It’s yet to be seen what will come out of the House investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection at the nation’s Capitol.
There’s one near certainty, however.
The proceedings are going to substantially raise the national profile of Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson.
It may surprise some of the Democratic congressman’s longtime critics in his home state, but Thompson has acquired a reputation in Washington of being a bridge builder.
On the eve of the initial hearing earlier this week, a pair of Republican colleagues were lauding Thompson’s nonconfrontational style, even if not agreeing with his mostly liberal politics.
Both Rep. Pete King, the former top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee that Thompson now chairs, and the current top Republican on that committee, Rep. John Katko, used terms such as “good guy,” “patriotic American” and “productive partner” to describe Thompson to a reporter.
The work of the special panel that Thompson was chosen to head will be lambasted as heavily partisan by the majority of Republicans, but Thompson tried hard to ensure that would not be the case. He worked with Katko on a proposal to create an independent, bipartisan commission to handle the investigation, but that idea regrettably was torpedoed by Senate Republicans.
Thompson is outnumbered in his home state, where Republicans control the other three House seats and two Senate ones. But like other members of Congress in Mississippi’s past, he has used the power of seniority to work his way up into a highly influential position in Washington.
Presiding over this probe could be one of the most important responsibilities Thompson has ever faced during his 28 years in Congress. “We have to get it right,” he has said.
Getting it right could mean beating up some more on Donald Trump, who incited the rebellion in his final days as president and was impeached a second time for it. It could mean further exposing the failures of the police and military to prepare for and react to what happened. It could mean trying to use the theater of the hearings to shore up Democratic chances to hold their slim majorities in next year’s mid-term elections.
All of that is likely to be in play.
But the greatest contribution Thompson could make is to get more Republicans beyond the two outliers sitting presently on the panel to acknowledge they have created — either through their rhetoric or their silence — a monstrous threat to democracy and to work across the aisle to tamp it down.
That would take a lot of finesse for any Democrat to achieve in these highly polarized times. If Thompson can pull it off, though, it will not only enhance his image in Washington. It will also broaden his appeal in Mississippi beyond his largely Black and Democratic base.
It would be an accomplishment of which legacies are made.
- The Greenwood Commwealth