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Bachmann: I did not say that Barack Obama is anti-American

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Michele Bachmann defends her comments
In a speech to a St. Cloud business group, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann apologizes for using the term "anti-American" to describe Barack Obama's views on a national television appearance last week. Bachmann says she believes Obama is a patriot, even though she disagrees with him.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

Bachmann touched off a controversy Friday with her comments about Barack Obama and liberal members of Congress. During a speech today Tuesday in St. Cloud, Bachmann said she believes Obama is a patriot who loves his country. 

Still, her Democratic opponent Elwyn Tinklenberg said he has now raised more than $1 million since the Friday broadcast. 

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     Congresswoman Michele Bachmann was in St. Cloud to speak to local business leaders. The topic was supposed to be transportation issues, but Bachmann began by discussing her well-documented appearance on MSNBC's Hardball program. Bachmann told the luncheon gathering that she stepped into a trap during the interview and made a statement that she wants to take back.

"It was reported that I questioned Barack Obama's patriotism," Bachmann said. "I did not, nor do I question Barack Obama's patriotism. He is a patriot and he loves this country just the way everyone in this room does. And I did not say that Barack Obama is anti-American nor do I believe that Barack Obama is anti-American."   

     Here's what Bachmann said during the MSNBC program, which she now claims was misunderstood:

"Absolutely, I'm very concerned that he may have anti-American views. That's what the American people are concerned about."

     Later in the same MSNBC interview, Bachmann suggested the news media conduct an investigation into the anti-American views of other members of Congress.

"I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out are they pro-America or anti-America. I think people would love to see an expose like that."

     But during the St. Cloud speech, Bachmann also distanced herself from that remark. 

"Nor did I call for an investigation of members of Congress for their pro-American or anti-American views," Bachmann said. "That was not what I said. But, unfortunately we are two weeks away from an election and an echo chamber started. And it's very difficult to overcome perceptions that are in the media."

     Bachmann stressed that she's concerned about Barack Obama's views on taxes and economic issues. And those views, she explained, are ones that she believes are not good for America. 

Pelosi criticizes Bachmann
Democratic U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann during a visit to Minnesota Monday. She said Bachmann's comments implying that presidential candidate Barack Obama may be anti-American are dishonorable.
MPR Photo/Curtis Gilbert

After her speech, Bachmann told reporters that she's been wrongly accused of calling for a McCarthy-style investigation of Congress.

"Chris Matthews wanted to know about the pro-American or anti-American views of members of Congress," Bachmann said. "And my point was this, I don't believe it's my place to say if members of Congress are pro-American or anti-American. I assume they're all pro-American. But what I was saying is the national media need to do their job. It's not my job to say, it's up to the media to figure it out."

     Bachmann's explanations haven't managed to slow down the rush of campaign contributions heading to her opponent. Democrat Elwyn Tinklenberg said he's now topped $1 million in contributions since Friday. That's equal to his previous total for the entire campaign.

     Tinklenberg said the tape speaks for itself. He said people are donating to his campaign because they want to take a stand against the divisive politics that they believe Bachmann represents.  

Elwyn Tinklenberg and Michele Bachmann
Candidates for Minnesota's 6th Congressional District, DFLer Elwyn Tinklenberg and incumbent Michele Bachmann, debate in St. Cloud, Minn.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

"It's hard for her to backpedal on this because this is what her political career has been about," Tinklenberg said. "Not this issue certainly, but about using wedge issues to divide people." 

     Tinklenberg's war chest isn't the only measure of the outrage over Bachmann's comments. More than 52,000 people have signed an online petition, calling on Congress to censure Bachmann. 

Jesse Berney, a Democratic consultant based in Washington, D.C., said he created the petition after hearing Bachmann suggest that the media should investigate whether members of Congress have anti-American views. Berney said a public reprimand is appropriate for remarks he found to be outrageous. 

"You know this is clearly not about impinging on her right to free speech," Berney said. "You know, she should be allowed to say whatever she wants. But you know what she said is completely over the line and should be condemned and that's really what we're asking."

     During a stop in Minnesota Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Bachmann's comments dishonored the position she holds. But a spokesman for Pelosi said he was not aware of the petition, and there's been no discussion of a censure.