Tea Party leaders and Republican congressmen are scheduled to meet behind closed doors Tuesday evening just off the Senate floor, a gathering intended to foster a frank exchange on conservative legislative priorities and other topics.
TheTeaParty.net, sponsors of the "Tea Party Legislative Forum," secured the Strom Thurmond Room for the meeting through Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who confirmed to the group that he would attend the invite-only gathering. Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas; Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairman Roy Blunt, of Missouri; and GOP Sens. Mike Enzi, of Wyoming; Mike Lee, of Utah; Rand Paul, of Kentucky and Marco Rubio, of Florida also accepted the invites.
Niger Innis, chief strategist for TheTeaParty.net, said he expects several House Republicans to attend, including Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.
Innis said the Tea Party leaders in attendance would probably focus the discussion on immigration reform; the terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya; and the continuing investigation into the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service. Innis said many Tea Party leaders favor creating a special select committee to carry on the Benghazi inquiry.
"Every [member] that comes will have an opportunity, time permitting, to speak," Innis told the Washington Examiner. "But it's really an opportunity for the grassroots, through their leaders, to get to know these senators and these congressmen."
Innis said 40 Republican members had confirmed plans to attend, and that up to 60 Tea Party organizations could be represented.
Though the event is designed to engender a discussion about legislation, the guest list includes Enzi, who is facing a 2014 GOP primary challenge from Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney; Rubio, a Tea Party favorite now under fire from conservatives for his role in pushing comprehensive immigration reform through the Senate; and McConnell.
McConnell is up for re-election next year, and this week picked up a Republican primary challenger, Matt Bevin, who is attempting to coral the support of Tea Party Republicans in Kentucky. With Paul backing McConnell wholeheartedly, Bevin's ability to claim the Tea Party mantle and offer the minority leader a concerted challenge for the GOP nomination remains unclear. Innis said TheTeaParty.net is backing McConnell.
"We oppose Bevin; we are supporting McConnell 110 percent," Innis said.