Rep. Michele Bachmann is retiring after eight years in Congress
The Minnesota Republican was a divisive conservative figure in both political parties
Statuary Hall inside the Capitol is the storied site of many key moments in U.S. history – from heated debates about slavery to inaugural lunches with presidents.
But Statuary Hall has almost surely never hosted a departing lawmaker rapping for national TV – that is until Michele Bachmann gave us her now famous rendition of the hip-hop song “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore.
“I look incredible. I wear your granddad’s clothes. I got twenty dollars in my pocket, and I’m going to the thrift shop down the road,” Bachmann, rapped, moving her body to the beat for effect.
It is hard to believe this is the same Bachmann who sprung onto the political scene shaking her fist in the air on the Capitol steps, rallying tea party protesters against President Barack Obama’s policies.
“I wasn’t politically correct, and I wasn’t as worried about my own political career,” she said. “I was really worried about the issues of the country. And what I was doing, I think, was just giving voice to what I would do if I was a mom back home.”
This is Bachmann unplugged, as she exits stage right after four terms in Congress, eager to show that she can lighten up while still sticking to conservative principles.
“Nobody has to worry about competition from me, I’ll tell you that!” Bachmann jokes about her rapping, which she said she learned from her 27-year-old son Harrison during a family trip last spring.
Bachmann has been one of the most polarizing politicians of the last five years – and few news organizations have held her feet to the fire about controversial comments more than CNN. Anderson Cooper’s “Keeping Them Honest” segment had its hands full with Bachmann statements to fact check.
We personally spent many a long day walking the Capitol hallways trying to find Bachmann to ask her tough questions – most famously about her comments about frivolous presidential spending, like on a dog walker, that turned out not to be true.
But now that she is on her way out of politics, we thought it would be interesting to get to know Bachmann beyond her big political persona.
Entering the Spotlight
It is hard to believe Bachmann has only been in Congress for eight years. But she made national headlines sooner than most backbenchers by embracing the tea party movement and becoming a de facto leader during the financial crisis.
“When I first came in, one of the first things that I did is I took on the president of my own party, George W. Bush, because George Bush wanted to pass a $700 billion bailout for Wall Street,” she recalled explaining her “no” vote for the bill. “We were in a completely different realm that doesn’t even make sense anymore, these numbers that we’re talking about. $700 billion is a lot of money! And so I asked the question, where did you get that figure from? And number two, what are you going to use it for? And I couldn’t get good answers.”
She jokes that she doesn’t know who is more excited to see her go, Democrats or her fellow GOP leaders.
“I don’t know who’s going to miss me more when I leave Congress – Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner – I have no idea! I’ve been a thorn, I think, in both of their sides,” Bachmann said.
Sexism in politics
Bachmann is eager to note that she was the only GOP woman to run for president in 2012, and says sexism is still very prevalent in politics.
“I’ll be frank with you – the way that I see it is that I think that when women speak, I don’t think that we’re listened to the same way that a man does. I know that I – I’m in a lot of venues where I’m the only woman. The only woman.”
“One thing that I notice is that when I walk into the room, the men are talking to each other – when I arrive – they’ll talk to each other when I’m leaving, and I’ll go up to them to try and get into the group and talk with them, but it’s different. It’s just different,” she admitted.
Bachmann and Jimmy Carter
In her final days in office, Bachmann took her family to a place in Washington Republicans don’t visit: the White House. She scrounged around the capitol for extra tickets from colleagues not planning to attend the annual Christmas party, so that she could bring all five of her children to see President Obama for the holidays.
Not surprisingly, she advised her kids to make their moments with the President count.
“I told them, look, you only get about a second with him,” she recalled.
“Make sure whatever you say is exactly what’s in your mind.”
Her initial political experience was not working for Ronald Reagan, as one would think, but on Jimmy Carter’s campaign.
“The first time I ever came to this city was to dance at the inaugural ball for Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale! Which is kind of hard to believe. But then I saw how their policies worked out, they were a complete and utter failure, and then that’s why I became a Republican, and I never looked back,” Bachmann said.
The Frustrated Landscaper
In a lighthearted lightening round of questions, Bachmann said her theme song is “Takin’ Care Of Business” by Bachmann-Turner Overdrive, naturally.
Who does she want to play her in a biopic? “Kristin Wiig,” who played Bachmann in Saturday Night Live skits.
If she could ask her musical idol Johnny Cash one question what would it be? “Ah, would you please sing at my next birthday party! That’s what I would say – not gonna happen! – but I do love him.”
What is Bachmann’s non-political reading material of choice?
“My favorite thing is landscaping. I love landscaping. And so what I’ll do is, mostly I put language into search engines, and if I want to look, like, at tulip gardens, or, like, Georgian gardens,” she said sheepishly. “I love English gardens, how they’re laid out. Japanese gardens, Asian gardens. So, I’m kind of a frustrated landscaper.”
Mistakes, Congress and beyond
Bachmann admits she “made mistakes” during her time on Capitol Hill. No doubt repeating some erroneous facts in conservative media about the cost of presidential trips, or ties Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s family had to Al Qaeda.
Some of those comments drew attention from reporters like yours truly, who tried to walk as fast as she could in heels to ask questions.
“That is one of the things I really like – I run stairs here. When we go, like, from the basement up, I’ll be in high heels and I’ll run the stairs because, the good thing is – you actually do get a workout, cause you can walk seven miles a day here, plus do the stairs,”
“Oh, of course I will,” she said with a knowing laugh.
Though she may be leaving Congress, there is no way she going far from the political spotlight, whatever her next act may be.
“Well I’ll be involved in 2016 one way or another,” she said shermanesquely. “I am not looking at being a candidate, but I fully intend to be involved. This is a huge election where now we are tee’d up, both in the House and in the Senate, for the repeal of Obamacare.”
“When I ran for president in 2012, that was my motivation - I wanted to repeal Obamacare… I think that there will be a lot of momentum for that in 2016, and I want to be a part of that voice to help that happen,” she said.