WASHINGTON - Two dozen House Republicans, led by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) officially launched the congressional tea party caucus yesterday, strongly defending the grass-roots conservative movement as a positive force in American politics and repeatedly insisting it does not have racist motives.

Many congressional Republicans have associated themselves with the tea party activists who emerged during last year's stimulus and health care debates and sharply oppose President Barack Obama's agenda, but Bachmann's move to create this caucus formalizes their relationship with the GOP.

Bachmann and her allies say the caucus will invite activists to Capitol Hill, solicit their ideas and perhaps turn them into policies.

The caucus's creation creates a choice for some Republicans who want to capture the energy of the tea party but not defend its more controversial elements. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), No. 3 leader in the House GOP, joined the group, but another conservative, Rep. Eric Cantor, the No. 2 leader, opted against doing so.

- The Washington Post

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