- Rep. Bennie Thompson says leading the January 6 committee is his “signature work.”
- Thompson said the racial discrimination that barred his late father from voting is driving him.
- Six hearings in June will present new evidence on how the January 6 insurrection unfolded.
Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, who chairs the House select committee investigating the January 6 assault on the Capitol, has a political career that has spanned more than 50 years. But he wants his legacy to be defined by his work spearheading the effort to make sure Americans learn about and never forget what happened on January 6.
Thompson, who is the longest-serving Black elected official representing the state of Mississippi, says his years in public service have prepared him to helm a panel examining the threat to democracy posed by the January 6 riot. The committee is poised to present new evidence about what its staff aides called a “coordinated” scheme to overturn the results of the 2020 election after dozens of lawsuits by attorneys failed to change then-President Donald Trump’s loss; Republicans close to Trump have resisted the committee’s requests and subpoenas.
“There’s a lot of other pieces of legislation that basically alter the trajectory of so many people in my district, in this country, as well as other pieces of legislation, but nothing compares to the importance of this committee and why I value its work as my signature work in the United States House of Representatives,” he told Insider in a May interview.
For the past several months, Thompson has had to navigate carrying out his responsibilities chairing the House Homeland Security Committee alongside with his new role as chairman of the House select Committee. And when he’s not chairing two full committees, the 74-year-old lawmaker is making trips back to his district to run his re-election campaign for the upcoming midterms.
“It’s a juggling act,” Thompson said. “I spend an awful lot of time in a vehicle. If you want to get to see your constituents, you have to spend a lot of time on the road.”
The House select committee, composed of seven Democrats and two Republicans, has worked around the clock to conduct their investigation. Over the course of the committee’s investigation, they have met both in-person and virtually, conducting several meetings a day and even on the weekends.
“We’re working hard to prove what the facts and circumstances are that led to January 6, and put it in a clear, concise form and let the public see and read it,” he said.
Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland told Insider that Thompson is “an excellent leader” and a “consensus builder.”
“He has created a great sense of warmth and community on this committee,” Raskin said. “This is the most bipartisan committee I’ve ever been on.”
While the committee is presenting its findings throughout this month. Thompson will also be leading several other congressional hearings in June for the House Homeland Security Committee, which is responsible for conducting oversight on the Homeland Security Department, which is made up of 22 federal agencies.
Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of California, who sits on the Congressional Black Caucus with Thompson and has worked with him for a number of years, told Insider that Thompson’s experience chairing the House Homeland Security Committee has prepared him for one of the defining moments of his career.
“He’s very clear about saving our democracy and the work at hand,” she said. “He doesn’t seek a lot of publicity, and I’m glad he’s getting some because the world needs to know who this brave warrior is.”
Thompson has generally kept a low profile in Washington DC. In 2005, he became chairman of the committee and has served on it for over a decade. He has tackled issues from immigration policies at the southern border to cybersecurity threats.
In late 2017, when outlets reported that the Trump administration was secretly separating migrant families at the southern border. Thompson was one of the first lawmakers to speak out against this practice and held countless hearings on the negative ramifications of this policy, which separated more than 5,500 children from their parents.
“Breaking apart families flies in the face of the ‘family values’ Republicans have campaigned on for decades. This is just the latest terrible proposal from this disastrous Administration and any humane and decent person should reject it outright,” he said in a statement in 2017.
When the Trump administration terminated the zero tolerance policy that gave government officials authority to separate families, Thompson’s hearings increased pressure on the administration to reunite the families.
Thompson’s civil rights roots
Thompson has served in Congress for nearly 29 years. His involvement in politics stems back from his early days at Tougaloo College, a historically Black college in Mississippi where he joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and participated in grassroots political activism.
In 1969, he served as the first Black mayor of Bolton. He then served as Hinds County Supervisor before getting elected in 1993 to represent his district in Congress.
Thompson still lives in the town he grew up in and says he tries to go back to whenever he can. The titles of congressman and chairman don’t follow him to Bolton. People still refer to him as “Bennie,” he said.
Growing up in Bolton, a rural town in Mississippi, taught him the importance of ensuring that people have the guaranteed right to vote and have participated in the electoral process. But the issue of voting rights also impacted him personally.
His father, Will, passed away in 1963, two years before the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that outlawed all efforts to deny Black Americans their right to vote. His father’s inability to vote fueled Thompson’s drive to defend voting rights for individuals.
“For me now to chair this committee, I’m humbled by it, and I know my dad is looking down and saying ‘That’s my boy,'” Thompson said.
During the course of the committee’s 10-month investigation, they interviewed more than 1,000 individuals, obtained thousands of documents, and subpoenaed several Republican lawmakers to cooperate with its investigation.
But Republican lawmakers including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Reps. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Jim Jordan of Ohio, and Andy Biggs of Arizona have all signaled that they would not cooperate with the committee’s probe.
The committee has stated that they want to use the public hearings to show the American public what unfolded on January 6 by revealing new evidence and providing witness testimonies. Committee staff aim to use these hearings to make a case that Trump was “at the center” of the “coordinated, multi-step effort” to stop President Joe Biden from taking office.
The committee is expected to hold six hearings throughout June to showcase what unfolded on January 6. And Thompson hasn’t ruled out holding more hearings in the future.
“If there is something we think that’s of value that a hearing could amplify, we are absolutely open to doing it,” he said in a previous interview. “It’s our democracy that stands to lose if we don’t get it right.”