It’s been a long time since Michele Bachmann commanded the podium as she did Thursday. The Minnesota Congresswoman grabbed more headlines recently for literally running away from the press and facing an ethics probe.
But flanked by her fellow Tea Party leaders – Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – Bachmann stood proud as the face of the Tea Party response to the IRS scandal in which two employees apparently targeted conservative groups.
She wasted no time in turning an opportunity into an attack on one of her favorite targets: Obamacare. If the IRS was untrustworthy inhis handling of Tea Party organizations, then it would be just as untrustworthy with handling aspects of health care, she suggested.
The Tea Party had all but vanished from the national stage until this past week when the IRS scandal brought it back into view. For Bachmann and her colleagues, the question is whether they can harness the renewed attention to their advantage and the president’s disadvantage.
Their best bet, they seemed to think Thursday, was to focus attention on health care, a signature irritant for Tea Party followers.
“I’m quite worried that your medical records will be evaluated by the IRS,” Sen. Rand Paul said Thursday. The Kentucky Republican argued that the scandal has proven the IRS has the ability and “the penchant” to use its power to search out “political opponents.”
The IRS is responsible for administering some of the financial aspects of the Affordable Care Act’s, including the individual mandate and tax subsidies Americans will use to help them buy health insurance, along with new revenue streams the law creates.
The Acting head of the IRS was forced out Wednesday after two employees were disciplined for singling out Tea Party groups for added scrutiny. Paul wanted more. “Someone needs to be in prison,” he said as he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Bachmann outside the Capitol Building Thursday.
She went further, telling reporters that her constituents want to see President Obama “impeached.”
Bachmann suggested the president might have been connected to the brewing IRS scandal, demanding that any investigation go “all the way to the White House.”
“We need to know what the White House knew and when they knew it,” she said.
To be sure, a trifecta of controversies in Washington regarding national security issues, freedoms of the press and foreign policy have engulfed the administration in criticism. The tea party mantra of overly big and intrusive government could be reinforced by all three scandals.
Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert said the Justice Department seizure of reporters’ phone records in a national security leaks probe was evidence of “government run amuck.” He described the president as a “tyrannical despot.”
For tea party leaders, this language is nothing new, but it’s been relegated to the side recently, and it’s not clear how receptive Americans will be to that message going forward.