As liberal protesters step up confrontations with Republican lawmakers, leaders of the original Tea Party movement that wrote the book on those tactics are reassembling their political army – dispatching activists to push a conservative agenda that includes tax reform and dismantling ObamaCare.
FreedomWorks, Tea Party Patriots and other groups are looking to keep pressure on GOP lawmakers to keep their 2016 campaign promises, and not buckle in the face of rowdy town hall protesters angry about the prospect of repealing the Affordable Care Act.
“A lot of people were elected to Congress based on bold promises about ObamaCare, tax reform and regulatory reform,” Noah Wall, FreedomWorks’ national director of campaigns, told Fox News. “We have to hold them to campaign promises, keep up the momentum and the energy. It’s time to get off the bench and get this to work.”
FreedomWorks plans to mobilize its network of grassroots organizations and unite with the Tea Party Patriots on March 15 for a “Day of Action” on Capitol Hill that will include a rally and visits to members of Congress.
The group will follow up with a “Month of Action,” set to include members driving constituents to congressional district offices and larger-scale rallies across the country to amplify their fiscally conservative message.
Wall says his group and its supporters want to capitalize on Republicans now controlling Congress and the White House, and achieve long-awaited policy objectives. If successful, their efforts could mark a revival of the eight-year-old Tea Party movement – a political revolt against big government under then-President Obama that crested with Republicans’ historic 2010 House takeover.
Tea Party Patriots national coordinator Jenny Beth Martin on Wednesday said the upcoming Capitol Hill events are to “make sure Republicans stay focused on repealing ObamaCare” and her group will follow up with its own busy month — including daily, micro-focused activities like “Message Monday” and “Tweet Tuesday.”
She bristled at the suggestion the Tea Party movement has emerged from hibernation, arguing it was instrumental over the past several election cycles in helping Republicans take control of the House, Senate and then the White House.
“We are not dead, and we have never gone away,” Martin told Fox News. “There’s a time to be active in campaigns, a time to have our voices heard and a time to stand up and be heard by members of Congress. … They need to know we are not going away.”
Heritage Action for America, the conservative Heritage Foundation’s political arm, said this week that its “sentinels” also will be pressing House members to repeal ObamaCare.
However, the group and others, like Tea Party Express, have announced no specific plans – such as the town-hall blitzing that elevated the Tea Party movement going into the 2010 wave election in which Republicans gained more than 60 House seats.
FreedomWorks was founded in 2004 by the billionaire and libertarian-minded Koch brothers and has continued to advocate for lower taxes and less government. The group spent a record $560,000 in 2009-2010, when roughly 60 percent of 114 Tea Party-endorsed candidates won their congressional races – including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney, who on Thursday was confirmed to run President Trump’s White House budget office.
FreedomWorks has kept a lower profile since the 2010 wave election, spending an average $46,000 over each of the last three cycles, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Still, the group remains an influential force on Capitol Hill, while facing new and different challenges.
Foremost is the slow movement on Capitol Hill under the Republican majority. In a first step, Paul and South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford on Wednesday introduced companion ObamaCare replacement legislation that is endorsed by the Freedom Caucus.
GOP House and Senate leaders, though, have signaled that fully repealing and replacing ObamaCare could take several years. And a 2017 tax reform bill could be a longshot, though Trump has vowed he will push a plan soon.
Further, liberal-leaning groups have recently co-opted some Tea Party tactics for their own purposes — challenging congressional Republicans at town hall events and jamming their office phone lines in opposition to Trump’s agenda.
They mobilized within days of Trump’s November win, as Democratic congressional leaders urged rank-and-file members to hold media events in their districts over Christmas break to warn voters about GOP plans to end ObamaCare without a replacement.
Earlier this month, GOP Rep. Tom McClintock hosted a town hall in his California district that attracted about 500 people and became so rowdy that he required a police escort to leave the building.
“I have held more than a hundred town hall meetings in my district throughout the last eight years spanning the entire life of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements,” McClintock said afterward. “Through all those heated debates, the police have never had to intervene.”
Utah GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz also was among those recently confronted by angry town hall attendees.
Chaffetz, McClintock and others have suggested at least some of the attendees are part of a paid, organized effort to disrupt events.
Martin said the comparison between those events and the 2009 grassroots Tea Party town halls “disturbs me more than anything else.”
“We didn’t harass people,” she said. “We didn’t destroy property. The left just tore up buildings in Berkeley. We never did that.”