Is the Tea Party Movement Willing to Reach Out to Democrats?

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This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," February 16, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight: Another tea party right here in Washington, D.C.! OK, well, not exactly. But there were about 50 tea party activists who came here to Washington today for a first, a face-to- face meeting with RNC chairman Michael Steele. So what's going on? Fox's Griff Jenkins has the story.


GRIFF JENKINS, FOX CORRESPONDENT: Greta, we're here outside the headquarters of the Republican National Committee on Capitol Hill, just beyond me, the Cannon (ph) House office building. Behind that, the U.S. Capitol, down the street, the Supreme Court.

What's happening here is some 50 tea party activists have come to meet with Chairman Steele at the tea party activists' request. Now, there's no official leadership -- that's an important note -- of the Tea Party movement. However, one activist, Karin Hoffman of the D.C. Works For Us, took the initiative to have this meeting, which they say hoped (ph) to achieve a dialogue with the GOP establishment.

What happened in the meeting? We'll let you know as soon as they come out.

I'm with Doug Heye, communications director for the RNC. Doug, you were in the meeting. Tell me what happened, what transpired?

DOUG HEYE, RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, it was just a real listening session. The chairman spoke for a while and then opened it up for questions. And it was a real good back-and-forth, still going, back- and-forth discussion between the participants.

JENKINS: How did that meeting go?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was a great meeting. I think one thing that I haven't heard told yet was that we discussed the Constitution and how that's a common thread between tea party groups and the Republican Party. And individually, as our concerns, we're very concerned about sticking to the Constitution.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am from Wetumpka, Alabama, and this meeting was good. I came to express my concerns for my tea party group about our dissatisfaction with the Republican Party. And we established our independence today and opened some dialogue and let them know how we feel. And it was very good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are not being absorbed by the RNC. We're a movement that wants answers to questions that we feel concerned about as citizens because legislation is being passed recently is not to our liking and we feel is against the very Constitution that this nation was founded on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We encompass Democrats, Republicans, independents. Right now, I consider myself independent. So we were looking to see what Mr. Steele had to say. It was very cordial. There were discussions, issues, a lot of it even local issues in my own state.

JENKINS: This meeting was initiated by Ms. Hoffman, but I know that the movement seems to be grass roots, doesn't have one individual leader. Is that accurate?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And it will never have a leader. Your viewers are the leaders. Your viewers are the grass roots movement. There is no leader. We have no head. We will not have a head.


VAN SUSTEREN: A tea party activist shot video of the meeting and posted it on YouTube. Chairman Steele says the Tea Party movement is a reaction to activist government.


MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: So here we are now, a year later, after tea parties and town halls and (INAUDIBLE) events and all types of activities that have generated at the grass roots level. And the press is scratching their head, trying to figure out and trying to peg each one of you, and myself and what our motives are and what our agenda is. Well, I have no agenda, folks. I'm not here to coopt

You certainly didn't ask for this meeting or we didn't want to sit down and talk, but oh, now we're going to sign everybody up. Here's the GOP cards. Come back if you left, or join us if you've never been here. That's a crock. It ain't happening. That's not what this is about. This is about concerned citizens trying to find a variety of ways to express their activism and to get the folks across the street here to pay attention.


VAN SUSTEREN: Karin Hoffman joins us live. She is the founder of D.C. Works For Us, and organized today's meeting. Nice to see you. And tell me what prompted you to organize this meeting?

KARIN HOFFMAN, FOUNDER, D.C. WORKS FOR US: From the get-go, we -- the whole grass roots movement came out of a desire of the people, American citizens, to have a discussion with the political establishment, and you know, based on the reaction to what's going on legislatively. So part of that is, like, going into protests, and you know, as the protests have gone on, like, from -- in Washington, D.C., we had what, 1.7 million people that come to Washington. Yet you know, Congress kept moving forward with legislation that we opposed to. So the natural outcropping of that is to actually have grass roots leaders be able to be in a discussion with the political establishment.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, now, you didn't go to Tennessee to the convention?


VAN SUSTEREN: So you're sort of a separate organization. Do you have any idea, I mean, how -- D.C. Works For Us, how big it is?

Watch Greta's interview

HOFFMAN: We have -- D.C. Works For Us is like many grass roots organizations. We're in south Florida. We have an e-mail list that goes out throughout, but we have, like, three groups that are in south Florida, Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties. But there's many grass roots groups that are just like this. So we work together with the grass roots leaders throughout the state of Florida but also throughout the nation. And we realize that when we're working together as one, we have the strength in numbers.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did you hear anything today that disappointed you?

HOFFMAN: Disappointed me? No, I wouldn't say that. In fact, what encouraged me is the length of the meeting because the meeting...

VAN SUSTEREN: How long was it?

HOFFMAN: It was supposed to be one hour. And it was actually -- at 5:00 o'clock, it kept going and we went on to after 7:30.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, we had people outside who were freezing to death, they told us. It was cold! You kept them cold.

HOFFMAN: But you know, the encouraging part is that Chairman Steele, even though that, you know, was encouraged to, you know, close the meeting, he wanted to make sure that every grass roots leader that had any question was able to ask that question and to be heard.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did you write or try to contact the DNC to speak to the Democratic counterpart to Chairman Steele?

HOFFMAN: That's a great question on there. With that, right now, to start the conversation, it is with the Republican Party. The platform is what grass roots are in agreement with. It's how they're going about that or how the current sitting legislators abide by that platform, whereas the whole grass roots movement has really sprung from a protest of sorts to the DNC's platform, which is what's been happening through Congress.

VAN SUSTEREN: But do you have any opposition to meeting with the Democrats? If you've come to Washington to listen to the Republicans, do you want to listen to the Democrats and hear what they have to say?

HOFFMAN: To have a discussion with the grass roots leaders with the DNC? That could be around the corner.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, what -- what disappoints you about the Republican Party? Why are you -- you know, why are you a part of this sort of Tea Party grass root activist -- why aren't you part of the Republican Party?

HOFFMAN: As far as the particulars, there's not a strong verbal opposition to what is happening. We want to, you know, say, Hey, listen, this is what's going on. And what happened, like, in district 23 in New York was an example of that, for the Republican Party within that district 23 to support Dede Scozzafava -- that was -- this is not who we're -- what we're about, when she drops out of the race and she endorses the Democrat, you know, who is not conservative. We're looking for conservative constitutional candidates. So that was another thing that just really gave the strength to the grass roots movement to want to be heard.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, one of the issues is -- or one of the sort of (INAUDIBLE) is whether the grass roots movement is growing or not, or whether it's getting smaller. Do you have any sense -- can you point to any sort of indicators to suggest that it's growing or compressing?

HOFFMAN: I would say it's growing. People are coming in. And especially as we're getting into the election cycle, there's more people that are coming in because they want to make a difference. Sometimes they may not have felt so comfortable protesting, as we did last year against legislation. But now it's, like, the difference to be able to pick the candidates and really get behind the constitutional conservative candidates is a real neat opportunity.

So in our groups, we've grown. We're starting new groups and we're finding that people are saying, Hey, where's another group? I want to -- you know, Do you have one located in this area? In our group, we have one in Broward, one in Dade and Palm Beach. Our Broward group -- we have about 180 that come out twice a month to our meetings and we pack out (ph) the place, which is a great sign.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have you prior to this been someone who attended protests?

HOFFMAN: I would say that only pro-life periodically. I mean, that would not be...

VAN SUSTEREN: So this is relatively new for you.

HOFFMAN: This is new. I would say that it would be more calling the senators and representatives for the long haul, when there's legislation that we're upset with, to call them, call the representatives and the senators, as often now -- now they're in my cell phone. I have them on speed dial, and that was not the case, you know, a couple years ago.

VAN SUSTEREN: Karin, thank you very much.

HOFFMAN: Thank you very much, Greta.

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