Why few Republicans will criticize Michele Bachmannby Brett Neely, Minnesota Public Radio
WASHINGTON — The controversy continues over Michele Bachmann's remarks about the Muslim Brotherhood.
In a series of letters sent June 13 to various federal departments, Bachmann and other House Republicans allege that a senior State Department aide has ties to the group that deserved investigation.
The Minnesota Republican congresswoman says the Muslim Brotherhood is part of a conspiracy to infiltrate and overthrow the United States government and impose Islamic law in the U.S.
Later, in an appearance with conservative TV and radio host Glenn Beck, Bachmann accused Minneapolis Congressman Keith Ellison, a Democrat and a frequent critic of Bachmann's, of also having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Several prominent Republican leaders have chastised Bachmann, saying her remarks have no basis in fact. But relatively few rank and file Republican members of Congress have joined in the criticism.
Republican Congressman Erik Paulsen hoped to draw media attention to an impending medical device tax while visiting the State Capitol in St. Paul.
Instead, a group of reporters asked Paulsen yesterday to comment about Bachmann's remarks that Islamic fundamentalists had connections to top government officials.
"I think her comments are not appropriate and I don't think they're accurate," Paulsen said.
His fellow Republicans in the Congressional delegation, Representatives Chip Cravaack and John Kline have not commented on the issue yet. Their spokesmen make it clear that they would rather talk about anything but Bachmann.
For long-time Congress-watcher Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution, the message they and top Republicans are sending about this issue is clear.
"To comment at all is to keep her alive in the news and that can only harm their party," Mann said.
Mann said Republicans, ahead of the fall election, would rather discuss the economy, an issue where they believe they have an advantage.
Over the past week, Bachmann has turned down repeated interview requests to discuss her allegations.
Political consultant Scott Cottington, who has deep ties to conservative politics in Minnesota, agrees that Republicans don't want to discuss Bachmann's allegations.
"There's no motivation to go out and talk about it one way or the other," Cottington said.
Cottington says politicians are staying quiet because voters are more likely to base their decisions on issues such as the economy or President Barack Obama's leadership.
He points out Bachmann's congressional district is solidly Republican, and that her calls for investigation of government officials could even strengthen her image with voters north and east of the Twin Cities.
"The people in her district that like her and support her think she's courageous and honest," Cottington said.
So far, Arizona Sen. John McCain has been the only Republican to speak at length on this issue, offering an impassioned defense of State Department aide Huma Abedin from the floor of the Senate.
McCain avoided citing Bachmann by name.
Of the other Republicans who have spoken out, most have been party leaders such as House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Both kept their critical remarks short and also avoided bringing up Bachmann by name.
Other Republicans who are now questioning Bachmann's allegations include House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, Senators Scott Brown and Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Congressman James Sensenbrenner.
While they have all denounced Bachmann's accusations, there has been little indication that Bachmann will face any repercussions.
Mann thinks that Bachmann's role as a favorite of the tea party movement with powerful fundraising ability has something to do with the muted response.
"Many members still worry about the tea partiers in their own districts and worry about the challenge of a primary," Mann said.
And he says that taking on Bachmann for her words about the Muslim Brotherhood is not a fight many Republicans want to get into, especially when they're preparing to take on Democrats.
- Morning Edition, 07/24/2012, 7:20 a.m.