U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly for at least one day took front and center in efforts to unwind the ongoing Internal Revenue Service scandal.
And in doing so, he did what many Americans can only dream of — he stuck it to the IRS.
It earned him an unprecedented standing ovation in a congressional hearing room, bookings on cable television and radio talk shows and recognition in The Washington Post.
“It just kind of happened,” the Republican congressman from Butler said Monday of his newfound fame. “I think I struck a chord with the ‘average Joe.’”
What happened was an impassioned and rousing speech that Kelly delivered Friday during a House Ways and Means Committee hearing into wrongdoing by the IRS.
The hearing was held after a recent Treasury Department inspector’s report determined that conservative and small-government groups seeking tax-exempt status were singled out for extra scrutiny.
On the hot seat during the hearing was Acting IRS Commissioner Steven T. Miller, who spent several hours taking and sometimes dodging heated questions from angry Democrats and angrier Republicans.
When it came his turn, Kelly, a member of the tax-writing committee, admitted he could barely control himself.
He got his Irish up, to put it another way.
Not only was Kelly seething over Miller’s inability to answer the committee questions, but he was not pleased with the official’s seemingly, at times, nonchalant tone over the charges of political targeting by the IRS.
“This is the acting commissioner, you’d think he’d show a little outrage,” Kelly said. “But he seemed like this was just another day.”
The congressman also was irked by Miller’s claim to the committee that any improper agency practices were simply “foolish” mistakes by low-level underlings.
When his questions were hit by what he considered Miller’s stonewall of arrogance, Kelly let loose in a speech that quickly went viral.
As of Monday morning, it had 200,000 hits on YouTube.
Some of the “greatest hits” from Kelly to Miller included:
* “I don’t know that I got any answers from you … I am more concerned today than I was before.”
* “I have a grandson who’s afraid to get out of bed at night because he thinks there’s somebody under the bed that’s going to grab him, and I think most Americans feel that way about the IRS.”
* “Is there any limit to the scope of where you folks can go?”
* “This reconfirms everything the American public believes. This is a huge blow to the faith and trust the American people have in their government.”
* “The fact is that you all can do just about anything you want to anybody. You know, you can put anybody out of business that you want anytime you want.”
* “You should be outraged but you’re not. The American people should be outraged, and they are.”
The congressman denied he was grandstanding and refuted claims that his outburst was less than spontaneous.
“I didn’t even realize it was televised,” he said of the hearing.
U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, a fellow committee member, has no doubts about Kelly’s sincerity.
“Mike speaks from the heart,” said Renacci, a close friend to Kelly. “He is a man of conviction.”
The fanfare earned Kelly a guest spot Sunday on the Fox News Channel’s morning program “Fox and Friends.”
He was also named “Distinguished Pol of the Week” in The Washington Post.
On Monday, he appeared on three talk shows, including that of nationally syndicated conservative host Bill Bennett, former President Reagan’s education secretary and the director of drug policy during President George H.W. Bush’s administration.
Every media interview, Kelly said, provides him with another opportunity to urge Americans — Republicans and Democrats, left and right — to contact their congressional members and senators to demand accountability and justice from the federal government.
He said Friday’s hearing was the first in what would be a series of inquiries by Congress into the IRS scandal.
“There are going to have to be more hearings because there are more and more questions about what the IRS did and what the White House knew and when they knew it,” he said.
On Wednesday, a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing is slated with former IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman, who led the agency during most of the period when the political targeting took place, to testify.
Additionally, Lois Lerner, who led the IRS unit responsible for overseeing tax-exempt applications, is to appear.
Renacci agreed that more hearings are needed, in part to help restore the public’s trust in government.
“Anytime the IRS can target someone for political reasons, that’s a problem,” he said. “We need to get to the bottom of this and the American people want us to get to the bottom of this.”