BOTH CHAMBERS GET A ‘TEA PARTY CAUCUS’…. In July, far-right House members, led by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), formally launched the “House Tea Party Caucus.” There was some debate at the time about the propriety — Tea Partiers generally like to maintain the pretense of being independent-minded, insurgent outsiders — but a few dozen GOP lawmakers were quick to get on board.

Late last week, the contingent got a Senate counterpart.

Sen. Rand Paul on Friday announced the launch of the Senate Tea Party Caucus, making good on an idea he floated during last year’s campaign.

GOP Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.) and Mike Lee (Utah) will join the Kentucky Republican as the first members of the caucus. […]

The group’s first meeting will be on Jan. 27. The Senate group mirrors the House Tea Party Caucus, which Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) announced she was forming last year.

It’s worth noting for context that, while various issue-specific caucuses are quite common in the House, senators usually don’t bother with factions like these. Indeed, they generally don’t have to — senators already wield enormous procedural power, and don’t need to form caucuses to wield influence.

But DeMint, Paul, and Lee launched this endeavor anyway, and given the ideological bent of many Senate Republicans, it seems likely they won’t be the only three members.

The larger point to keep in mind, though, is that the line between of distinction between the so-called Tea Party “movement” and the Republican Party and its activist base has effectively disappeared. They’re one and the same, and pretending otherwise seems pointless.

Dana Milbank had a good piece several months ago at the launch of the House Tea Party Caucus, explaining, “There and then — on the Capitol grounds 104 days before the midterm elections — Tea Party activists and Republican officeholders set aside any pretense about the two groups being separate. They essentially consummated a merger: The activists allowed themselves to be co-opted by a political party, and the Republican leaders allowed themselves to become the faces of the movement.”

With the group now having a Senate counterpart, the process appears to be complete.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.