WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann was front and center Wednesday morning when the Tea Party Caucus made its debut.
Bachmann, R-Minn, is the caucus leader. She says the group will not be a mouthpiece for the Tea Party movement.
"We are listening," she said. "We're receptacles and we're ears to listen to what the people have to say."
The caucus currently has 24 members, all Republicans, Bachmann said. The highest ranking member is Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, the third-ranking GOP member of the House. Analysts say the caucus could force other Republicans to declare if they're part of the party.
"Candidates could decide to maybe ignore them, but I think now they do that at their own peril," said David Schultz, political science professor at Hamline University.
Some Republicans who have not joined could be concerned about allegations of racism made against fringe elements of the Tea Party. Members of the caucus worked to put those allegations to rest Wednesday by showcasing a diverse group of Tea Party members.
Minnesota Rep. John Kline has not joined the caucus, but his spokesman Troy Young said Kline shares the Tea Party's frustrations. "At this time, Congressman Kline is further reviewing Congresswoman Bachmann's caucus efforts," he said.
No Democrats have joined the caucus, but Bachmann said her group is open to all. "We are hoping to be bipartisan," she said, adding that one Democrat, who she did not identify, indicated some interest in joining the caucus.
Donna Cassutt, associate chairwoman of the Minnesota DFL Party, doubts any Democrats will join.
"She can say that, but it would be really terrific if she and her right-wing, extreme colleagues were serious about making a difference and working with Democrats across the aisle," Cassutt said.
Some Tea Party activists also do not approve of the caucus because it goes against the anti-government sentiment that appeals to many in the movement.
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