“He’s absolutely shameless,” the Minnesota Republican could be seen saying to her seatmate, Representative Jean Schmidt, an Ohio Republican, according to a video taken in the U.S. House chamber during Obama’s State of the Union address two nights ago.
Bachmann, 54, who later gave a televised response to the president on behalf of the Tea Party Express, turned back to face Obama and repeated, “Absolutely shameless!” She spoke as the president was saying the government should balance its budget more like average American families.
Lawmakers broke their tradition of dividing in the chamber by political parties during Obama’s address in an effort to tone down political discourse some say has become too inflammatory. The stagecraft of the evening called for a display of harmony and peacemaking, with Republicans and Democrats sitting together and joking that they were on a “date.”
Many lawmakers wore lapel ribbons in honor of House Democrat Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, shot in the head and critically wounded during a Jan. 8 attack in Tucson that killed six people and wounded 12 others. Seated in the Washington visitors’ gallery were her aide, Daniel Hernandez, credited with helping save her life at the scene, and the family of 9-year-old Christina Green, the youngest person killed.
Bachmann spokesman Doug Sachtleben wouldn’t comment on her remark, saying in an e-mail, “I’m not privy to her private conversations.” Bruce Pfaff, a spokesman for Schmidt, didn’t return calls seeking comment.
Bachmann’s remark wasn’t the only barb lobbed at the president, a Democrat. Georgia Republican Paul Broun skipped the speech and sent a series of twitter messages from his office criticizing Obama.
“Mr. President, you don’t believe in the Constitution,” Broun said in one dispatch. “You believe in socialism.” He later defended his electronic comments in an interview with CBS News.
In September 2009, Representative Joe Wilson, a South Carolina Republican, caused a furor when he broke with decorum and shouted “you lie” during Obama’s speech on health care to a joint meeting of Congress.
‘You Lie’ Fallout
Wilson apologized afterward. During the following week his re-election campaign raised more than $1.3 million, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee. Wilson took in $4.7 million for the campaign, making him the seventh-biggest fundraiser among House candidates in 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Bachmann, a three-term House member and founder of Congress’s Tea Party Caucus, is known for using strong language about the Obama administration. She referred to his health-care overhaul as “the crown jewel of socialism” during debate before the House passed Republican legislation to repeal the 2010 law.
She raised $13.4 million for her 2010 re-election, more than any other House candidate including now-Speaker John Boehner, who raised $9.7 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington. Bachmann’s opponent, Tarryl Clark, raised $4.7 million. Theirs was the most expensive House race last year, the center’s figures show.
House Republicans rebuffed Bachmann’s bid for a leadership position after the party took the chamber’s majority from Democrats in the Nov. 2 elections.
Bachmann is seeking to expand her political influence. Her Tea Party Caucus hosted Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for a private discussion Jan. 24 about the Constitution. Three days earlier, she addressed an anti-tax group in Des Moines, Iowa, raising speculation that she is considering a presidential bid.
Bachmann made her rebuttal to Obama’s address after the official Republican Party response by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. She suggested Obama isn’t to be trusted on economic issues in her response televised on CNN.
“For two years, President Obama made promises just like the ones we heard him make this evening,” she said. “Yet still we have high unemployment, devalued housing prices and the cost of gasoline is skyrocketing.”
Boehner, of Ohio, sought to play down the importance of Bachmann’s alternative response.
“I think all members, House and Senate, Democrat and Republican, responded to the president’s speech in many different forms,” Boehner told reporters. “The more the merrier.”
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