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Yesterday's collapse of the House GOP's legislative agenda has the Beltway punditocracy examining the tea leaves.


House Republicans suffered an embarrassing setback Tuesday when they fell seven votes short of extending provisions of the Patriot Act, a vote that served as the first small uprising of the party's tea-party bloc.

MSNBC's First Read:

In a defeat last night for House Republican leaders, legislation to extend certain Patriot Act programs was unable to get the two-thirds vote needed for passage as 26 Republicans voted no, including seven freshmen who are associated with the Tea Party. Per NBC’s Luke Russert, the vote -- 277 to 148 -- represented the first insurrection against the House GOP leadership by its freshman members since it was expected to pass easily.

And presumably riffing off of First Read, here's MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell making the same claim:

MITCHELL: Tea Party revolt: House Republicans suffer an embarrassing blow, after the Tea Party blocks the extension of key portions of the PATRIOT Act. Is it the warm-up for a showdown to come over the debt ceiling?

Well, that may be the assessment of First Read, but I'm going to ask for a second read here. Either we're too anxious to hammer the square peg of the vote count into the round hole of The Prevailing Tea Party NarrativeTM, or we may not all be working with the same definition of what constitutes the Tea Party, with respect to congressional voting blocs.

The only "official" count of the membership of the House Tea Party Caucus that exists is the list released in July of 2010 by its chair, Michele Bachmann (R-MN-06). That list, which has never been updated, shows 52 members, though only 50 of them are actually still Members of the House of Representatives. Former Reps. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI-02) and Jerry Moran (R-KS-01) are still as members. Moran, of course, was elected to the Senate and has joined the Senate Tea Party caucus. Hoekstra retired from the House and was defeated in his gubernatorial bid.

That makes it a bit difficult to determine whether or not "the Tea Party" was behind this "uprising" or "defiance." Of the 50 members on the official list, just eight voted against passage of the bill (or rather, the motion to suspend the rules in order to pass it): Reps. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD-01), Rob Bishop (R-UT-01), Paul Broun (R-GA-10), Tom Graves (R-GA-10), Kenny Marchant (R-TX-24), Tom McClintock (CA-04), Denny Rehberg (R-MT-AL) and Phil Roe (TN-01).

The First Read report puts the number of "freshmen who are associated with the Tea Party" who voted against the motion at seven. There are a total of 94 House "freshmen" (though that number includes five returning Members who won back seats they'd previously lost). Nine House frosh are Democrats, and presumably not members of the Tea Party caucus. That leaves something in the neighborhood of 80 Republican freshman who may or may not be members of the Tea Party caucus. Seven who are said to be associated voted no.

Does that feel like a Tea Party uprising to you?

In all, 26 Republicans voted no. Of the 26, seven are in their first term. And remember, there are 80 Republican "true freshmen."

Does that sound like a freshman uprising to you?

What we don't know is how many Republican frosh are "associated" with the Tea Party. So that makes it difficult to gauge how much this had anything to do with them. That's kind of odd, given the supposed popularity of the Tea Party brand. You'd think we'd be hearing more about people wanting to apply the label to themselves. And really, seven new members "associated" with the caucus voting no doesn't tell us much except this: either they represent a significant portion of new members joining the caucus, in which case the caucus has hardly grown at all given that there are 80 new prospects, or the seven are not a significant portion, and the idea that this represented a Tea Party revolt just isn't true.

And we should note that among the old list of Tea Party caucus members, on average they're in their 13th year in office. Which suggests either that Tea Party caucus demographics are actually quite different from the popular idea that it's a raucous gang of newcomers, or that veteran Republicans are flocking to the Tea Party banner in hopes that its "new-ness" will somehow rub off on them. It's probably some of both.

Between those two things, losing seven of 80 Republican freshman, or eight of 50 "official" caucus members, really doesn't give me much of a freshman or Tea Party vibe.

I think it's just called "disarray."

This just in: Before I could even run this post, House Republicans blew it again on the floor today.

House Republicans endured another embarrassing floor loss Wednesday, one day after a vote on the Patriot Act failed on their watch.

A bill that would retrieve money already paid to the United Nations failed Wednesday afternoon 259-169, 290 votes were needed for passage. The bill is the third to fail under House stewardship this week. The U.N. bill would have return $179 million that was paid into the U.N. tax equalization fund.

The measure was brought up under House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) signature budget slashing initiative, known as YouCut, under suspension of House rules that required two-thirds vote for passage.

And true to my prediction, Republicans blame... Democrats.

But even with a 65-seat majority, Republicans are still blaming Democrats for their troubles. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who led his party to a historic triumph in the mid-term elections, said his control of the House is new.

"We’ve been in the majority four weeks," Boehner told reporters Wednesday morning. "We’re not going to be perfect every day. If the Democrats who voted for these same provisions last year would’ve voted for them this year it would’ve passed."

Hey, you know how else this would've passed? Under regular order, instead of under suspension of the rules. But you chose the suspension route, and now here we are.

At least he didn't cry.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Wed Feb 09, 2011 at 12:40 PM PST.

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