OTR Interviews

Is the Tea Party ready for primetime in the 2012 elections?

Will the Tea Party have a pivotal role in the Republican National Convention and in November and can Romney speak to them?


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," July 18, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: What about the Tea Party? Will and should the Republican Party give a Tea Party representative a primetime speaking slot at the convention?

We went to the U.S. Capitol to ask Senator Jim DeMint.


VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, nice to see you, sir.

SEN. JIM DEMINT, R-S.C.: Greta, good to be back.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is Governor Romney paying attention to the Tea Party? And is the Tea Party going to have a big voice in the election?

DEMINT: Well, keep in mind that the Tea Parties are just a kind of one visual element of a very active citizenry out across America today. We're seeing in a lot of the primaries for the Senate, for instance, a great old senator like Dick Lugar losing because I think the Tea Party, as well as just all common sense Americans are getting engaged.

So the Tea Party's still there. It's grown. It's better organized. Only a small part of it goes under the umbrella of Tea Party. They all go under the umbrella of let's save America.

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes, but there is still somewhat of a group -- it's -- you know, I mean, it still is a faction.


VAN SUSTEREN: And tends to be more Republican than Democrat. And I'm curious if you think that Governor Romney sees this as an important element? And is he speaking directly to the concerns of the Tea Party?

DEMINT: I think he is. I think a lot of Republicans have learned that we need to embrace these ideas, which are ideas that are part of our platform, just limited government, less spending, less debt. Certainly, Romney's talking about that.

But that's what brings the Tea Party together. They're a very diverse group of conservatives, libertarians and evangelicals and secular -- I mean, a group that's come together, concerned a lot about the fiscal issues in our country.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it's enough of a group that there's a Tea Party caucus here in the Senate. It's not like it's just a group without any...

DEMINT: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... definition.

DEMINT: But it...

VAN SUSTEREN: It is a group.

DEMINT: It is a group, but it gives us the opportunity to have that big tent Republican Party because while the Tea Party may be small in size as far as those who actually label themselves Tea Parties, they represent a large majority of Americans who are concerned about the need to balance our budget, the debt and spending and the growth of government.

So this is an opportunity for Republicans to be that inclusive big party, but around our issues. We don't have to water down what we believe in order to attract the Tea Party. That is basic limited-government thought, which is the foundation of the Republican Party.

VAN SUSTEREN: Would you expect or do you want the Tea Party to have a primetime speaking position, or some representative of the Tea Party, at the Republican national convention? Would this be important to the Tea Party members?

DEMINT: Well, yes, it is. But I think they're going to be there because...

VAN SUSTEREN: But are they going to -- but I mean, it's a big difference of sort of being attending and having the heavy lifting...

DEMINT: Oh, no. I would...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... and actually having the voice to say...

DEMINT: Well, I'd love to see...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... I'm here on behalf of the Tea Party...

DEMINT: I'd love to see Sarah Palin have a big slot as far as speaking because there's no one still in America that I think excites the base of conservatives and even libertarians as she does. She can draw a crowd more than any other Republican and I think has more influence in primaries than any other endorsement right now. So I think she'd be good.

But we need to have some new Republicans like Marco Rubio, and Pat Toomey, Mike Lee, some of these folks who've changed the face of the Senate, and real heroes in the House like Jim Jordan. I would love to have them having, you know -- you know, prime speaking slots at the convention.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let me turn to another picture (ph). The recess is coming up on Capitol Hill. Everybody in the House and the Senate takes off the month of August, and apparently, you're not crazy about this idea, with all the problems, all the issues left to be decided and the fact that a lot of it may be left to the lame duck session.

DEMINT: Greta, this is like Groundhog Day for me because it's all being choreographed to push these important issues into a lame duck after the election, with the threat of a government shutdown, when we have to deal with the increases in taxes, the cuts in military spending, and a lot of things like Medicare payments to doctors.

There are just dozens and dozens of issues that expire at the end of the year. And I think, clearly, Harry Reid does not want to deal with those issues right now.

The best thing we could do for our economy is extend the current tax rates at least a year until President Romney has a chance to reform the tax code and make it more business-friendly.

VAN SUSTEREN: How does -- how does anyone justify in the Senate, with all those very important issues going on -- how does anyone justify taking the month of August off, a recess? Now, they say they're going to talk to their constituents, but it's a month away from Washington, which puts all these important decisions, you know, farther away to making a decision so people can't predict what to do with their jobs or whatever, and putting it in a lame duck, where people who may be voted out of office are going to have a role. I mean, how do they justify that here?

DEMINT: I don't think we can. Particularly, what we're doing now, Greta, not only are we going to take a break in August, but we're not doing anything now. And when we come back in September, it's three weeks before the government shuts down.

Harry Reid has not brought one funding bill to the floor of the Senate to pass, so we have not funded the government for next year, and that begins October 1st.

So the first thing we're going to do when we come back from this recess is start fighting over a government shutdown. We're trying to stop that. A number of us in the House and Senate have sent Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell a letter saying we want a funding bill that funds our government into next year, into the next administration, so that the people of America don't have to live under this panicked chaos of a government shutdown.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, when I was a grade school, if you didn't do your homework, you stayed in during recess and did your homework. So I don't quite understand the concept of all these people who are elected into office going into recess in August with these profoundly important decisions coming up. I mean, they actually should be decided now.

DEMINT: They should be. But we're not dealing with them this week. We're not trying to pass anything this week. And we shouldn't go on recess until we get the tax issue fixed because our businesses, the people we want to hire, folks all across the country don't know what their tax rates are going to be or what their health care costs. And we're just doing everything, it seems, to hurt job development in our country at a time when we need to do completely the opposite.

VAN SUSTEREN: It isn't even which way are you going to vote. It's a question, Why not stay here and do the work?

DEMINT: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, I -- whether you vote for it or against any of these issues...


VAN SUSTEREN: ... take recess!

DEMINT: We're not bringing it up. And even the president has said we need to extend the current tax rates. But Greta, we know what he's trying to do. He wants to increase taxes on those...

VAN SUSTEREN: But that's a -- but that's a whole different issue. Is you guys can all fight it out...


VAN SUSTEREN: ... but if you're in a recess, you can't. I mean, if you're in recess, you're not even -- you're not even, like, working on it!

DEMINT: They are choreographing a government shutdown in September to try to push some things, and then they'll pass or try to pass a two-month funding mechanism, so we end up in a lame duck trying to make all these decisions after the election with people who haven't been reelected.

We're fighting that, and we're pushing, again, Speaker Boehner to pass a funding bill now. That will help us get to the tax issue. And if we could convince them to stay here in August and solve our problems, I'd be here with them.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you, sir.

DEMINT: Thank you, Greta.