The three founding members of the Senate Tea Party Caucus officially launched their new caucus before a crowd of about 150 tea party activists in a Senate Hart building hearing room today.
Senator Jim DeMint, R-SC, joined Republican freshmen Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah in officially kicking off the first meeting of the group. Also in attendance were various grassroots Tea Party leaders. Participants discussed balancing the budget, ending the nation's deficit and limiting the size of the federal government.
"I don't care if this group consists of three Senators or one hundred," said Senator Mike Lee of Utah. "We've invited them all. I hope they will all join us. If they don't, we are happy to hear your concerns. We will listen to you and we'll do everything we can to fight on your behalf to restore constitutionally limited government to the United States of America."
Amid an atmosphere that felt like part Capitol Hill hearing, part campaign event and part news conference, DeMint thanked the boisterous crowd for their help in getting Tea Party candidates elected.
"Thank you for sending me some help," he said to the enthusiastic crowd who braved the snow to attend today's two-hour meeting.
Two Senators, Jerry Moran, R-KS and Pat Toomey, R-PA, made guest appearances at today's caucus meeting but have not made a final decision as to whether they will be joining the group. Toomey praised the group during his remarks.
"It strikes me as a wonderful example of the intrinsic self corrective capacity of our society," Toomey said. "What happened in recent years is the government spun out of control. It had already grown too big. But it just went through the roof. It expanded in size and scopes and cost and intrusion and diminishment of our freedoms in a really breathtaking and accelerating fashion."
Several Republican lawmakers were conspicuously absent from today's inaugural meeting, including Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL, who won in November with support from the Tea Party.
Participants said they expect the membership of the Caucus to grow in the coming months. Senator Paul said the group would like to hold quarterly meetings open to the public. He said he hopes to have thousands of supporters in attendance.