FreedomWorks leader Armey urges tea party to shift focus to legislative progress

"Tea party" activists gathered Sunday morning at the Washington Monument for a march and rally to show momentum for their cause leading up to the November elections.
By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 13, 2010; 4:54 PM

With electoral victories racking up - and a greater-than-ever chance that Republicans will take back the House this year - it's time for the "tea party" movement to transition from winning elections to influencing policy in Congress, former House majority leader Richard K. Armey said Monday.

At a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Armey, who is chairman of national tea party organizer FreedomWorks, spoke to reporters about the upcoming elections and the need to translate tea party victories at the ballot box into a legislative focus on reducing government spending, rolling back the health-care overhaul and, if possible, reducing taxes.

"These grass-roots activists are not going to retire from the field once this battle of 2010 is won," the Texas Republican said. "This whole activist movement is about policy."

Focusing on legislative achievements perhaps distinguishes FreedomWorks and Armey from other tea party activists, some of whom are focused more on changing the Republican Party - sometimes at any cost. In Delaware, for example, the Tea Party Express, Sarah Palin and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) all have endorsed conservative Christine O'Donnell against moderate Rep. Mike Castle - even though O'Donnell, who has endured a series of personal financial problems, could have a hard time beating Democrat Chris Coons in November. The GOP primary is Tuesday.

FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe, who spoke with Armey on Monday, said his organization decided to stay out of the primary because "we're not convinced that Christine O'Donnell can win."

Kibbe also announced that FreedomWorks later this week will launch a new effort to attract support among minorities, calling it "Diverse Tea."

"There is this nagging perception that we're not diverse enough," Kibbe said.

Both Armey and Kibbe said the culturally conservative themes that have grown more prominent as Nov. 2 nears are not at odds with the tea party movement's focus on fiscal conservatism. They said Glenn Beck, whose "Restoring Honor" rally in Washington focused on religion, is great for the movement because, for example, Beck has urged his fans on the air to read "The Road to Serfdom," Austrian philosopher Friedrich A. Hayek's influential book about centralized economic controls.

"The tea party movement is not anti-religion," Kibbe said.

Armey added that he would welcome renewed scrutiny of whether federal policies encourage more abortions.

"That fight hasn't been had for a few years," Armey said. "That fight is going to be had with this new majority."

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