Sen. Orrin Hatch Tells Tea Party: 'I'm Impressed' : It's All Politics The Utah senator told Tea Party activists he appreciated their role in taking "America back." Hatch has been targeted by the grassroots movement and is trying to avoid the fate of his former colleague from Utah, Bob Bennett, who was defeated in his re-election effort by the Tea Party.
NPR logo Sen. Orrin Hatch Tells Tea Party: 'I'm Impressed'

Sen. Orrin Hatch Tells Tea Party: 'I'm Impressed'

The Tea Party came to the nation's capital Tuesday evening, but it wasn't a big, noisy rally on the mall.

It was a small event, in a cramped conference room holding barely a hundred people at a Washington Institution, the National Press Club downtown.

The event was sponsored by the Tea Party Express, one of the largest Tea Party organizations in the country. It was billed, too, as the movements first ever televised town hall where activists could question a panel made up of members of Congress.

What made the panel interesting is that it included a six-term U.S. Senator who is not a Tea Party favorite.

In fact, he hadn't even been invited. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) called organizers to ask if he could come. They said "yes."

On some key Tea Party issues, Hatch is right in line with the movement. He says government spending needs to be slashed. That the U.S. needs a balanced budget amendment. And he called the new health care law "terrible" and a "monstrosity" that will "cost an arm and a leg".

He described the White House and the Democrats in Congress as "arrogant" in the way they got the bill passed.

But Hatch's relationship with the Tea Party can also be described as at arms length. Until last night.

The audience of activists applauded when he wrapped his arms around the movement, praising the role it has played in American politics since its founding nearly two years ago.

"I've been watching what the Tea Party does. I'm very impressed," Hatch said.

"I think its time for America to take back America and the Tea Party is playing a role in that and I appreciate that."

Hatch's presence may have been motivated by what happened to his friend and fellow Utah Republican in the U.S. Senate last year.

Three-term Senator Bob Bennett was running for re-election when he was defeated at the state nominating convention.

A Tea Party driven groundswell instead chose Republican challenger Mike Lee who went on to win in the fall.

Senator Lee was on the panel last night with Hatch. Like Lee, the others on the panel are all among the Tea Party's favorite politicians.

They included Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and representatives Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Steven King, (R-IA) and Allen West (R-FL).

Hatch was warmly received by the audience. But the real enthusiasm was reserved for the others on the stage.