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Hold the obituary: despite Mississippi setback, Tea Party still standing

WASHINGTON - America's conservative insurgency limped into Wednesday bruised, bloodied yet buoyantly flinging haymakers through another day.

The Tea Party movement had been battered the night before in a high-stakes primary defeat that quelled the renewed scuttlebutt about its imminent takeover of the Republican party.

It was a dispiriting setback in Mississippi, where Tea Party groups plowed money into the campaign of a young right-winger only to see him edged out by an old-school, establishment Republican on the edge of octogenarianism. An influx of ballots cast by non-Republicans helped elect Thad Cochran to his 10th congressional term, infuriating the Tea Party grassroots and freezing any recent momentum.

But hold that obituary.

Scenes on Capitol Hill offered vivid examples of the Tea Party being very much alive Wednesday. Its influence on the American political conversation was evident in the House of Representatives, and at different events in Congress.

For starters, the Republicans are suing President Barack Obama.

Many in the grassroots would actually prefer impeaching him, and the party's South Dakota chapter has in fact just made Obama's removal from office its official policy. The reason: Obama's use of executive orders to bypass Congress. He's done it with environmental regulations, and he did it again this week at a Working Families summit where he announced federal departments will have to show more flexibility with work hours.

The top Republican in Congress hears those concerns. House Speaker John Boehner was asked about reports he might sue the president and the administration — and he replied in the affirmative.

But Boehner insisted he won't pursue the nuclear option: "This is not about impeachment. This is about his faithfully executing the laws of our country."

Obama's defenders have pointed to statistical evidence that his predecessors actually used executive orders far more often than him, and the U.S. court system has repeatedly upheld a president's right to issue those orders as long as they don't violate an existing law. But his detractors fume at his use of law-by-decree on vehicle emissions, power plants, gun control, and labour regulations.

Boehner appeared to be feeling pressure from the base on another front: corporate subsidies. The right-wing grassroots has become increasingly vocal about crony capitalism.

The backlash began a few years ago with bank bailouts, and stimulus spending, and then grew over subsidies to green businesses. Now the idea of killing the country's main export-development agency has gone mainstream within the party, with the support of its newly chosen House majority leader.

The notion of scrapping the Export-Import Bank — and its $27 billion a year in loan guarantees and credits — is anathema to the Wall Street wing of the Republican party and, until recently, would have been unthinkable for a big-business booster like Boehner.

But there he was, entertaining it Wednesday.

"I'm not going to answer the question," he said when asked for his own position, as members of his party pushed to eliminate the agency during a House hearing Wednesday. In the next breath, he said: "You know, you tried to do this on immigration for the last two years."

That was a wink-nudge reference to immigration reform, which Boehner apparently supports.

He's hasn't managed to bring a Senate bill up for a vote for fear of incurring the wrath of his party grassroots — which detests the idea of giving illegal immigrants a chance at U.S. citizenship. On Wednesday, one leading Democratic proponent of reform announced he'd abandoned hope.

The general U.S. public, meanwhile, may be turning on the Tea Party.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll this month found only 22 per cent of respondents with a positive attitude toward it; 41 per cent were negative and 26 per cent were neutral.

Even Republican supporters may be getting fed up. The American Enterprise Institute says support for the Tea Party among Republicans dropped from the high 50s in 2010 to only one-third by this spring.

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