Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) expressed outrage over the incarceration of people convicted of crimes related to the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot in a Thursday night debate with his Democratic challenger, Dan Pastore.
Asked by debate moderators WICU Erie News Now how he felt about the deliberations of the House select committee investigating the causes of the riot and calling on the committee to subpoena former President Donald Trump, Kelly characterized it as a hunt party witch and emphasized his anger with the law enforcement response to the riot.
“Should it have happened? Absolutely not,” Kelly said of the attack on the Capitol. “The relentless pursuit of this president, regardless of the information gathered, should be shocking to any person living in this country.”
“I completely understand and agree: January 6 should never have happened,” Kelly added. “But when you look at some of the people who are still incarcerated with no way out, you ask yourself: Is this really America? Is this really America?”
Kelly correctly noted in the debate that there are only two Republicans on the January 6 committee – Representatives Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) – and that both have been critics of Trump for a while. He did not mention, however, that the committee exists in its current form because House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) rejected the idea of a fully independent and bipartisan commission.
“The vast majority of the witnesses at those hearings were either Capitol police or actually Republicans,” replied Pastore, a businessman and attorney. “What does it offer? That we brush it under the carpet?”
“It’s important that we get to the bottom of it, and that’s what we’re trying to do in the January 6 hearings,” Pastore added.
At another point in the debate, Kelly elaborated on his loss of faith in the federal government.
“Where we are right now, right now as a nation, is the most dangerous point we’ve ever been, where we’re being overtaken by the same government whose justice system has failed,” he said. . “Most people now look at the FBI as a danger.”
Kelly is one of the 147 House Republicans who voted against certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election later in the day following the Capitol riot. He had previously sued to invalidate 2.5 million Pennsylvania ballots on the grounds that the GOP-controlled state legislature had passed absentee voting without excuse violation of the Pennsylvania constitution. Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, which has a Democratic majority, dismiss the lawsuit in November 2020.
Pastore later pressed Kelly to clarify whether he still believes the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” by Trump.
Kelly refused to give a straight answer, instead emphasizing his lingering doubt about the fairness with which he was administered.
“My opponent can say anything he wants about it, ‘He won’t accept,’ ‘He won’t accept,’ ‘He won’t accept,'” he said. “What I will not accept is the destruction of America and the confidence we need to have in our government and in our elections.”
Pastore offered additional condemnation of Kelly in a Friday statement provided to HuffPost, calling Kelly “an embarrassment to Western Pennsylvania.”
“His comments show that he is unfit to serve in public office,” Pastore said. “I’m running for Congress to uphold the law of the land and to support law enforcement. Mike Kelly stands with violent criminals and attacks on the men and women of law enforcement who keep us safe.”
“Mike Kelly thinks it’s unfair that violent criminals who attacked the police and tried to overthrow our government are doing time in prison, and that’s outrageous,” he added. “Kelly’s attack on federal law enforcement shows he has no respect for the law and those who protect us.”
Kelly, a six-term incumbent, is the heavy favorite to win re-election in Pennsylvania’s 16th Congressional District, which covers the northwestern corner of the Keystone State. In 2020, Trump defeated President Joe Biden among voters in the district by more than 20 percentage points.
Pastore’s struggle to raise large sums of money has prevented him from advertising on television so far in the race.