Rubio questions need for tea party caucus

January 28, 2011

By Lesley Clark, The Miami Herald

WASHINGTON – Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who hasn’t joined a new Senate tea party caucus, told reporters Wednesday he’s not even sure there’s a need for one.

The Florida Republican, who became a darling of the conservative movement, said he still hasn’t decided about joining any caucuses, but plans to meet with tea party caucus members to “get their sense of what they want the caucus to be about.”

He said he’s not certain a Senate tea party caucus is a good idea.

“Really what I think the strength of the tea party is that it comes from the grass-roots,” Rubio told a group of Florida reporters Wednesday in an interview in his temporary Senate office. “That it is not a political organization, it’s not something run by politicians or people seeking higher office, but rather it is a movement of every day citizens from all walks of life. That’s the strength of the tea party: that it’s not a political organization run by people out of Washington. My concern is a tea party caucus could intrude on that.”

He said he does plan to join the Republican Steering Committee, a conservative group that has been long established and meets to talk policy. He noted the group has staffers and has the “infrastructure in place to provide resources that those of us who believe in center right limited government, free enterprise can rely on.”

He noted his attendance on his Facebook page, noting the committee — formed in 1974 and chaired by South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who is also a member of the tea party Caucus, “is a forum for senators to work together to discuss and promote conservative legislation and policies.”

“The fundamental question I have — and there might be a good reason for it — is what’s the difference between the tea party caucus and what already exists in the steering committee?” said Rubio, who first questioned the need for a separate tea party caucus during a CNN interview last July.

Though he was embraced by the tea party and attended rallies, Rubio — a former Florida House Speaker — sought during the campaign to portray himself as a bridge between the conservative movement and the Republican party.

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