Defending the McCain campaign's automated phone calls attacking Barack Obama's judgment and character, Rep. Michele Bachmann on Friday said Obama "may have anti-American views" and called for a news media "exposé" of the views of members of Congress.
Bachmann's comments came in a 13-minute interview on MSNBC, during which she asserted that Obama has a close connection to 1960s radical William Ayers, a theme of the phone calls and recent remarks by McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin.
"Barack Obama didn't have a mild association with Bill Ayers," Bachmann, a Republican, said. "He had a very strong association with Bill Ayers."
Later, when asked by Chris Matthews whether she believes that Obama may have anti-American views, Bachmann replied, "Absolutely. I'm very concerned that he may have anti-American views."
Bachmann also said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, both Democrats, have "far-leftist views." When asked whether she considered members of Congress anti-American, she said, "The news media should do a penetrating exposé and take a look. I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out are they pro-America or anti-America."
On Friday, Bachmann's DFL opponent, Elwyn Tinklenberg, said Bachmann's comments "undermines our political process. Instead of being able to disagree respectfully, it turns it into this kind of vilification. You're just not disagreeing. The other person is un-American."
But a spokeswoman for Bachmann denied that the congresswoman had portrayed all liberals as anti-American.
The controversy arose on a day when Palin was quoted by Time magazine online saying, "I don't question at all Barack Obama's love for the great country."
Bachmann's interview is the latest in a series of national television appearances by her in recent months. In the midst of a reelection campaign that Democrats say is growing more competitive, she has become an increasingly prominent spokeswoman for conservative causes ranging from defending the choice of Palin for vice president to demanding more oil drilling.
"For a long time, Republican congresswomen were not the best spokespeople for the party simply because they tended to be more liberal than the Republican Party," said Kathryn Pearson, a University of Minnesota assistant professor of political science. "If anything, [Bachmann] is to the right of the Republican Party median in the House of Representatives."
Since August, Bachmann has made dozens of TV appearances on CNN's "Larry King Live," and on MSNBC, Bloomberg and Fox. She was on "Larry King" Friday night.
It's unclear what impact, if any, Bachmann's increasing national exposure will have on her campaign for reelection to Minnesota's Sixth Congressional District. National Democratic groups recently targeted the race for increased attention and spending.
Tinklenberg has criticized Bachmann's national media appearances as coming at the expense of time spent with her constituents.
In a rally for his supporters several weeks ago, Tinklenberg said, "She doesn't want to be in the district. She wants to be on 'Larry King.'"
He also said at the time that Bachmann's comments show that she espouses "a narrow ideological approach" to governing.
Regarding Bachmann's call for a media "exposé" of Congress, Tinklenberg said, "Is this the revisiting of a McCarthy era where we start investigating who's American and who's un-American?"
Bachmann's spokeswoman, Michelle Marston, issued a statement after the MSNBC interview that said in part:
"There's no question that Barack Obama has many relationships ... with people who hold views far out of the mainstream. It's perfectly legitimate for the American people to want to know how all this informs his policy positions and what direction an Obama administration would want to lead the nation. This is particularly true given that the Senate and House are likely to remain in Democrat hands, possibly with a margin wide enough in the Senate to prevent the traditional minority right to filibuster."