Michele Bachmann has no plans for a quiet retirement

At a rally against Obama's executive order
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, left, Minn. Rep. Michele Bachmann and Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert attended a rally against Obama's executive order on immigration on Dec. 3 in front of the Capitol.
Brett Neely / MPR News

At a rally in front of the Capitol last week, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann returned to a style that, four years ago, made her a darling of the tea party movement.

In a flashback to the time she held almost weekly rallies against the Affordable Care Act, Bachmann spoke before tea party members in Revolutionary War garb carrying historical flags emblazoned with the phrase "Don't Tread on Me."

As some held signs calling President Barack Obama a tyrant, dozens of TV cameras and reporters captured the scene. With fellow Republican U.S. Reps. Steve King of Iowa and Louie Gohmert of Texas at her side, Bachmann unleashed vintage rhetoric.

But this time she directed it at the president's executive action giving temporary work permits to some five million unauthorized immigrants.

"We rule as the Declaration of Independence says by the consent of the governed," she said to cheers. "That's it. That is our mandate."

The rally marked one of Bachmann's last appearances at the Capitol during a lame duck session of Congress. When it ends, it will mark the end of her career representing Minnesota's 6th District.

Bachmann, 58, announced her retirement from the House last year after a surprisingly close re-election campaign in the district she had represented for four terms.

In an interview, Bachmann said she has no regrets.

"I've given it absolutely everything for eight years and done the best I possibly could and now it' time to start another phase," she said. "I don't look back, I look forward. I'm grateful."

King, who traveled the country and the world together with Bachmann on congressional delegations and shares her deeply conservative worldview, likely will miss her the most.

The Iowa congressman was impressed with Bachmann when they first got to know each other during a series of speeches he organized on the House floor. Bachmann showed up unfamiliar with the topic and disappeared for 15 minutes before returning to the House chamber.

"I yielded to Mrs. Bachmann and out of her mouth came the depth of knowledge and judgment and opinion and constitutional underpinnings of the topic that she didn't recognize 15 minutes earlier," King said. "Now this is a quick study. And she was right on all of it."

Bachmann has been on an extended farewell tour giving interviews, penning op-eds and even posting a list on BuzzFeed.com about what she'll miss about Congress.

Rep. Michele Bachmann
Rep. Michele Bachmann spoke at a rally against Obama's executive order on immigration on Wed., Dec. 3, 2014 in front of the Capitol.
Brett Neely / MPR News

She even enlisted Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken, one of her political polar opposites, to deliver a recorded roast at a retirement dinner last spring.

"We may not agree on much but we do agree on something," Franken said. "Ugh... Hmmm...Asian carp! We don't want Asian carp in Minnesota."

Bachmann plans to stay in the limelight and be involved "one way or another" in 2016, when the country elects a new president.

Bachmann's last run for president ended with a sixth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses and government probes into her campaign's finances.

But she insists that with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the odds-on Democratic nominee, there's a potential case to be made for another Bachmann candidacy.

"People want to know will there be a female on the Republican side," Bachmann said. "And since I ran in 2012, people obviously wonder will I be running in 2016? There's been no final determination made on that."

Bachmann cited former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's post-congressional career as a role model.

"I think I'll be involved in media," she said. "I'll be involved in speaking nationally around the country. Probably writing a book, ... also be involved in helping get candidates elected."

Bachmann may be most missed by Democrats, who turned her into a foil and raised tens of millions off of her most controversial statements, including one she made towards the end of the 2008 campaign in an interview with MSNBC.

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

Bachmann's combativeness with those who don't agree with her made her a darling of the right.

"I think her specialty in many ways has been to question the legitimacy of her political opponents," said Theda Skocpol, a government professor at Harvard University.

It's a tactic Bachmann has used repeatedly and her targets have included Huma Abedin, an aide to then-Secretary of State Clinton, and fellow Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, both of whom she accused of being affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

After the MSNBC interview aired, King gave Bachmann some advice that she's followed in every controversy she's been involved in since then.

"I called her up immediately," King recalled. "I said whatever you do, don't apologize and don't back up and don't let up and don't give up."

King says that experience transformed Bachmann and made her a hero to the conservative grassroots that had suffered back-to-back electoral beatings in 2006 and 2008.

"That in a way unleashed Michele Bachmann and launched her to become a national name because of that," King said. "And she didn't allow herself to be crushed by that experience and instead, she used that as a springboard."

With her visibility, Bachmann became a major presence on cable TV in 2009 and 2010, frequently making statements that were factually incorrect.

More importantly, Bachmann helped rally near-unanimous conservative opposition to all of President Obama's legislative initiatives, said Skocpol, one of the first academics to pay close attention to the tea party movement that Bachmann allied herself with.

"I think she played a role in crystallizing the 'just say no' caucus in the House, if you want to call it that," Skocpol said.

Rallying against Obama's executive order
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Minn. Rep. Michele Bachmann attended a rally against Obama's executive order on immigration on Wed., Dec. 3, 2014 in front of the Capitol.
Brett Neely / MPR News

Bachmann is retiring from Congress with few legislative accomplishments aside from working with Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar to authorize a new bridge over the St. Croix River.

"She may be leaving Congress, but quieter versions of her way of looking at things are there in large numbers and have moved the leadership of the Republican Party pretty far to the right over the past few years," Skocpol said.

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