During a congressional hearing on Tuesday surrounding the investigation of the Internal Service Revenue targeting conservative groups, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) decided to deviate from his original line of questioning to react to Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) calling the IRS scandal "political theater."
At a House Ways and Means Committee hearing, McDermott acknowledged that members from the IRS staff did make mistakes, calling their actions "inept" and "stupid," but he argued that it was not a part of a conspiracy. McDermott claimed that Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) did not concern himself with similar targeting of liberal groups during the Bush administration.
"The mistake here was that the staff organizing the organizations used the names of the organizations rather than the work they do and asked improper questions to figure that out," McDermott said. "It's clearly wrong. It was inept, stupid and a whole lot of other things. But let's not get lost. During the Bush administration, liberal groups were targeted without any concern by Mr. Issa or anyone else on this committee. The Republicans were looking for a conspiracy where there isn't one. Mr. Issa says 'he can feel it in his gut' that someone's broken the law."
"Just ask yourself which is more likely," McDermott continued. "That mid-level employees overwhelmed by four-times as many applications as before made stupid, irresponsible shortcuts? Or that there is an administration-wide plot to take down community organizers. Let's not forget that this happened under an IRS commissioner appointed by George Bush and was investigated by a Republican inspector general."
McDermott went on to say that while what happened was an "unfair" and "incredibly inconvenient" mistake, he reaffirmed that he had not "heard a single word" about which questions should be asked regarding tax-exempt requests.
"Anything else like the circus that's happening in the Oversight committee or here is simply political theater," McDermott said. "It is diverting attention from what we ought to be doing on this committee is re-writing the law if it's wrong."
During Ryan's turn to speak, he announced he would address what McDermott said rather than go forward with his original question.
"I'm going to deviate from my original question in response to what I just heard," Ryan said, followed by applause from attendees at the congressional hearing. "Welcome to Washington."
Ryan then criticized former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, saying he knew about the targeting long before Congress was told. He added that Shulman implied that conservative organizations were responsible for being targeted because they chose to apply for tax-exempt status.
"So 'you're to blame' I guess is the message here," Ryan said. "Do you think that you are targeted based upon your political beliefs, your religious beliefs or just because you chose to apply?"
"We do know -- this is one of the facts that we now know -- that people were singled out because of their beliefs," Ryan said.