By general acclamation, the greatest Moment from today’s battering of the IRS (with an assist from the bored, doomed outgoing acting commissioner) came when Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Kelly went buck wild. After pressuring the witness a few times and getting non-answers, Kelly finally just went on a tirade about the IRS, the “monster under the bed,” the force that terrifies hard-working Americans. When he finished, Kelly earned spontaneous applause from the public seats. (Some Tea Party activists had lined up to get those seats.)
Kelly was an emblematic member of the 2010 Tea Party freshman class. Aged 62 when he won—the oldest of the freshmen—Kelly ran because he ran a Chevy dealership and got intimate with the hand of government. In a fine 2010 profile, Phil Rucker tailed Kelly around D.C. and around his district, and asked him who in the Capitol impressed him. His answer was “nobody.”
I hope I don’t sound arrogant about this, but at 62 years old, I’ve pretty much seen what I need to see. There’ve been times when I didn’t even take a paycheck out of here for six months. There’ve been times I cashed in my pension to put money back in the shop. There’ve been times I mortgaged my home to keep this business alive. I’ve been to the edge of the abyss and looked in and there’s nobody there to help you - nobody there.
Once in Congress, Kelly became a pretty reliable team player. In one of the dark stretches of the 2011 debt limit fight, it was Kelly who brought Notre Dame slogans to a House Republican meeting and urged colleagues to vote for the leadership’s preferred compromise—to, in his words, “knock the shit out of ‘em.”
He may play that role again during the next tussle over whether to hold fast on spending or pass a compromise. For now, his extremely telegenic outrage demonstrates how Republicans have been brought together by this scandal.