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The Tea Party Express appears to have buried the hatchet with Sen. Orrin Hatch, who spoke Tuesday at the group’s first town hall.
Tea Party Express Chairwoman Amy Kremer dialed back her earlier comments that the Utah Republican had “invited himself” to the meeting.
“I mean he wanted to come; anybody who wanted to come and be part of this was welcome,” she told Roll Call in a brief interview following the event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. “We are here to have a dialogue with the people. As far as I’m concerned, there was no conflict.”
She added, “Anybody that wanted to come was invited to come. I mean [Rep.] Allen West, I didn’t know he was coming until this morning.”
Hatch dismissed the idea that he had crashed the event, telling reporters that Sal Russo, the Tea Party Express’ chief strategist, had invited him.
Russo told the National Review last month that Hatch’s early support for Ronald Reagan in the 1976 presidential campaign made the Utahan an “original tea partyer.” He also said the Tea Party Express would not target his re-election campaign in 2012. Another Utah Republican wasn’t so lucky in the 2010 cycle: Tea party activists and others accused Sen. Bob Bennett of not being fiscally conservative enough, and he lost his bid for re-election at the GOP nominating convention.
Hatch described tea party activists as “good people” who just want to see the country turn around.
The town hall was packed with activists and media but managed to be relatively low-key. Kremer began the meeting by welcoming those attending in person and online. She also set ground rules: stick to fiscal and constitutional issues, and leave social issues at the door.
The event, which took place in advance of this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference, featured some of the movement’s champions in Congress, including lawmakers who captured their seats in the November midterm elections with the help of tea party campaign efforts. Speakers included Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Reps. West (R-Fla.), Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Steve King (R-Iowa).
The lawmakers mostly stuck to familiar tea party movement themes of fiscal responsibility and adherence to the Constitution.
“The calvary has arrived,” King said, referring to the new crop of GOP Members in the House and Senate. “They ... are just strong enough and bold enough to turn this thing around to where our country should be.”