WASHINGTON -- Since being elected to Congress in 2006, Rep. Michele Bachmann has developed a reputation for making inflammatory statements or saying something that is flat out factually wrong -- but with little political consequence.
Now the conservative Republican firebrand may have cast the proverbial final straw with her latest suggestions that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the U.S. government and fellow Minnesota congressional delegation member Keith Ellison, D-Minneapolis, has connections to the Islamic group.
As a backlash continues to build against the Stillwater Republican seeking her fourth term in the House of Representatives, some political experts and government watchdogs say Bachmann has so damaged her credibility she could find it difficult being an effective representative for her 6th Congressional District constituents.
"She has completely marginalized herself," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "As a national player, she's sort of done. It's not like you're hearing any Republicans defending her."
Bachmann's office would not respond to requests for an interview or a statement regarding the fallout over the controversy.
In a July 18 statement, Bachmann said the letters she and her colleagues wrote were "unfortunately being distorted."
Bachmann said the intent of the letters were to call attention to legitimate national security issues and decisions made by President Barack Obama's administration.
"I will not be silent as this administration appeases our enemies instead of telling the truth about the threats our country faces," Bachmann said.
Bachmann, who sits on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, was joined by Reps. Trent Franks, R-Ariz.; Louie Gohmert, R-Texas; Tom Rooney, R-Fla.; and Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga.; on letters to inspectors generals at the departments of State, Justice, Homeland Security and Defense, as well as the director of the Office of National Intelligence.
The letters named Huma Abedin -- a top aide to State Department Secretary Hillary Clinton and wife of former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner -- and several Homeland Security aides and called for an investigation of their possible links to the Muslim Brotherhood, a fumdamentalist Islamic group based in Egypt.
The letters were written on June 13, and reaction in Washington largely flew under the radar until Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, condemned the letters and their insinuations while defending Abedin in a Senate floor speech more than a month later.
"These sinister accusations rest solely on a few unspecified and unsubstantiated associations of Huma's family, none of which have been shown to harm or threaten the United States in any way," McCain said. "These attacks on Huma have no logic, no basis and no merit."
Following McCain's July 18 remarks, several other Republicans criticized Bachmann and colleagues, including House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, who chairs the intelligence committee, distanced themselves from Bachmann and her colleagues.
When a constituent spoke during a July 22 town hall meeting in support of Bachmann, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., defended Abedin and religious freedom and said Bachmann was wrong to cast aspersions against the Clinton aide.
"I think the Constitution in saying that there shall never be a religious test for any office of trust and profit under the United States meant that people should not be judged on the basis of their religious beliefs or lack of religious beliefs," Sensenbrenner said.
Ed Rollins, who served for a while as campaign manager for Bachmann's presidential run, chastised the congresswoman in a comment he wrote for FoxNews.com.
Rollins said as a member of the intelligence committee Bachmann should have known Abedin had been thoroughly investigated for security reasons "and would never have been given her position with any questions of her loyalty to this country."
"Shame on you, Michele," Rollins wrote. "You should stand on the floor of the House and apologize to Huma Abedin and to Secretary Clinton and to the millions of hard-working, loyal Muslim Americans for your wild and unsubstantiated charges."
Bachmann has been unapologetic. In a conversation with conservative talk show host Glenn Beck, Bachmann stood by her letters and accused colleague Keith Ellison of also having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Some Bachmann supporters have come to her defense. On Friday, 17 conservative leaders signed a letter to Boehner, who had called the implications in Bachmann's letters "dangerous."
The conservatives noted that as members of the House armed services, judiciary and intelligence committees, Bachmann and colleagues had a right to seek some answers regarding their concerns.
"It is surprising and disappointing to us that Rep. Bachmann and her colleagues would be criticized, instead of applauded, for bravely demanding answers to matters essential to the safety of the American people and our Armed Forces," the conservative leaders wrote.
It was one thing to suggest a link between President Barack Obama's administration and the Muslim Brotherhood, but extending the accusation to Ellison went way over the line, some pundits say.
"Impugning the fundamental patriotism of one of the members of your own state delegation goes too far," said Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a native Minnesotan. "At some point, I got to believe Democrats will call for an ethics investigation."
At this appoint, it appears all the Democrats are calling for are signatures on a petition. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began a drive Friday to collect 100,000 signatures on a petition denouncing Bachmann's accusations.
"Congresswoman Bachmann's latest outburst is what's wrong with Washington because the tea party-run Congress cares more about promoting incendiary right-wing conspiracy theories instead of focusing on what matters to middle class families," DCCC spokeswoman Haley Morris said.
Sloan, with the citizens group, said while some might find Bachmann's insinuations to be reprehensible, they constitute no ethics violation.
"Her behavior is outrageous and heinous, and it is shocking she has supporters in America," Sloan said. "But that said, she has a First Amendment right to say hateful things."
Rep. Betty McCollum, D-St. Paul, pointed out Bachmann has attacked the patriotism of members of Congress before, hinting at the her 2008 comment that Obama and some members might be un-American. McCollum said Bachmann owes Ellison an apology.
"This is very serious," McCollum said. "Secretary Clinton's aide now has to have security. She's put this woman in personal jeopardy, then called a fellow member of the delegation, who took the oath just like she did, un-American."
Bachmann's attack on Ellison raises questions of whether she can be trusted at times when members of the delegation have to unite in Washington on matters important to Minnesota.
"We have to work together on environmental issues, on transportation issues and other issues, and need to know that she can be taken seriously that she's a team player," McCollum said. "We need to know that we respect one another. We may not agree but we need to respect one another."
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