket to lodge her complaints about the growth of government.
"We need to show up and uphold the Constitution," she said. "It wasn't written on toilet paper."
Boehner waved a copy of the Constitution while he quoted the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” he said.
Many in the crowd held signs demeaning President Obama – and their feelings were echoed on stage.
Voight invoked Obama’s now-strained relationship with the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright in his speech, saying “the lies and deception are blatant... Maybe it was the 20 years of sub-conscious programming by Rev. Wright to damn America."
One sign in the crowd read: "Obama takes his orders from the Rothchilds," a reference to theories of Jewish world dominance centered around the prominent Jewish family of Rothschilds.
Another target of the Tea Party protesters’ ire was Pelosi.
“Nan-cy! Nan-cy!,” the crowd jeeringly chanted, as if taunting a particularly hated member of the opposing team at a baseball game.
Pelosi obviously wasn’t going to address the crowd, and her spokesman said Democrats were busy trying to pass a bill while Republicans played the role of obstructionists.
“While the Party of No holds a rally to once again say no, our health insurance reform bill was endorsed by the AARP and the AMA, and on the House floor, we are debating bipartisan legislation to create jobs by extending unemployment benefits and extend the first-time homebuyer tax credit,” Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said. “We are continuing with our job of passing legislation that will help the American people.”
Speaking on conservative talker Laura Ingraham’s radio show this morning, Bachmann encouraged people listening to show up on the West Front steps, but she said they should show up with “cameras” instead of “pitchforks.”
She got her wish: Photographs not firebombs.
Long before the event kicked off at noon, lawmakers visited one-by-one with their supporters.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), wearing a jacket covered in pins and stickers reading “Yes! Freedom!,” autographed tea bags.
“This is too great,” King said as he shook hands across a wall like a presidential contender.
For more on the Tea Party, see The Arena.
Martin Kady II contributed to this story.
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