Meet the Pennsylvania Republican who’s playing defense on Trump’s tax returns

U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa. (U.S. House photo)

Philly Dems. Dwight Evans and Brendan Boyle now wield clout in the new majority

WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Kelly has emerged as a central player in U.S. House Republicans’ efforts to discourage the new Democratic majority from securing President Donald Trump’s tax returns.

Kelly, whose sprawling 16th District seat stretches from the shores of Lake Erie to the Pittsburgh exurbs, is the top Republican on the House Ways and Means subcommittee on oversight, which made the disclosure of presidential tax returns the topic of its first hearing in the new Congress.

The hearing comes as Democrats and transparency advocates continue their push for the public disclosure of Trump’s tax returns.

Kelly warned Democrats against “the reckless sharing of a taxpayers’ private information for political purposes would be unprecedented and clearly outside the bounds of Congress’ role as a legislative body.”

He added, “Every single American has the right to privacy,” and warned that sensitive information can be disclosed in tax returns. “Our role is oversight, certainly not overreach,” he said.

Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass, the chairman of the House’s chief tax-writing committee, is moving forward with plans to subpoena Trump’s tax returns, the Associated Press reported earlier this week.

Kelly and U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, wrote a letter to Neal urging the committee to abandon plans to force the release of Trump’s tax returns, characterizing the quest for Trump’s tax returns, as “weaponizing our nation’s tax code by targeting political foes,” Business Insider reported.

U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa., who represents the 2nd District in Philadelphia and also sits on the Ways and Means Committee, defended the panel’s right to obtain tax returns to investigate government officials.

“Under the Constitution and our system of checks and balances, Congress has not just the right but the responsibility to oversee whether our laws are faithfully executed by the executive branch,” Boyle said. “In accordance with this duty, almost a century ago, Congress explicitly enumerated this committee’s right to review any return or return information.”

Democrats on the oversight panel focused on legislation that would require candidates running for president and vice president to release their tax returns. Past presidents have typically done so, but Trump has withheld his, enraging Democrats who accuse him of having something to hide.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters ahead of Thursday’s hearing, “I think overwhelmingly the public wants to see the president’s tax returns. … We have important judgments to make and we need information to make those judgments.”

Trump wrote on Twitter Thursday that Democrats “and their committees are going ‘nuts.’”

During his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, the president urged House Democrats to abandon investigations into his administration.

Now that they have the House majority, Democrats have the power to obtain Trump’s tax returns from the IRS, but Pelosi suggested Thursday they won’t rush to do so.

“You have to be careful,” she said. It’s not a question of sending a letter. You have to do it in a very careful way. The chairman of the committee will be doing that.”

Pennsylvanians pack powerful committee

Pennsylvania has an outsized representation on the powerful Ways and Means committee this Congress.

In addition to Kelly and Boyle, U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans — a Democrat whose 3rd District also includes parts of Philadelphia — was appointed to the tax-writing panel.

It’s unusual for one state to have such a strong presence on the coveted committee.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Brendan Boyle and Dwight Evans of Pennsylvania (Collage by John L. Micek)

“That’s rather unique to have not just two people from the same state, but from the same city,” Evans told the Capital-Star Thursday in an interview.

“Obviously Philadelphia and Pennsylvania is very significant to this country and significant in that it’s one of the original 13 states.”

Evans, who doesn’t serve on the oversight panel, sits on the Health Subcommittee and the Worker and Family Support Subcommittee.

He said Pennsylvania has historically had an important presence on the panel, pointing back to U.S. Rep. Thaddeus Stevens, a Pennsylvania Republican who was Ways and Means chairman from 1861 until 1865.

In his pitch to Democratic leadership to join the panel, Evans pointed to his experience serving as Chairman of Pennsylvania’s House Appropriations Committee.

He shared the letter he sent to the Democratic steering committee with the Capital-Star.

Letter to Steering Committe… by on Scribd

Evans said he plans to use the position to push for healthcare and infrastructure funding, and to advocate for reviewing the Republicans’ recent tax overhaul.

“The Republicans have a way of over-exaggerating what that GOP tax scam has done and I don’t think it has done what they said it has,” he said.

He’s also supportive of getting Trump’s tax returns.

“All tax returns have been provided voluntarily since Gerald Ford,” he said. “Yeah, it’s a priority. … He should provide his tax returns, I support that concept.”

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