The day after he turned down an invitation to speak at a rally featuring Sarah Palin in his home state of Massachusetts, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass) is being granted a pass from the leading organizers behind the Tea Party movement.
But underneath the forgiveness and diplomatic niceties, there seems to be a growing frustration with the newly-elected Massachusetts Republican, both for skipping out on Wednesday's festivities and for several votes he's made that have been viewed as defying conservative fiscal hawkishness.
"The media is claiming that he snubbed us. But he is working. He just got back from Afghanistan. There are hearings into the Iranian nuclear program going on this week. That is no time for a United States Senator to hop on an airplane at the public's expense to go attend a rally," said Mark Williams, chairman of the Tea Party Express, following a press conference at the National Press Club on Thursday.
Asked, however, whether he thought Brown's voting record in his short Senate career was troubling, Williams replied: "Not troubling yet. Scott Brown is by no means an automaton. And this movement is not monolithic or into group think."
Attendees at the Press Club event were a bit more blunt when it came to the Bay State's junior senator. Sharon Rideout, an ardent conservative from Maine, said she dropped her hopes for Brown after learning (post-election) that he held pro-choice positions. "If there is no pro-life candidate on the ballot, my vote goes to the blank," she said.
Sandy Smith, a resident of Northern Virginia, meanwhile, expressed some sense of betrayal with Brown's support for a watered-down jobs bill and his vote to extend unemployment insurance this past week. Premising her remarks by saying "we love" the senator, she added: "I wasn't happy with the jobs bill."
"It just depends on whether he keeps it up. And I'm not sure he has given Tea Party people enough recognition. I mean, the first time I ever donated to a candidate outside my district was to Scott Brown. And he won. We know we won't get the most conservative [senator]. But if he keeps voting the way he votes, we will have to deal with it later."
The relationship between lawmaker and movement is, to put it one way, complex. During his campaign for the Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy, Brown became a conduit of sorts for Tea Party angst with the federal government. But he never really billed himself as an active political figure within the movement, despite appearing at rallies and fundraisers. The fact that Tea Party goers adopted his candidacy, nevertheless, has presented some uncomfortable political friction in the wake of his election. And while Williams and others dismiss the notion that there is dissatisfaction ("He is about as conservative as you can get and still be elected in Massachusetts," said Sal Russo, a Republican operative turned Tea Party strategist), others simply tried to duck any talk of the Massachusetts Republican.
"There are too many variables that I don't know," William Owens, a Tea Party activist from Nevada who documented the movement for Tea Party Express TV, said when asked about the movement's relationship with Brown. "There are a lot of things I don't understand about that dynamic. I have a certain part in the Tea Party Express -- there are just some facts I'm not clear about."
"What facts are unclear?" The Huffington Post asked.
"Well, again, even those are unclear."