Published January 25, 2011
It's bad enough that Rep. Paul Ryan has to follow President Obama. Now the brainy Wisconsin congressman tapped to give the official Republican response to the State of the Union address must also compete for attention with Tea Party star Michele Bachmann.
Bachmann, a third-term Minnesota congresswoman renowned for lobbing rhetorical bombs at her opponents, plans to rebut the president's address in an online broadcast at the Tea Party Express website Tuesday night.
While Ryan's remarks will be carried by all the networks and cable news outlets as they happen, television news outlets have agreed to share a camera to record Bachmann's comments -- and some could choose to air them live.
Bachmann claims she's not trying to step on the toes of the newly minted House Budget Committee chairman -- after all her speech will follow, not coincide with, Ryan's. "There's no overlap" between the Republicans' comments, noted Bachmann spokesman Doug Schatleben.
Bachmann told Fox News there's no "schism" between Tea Partiers and the GOP, and that she's assured Ryan and Republican leaders she's not competing with them Tuesday night.
Nevertheless, Bachmann's online post-game show has the potential to distract from Ryan's fiscal-focused message and revive last year's narrative of a GOP house divided between establishment leaders and an untamed Tea Party network tugging at its seams. And that's fodder for Democrats.
"I think the real question is who's really running the Republican Party?" Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh said Tuesday. "I mean the fact is, we may find out tonight it's the Tea Party."
Both lawmakers may touch on similar themes. In excerpts of Bachmann's speech released in advance, the congresswoman calls on Obama to start undoing an "unprecedented explosion of government spending and debt" by rescinding regulations and committing to a balanced-budget amendment.
Ryan, according to excerpts of his prepared remarks, plans to decry Washington's "spending spree" and pledge to tackle the debt by reversing course.
But the rebuttal-after-the-rebuttal seems to have perturbed some Republicans, who at least passively betray a hint of annoyance on the timing, even while downplaying its significance.
During a breakfast with reporters Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner wistfully called the move "a little unusual."
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., reiterated Monday that Ryan will deliver the "official response."
"Michele Bachmann, just like the other 534 members, (is) going to have opinions," Cantor said.
Told that the TV networks would send a camera to televise Bachmann's remarks, Cantor added, "Maybe I should ask then, why is that the case?"
GOP leaders generally have sought to cast Bachmann's address as one response of many. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the idea of a Tea Party response is "legitimate," and that the halls of Congress will be jammed Tuesday night with other lawmakers sharing their thoughts on the president's speech.
"Whether it is through a press release, Twitter, the internet, on television, radio, via Facebook, or by other means, virtually every member of Congress will share their thoughts on the president's State of the Union," concurred Boehner spokesman Michael Steel, in an e-mail to FoxNews.com.
But Bachmann, who organized a "Tea Party Caucus" on Capitol Hill, is no ordinary lawmaker. She visited Iowa on Friday, stirring speculation that she harbors presidential aspirations. She let that pot stir on Friday, leaving open the door when asked on Fox News whether she was after the White House in 2012.
"I don't feel any pressure that I have to make a decision because I am so motivated by what I have seen and for my four years in Congress," she told Fox News on Friday.
Bachmann's appearance as the face of the Tea Party also has raised some questions even among Tea Party-backed favorites like Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Rubio, casting doubt on the need for a similar caucus in the Senate, said he's concerned politicians in Washington may overwhelm the grassroots movement.
"My concern is that politicians all of a sudden start co-opting the mantle of Tea Party. If all of a sudden being in the Tea Party is not something that is happening in Main Street, but rather something that is happening in Washington, D.C., the Tea Party all of a sudden becomes some sort of movement run by politicians," Rubio told Florida-based blog Shark-tank.net.
Bachmann's support is mostly confined to the conservative wing of the Republican Party. She's a frequent target of criticism among liberal commentators and practices a combative political style more in line with Sarah Palin's than, say, Tim Pawlenty's -- another Minnesotan with possible 2012 plans.
In contrast, Ryan, a conservative's conservative in his own right, is occasionally singled out for praise by Democrats for his professorial attention to budget detail. GOP aides said Ryan was uniquely qualified to tackle economic issues in Tuesday's speech.
Offering a preview, aides said Ryan will criticize Washington's over-spending as a hurdle to job creation and endorse spending cuts as a path to private-sector job growth. They also said Ryan will call for spending cuts and reforms to be addressed before Congress can vote on approving an increase in the national debt ceiling.
Sachtleben said his boss isn't trying to seize the spotlight away from Ryan. He said Bachmann had a "good conversation" Monday with the Wisconsin congressman while the two rode the elevator together.
Sachtleben added that the Tea Party Express had extended its invitation to Bachmann a couple weeks before Ryan was selected for the official response.
"Members of Congress should react to what the president says, and this is just a different venue," Sachtleben said.
FoxNews.com's Judson Berger and Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.