Just to let you know I’m not to happy about this.
Tea-Party Favorite and Onetime Presidential Candidate Says Eight Years in the House Is Enough
- Updated May 29, 2013, 7:27 p.m. ET
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who won prominence as a leader of the tea-party opposition to President Barack Obama, announced Wednesday she wouldn’t seek re-election—an abrupt retreat less than two years after she briefly topped the ranks of GOP candidates seeking the 2012 presidential nomination.
Mrs. Bachmann’s bid for the White House raised her national profile but also contributed to her political troubles. She barely won re-election to her House seat last year and has since seen inquiries begin into the financial activities of her presidential campaign.
Her fans and foes agree that Mrs. Bachmann has had broad political impact by helping to elevate the tea party’s voice in Congress in its earliest days, when she embraced its founding cause—opposition to Mr. Obama’s health-care law—as her own. “She helped to grow and convert the tea party from a protest movement into a political movement,” said Sal Russo, co-founder of Tea Party Express, a national tea-party group.
But her combative tone drew complaints that it intensified political partisanship. Her “tea-party brand of extremism and obstruction have infected the entire Republican Congress, and her influence shows no signs of waning,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Emily Bittner.
Mrs. Bachmann’s departure comes amid a change in the public face of the tea party on Capitol Hill, as she has been eclipsed by newcomers that include Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas, and Rep. Raúl Labrador (R., Idaho), who seem more inclined to shake up the congressional system from within. Mr. Labrador, for example, is trying to make a legislative mark as member of a group negotiating a bipartisan immigration bill.
By contrast, few of Mrs. Bachmann’s bills have become laws. She secured long-sought funding for a bridge in her district, but her marquee bill to repeal Mr. Obama’s health-care law is going nowhere in the Senate after passing the House this month.
Mrs. Bachmann faced a potentially bruising 2014 re-election race. It was shaping up as a rematch with hotelier Jim Graves, a Democrat, who fell short by about 4,200 votes last year. Her retirement could make it easier for Republicans to hold the seat, in a heavily Republican district outside the Twin Cities, which was in play largely because of Mrs. Bachmann’s controversial profile.
Her decision “relieves House GOP leadership of an unflattering distraction who not only perennially put an otherwise safe GOP seat at risk but damaged the party’s brand nationally,” David Wasserman, analyst of House elections for the Cook Political Report, wrote Tuesday.
Mrs. Bachmann said in a video posted on her website that she had no concerns about her ability to win re-election or about the pending investigations of her presidential campaign. Instead, she said, eight years was enough time serving a House district.
A former Bachmann aide filed a Federal Election Commission complaint in January alleging that her campaign made improper payments to an Iowa state senator. The Office of Congressional Ethics opened an investigation of alleged wrongdoing in connection with her political affairs, according to people familiar with the matter. And a law-enforcement official said Wednesday the Federal Bureau of Investigation was looking into possible campaign irregularities, but cautioned that the effort was at its initial stages and hasn’t become a full investigation. At least one interview has been conducted, and others are planned, the official said.
Her lawyer, William McGinley, wouldn’t comment on the pending investigations. In her video, Mrs. Bachmann said: “It was clearly understood that compliance with all rules and regulations was an absolute necessity for my presidential campaign, and I have no reason to believe that that was not the case.”
Mrs. Bachmann formed the Tea Party Caucus in the House and was a frequent critic on cable TV of Mr. Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan, his health-care overhaul and other administration policies. She gave her own televised “tea-party response” to Mr. Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address, a moment that crystallized her distinctness from other House Republicans but also opened her to jokes on late-night TV, because she gave the speech with her eyes cast away from the camera. She put in several strong debate performances ahead of the GOP presidential primaries and went on to win the Iowa straw poll in August 2011. But she came in sixth in the Iowa caucuses five months later, netting 5% of the vote, and ended her campaign the next day.
—Devlin Barrett and Ben Kesling contributed to this article.