WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi’s only Democratic congressman and incoming chairman of House Homeland Security Committee, said he is willing to use subpoena power to investigate the Trump administration’s immigration and border policies.
Thompson, in an interview this week with Mississippi Today, slammed the Trump Administration for spreading “outright lies” about what’s happening at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I will subpoena if I’m forced to,” Thompson told Mississippi Today in his Capitol Hill office on Wednesday. “I’m very concerned about much of what’s been said and published by several officials in the administration. You can expect an active committee. We will probably swear in more witnesses — we didn’t do a lot of that the last two years — with the thinking being that swearing them in gives that extra sense of seriousness.”
With Democrats retaking majority control of the House, Thompson has become a true power broker in Washington, particularly as leaders grapple with an ongoing federal government shutdown over what President Donald Trump calls a crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Thompson, in his second stint as chairman of Homeland Security (he previously held the post from 2007 to 2010), has the ability to compel executive-branch officials to testify and produce documents for matters under his jurisdiction. His committee has oversight over the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Citizenship and Immigration Services and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Just days into his new role, Thompson hit the ground running. Last week, he sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, requesting that she testify before his committee regarding the Trump Administration’s border and immigration policy. If she does not comply with the request, Thompson could compel her or other agency officials to testify with subpoenas.
“Your border security presentation submitted to Congress today is yet another example of the misinformation and outright lies the Trump Administration has used to make the case for the President’s boondoggle border wall, defend the government shutdown, and distract the American people from a border security policy so flawed that children have died in Department of Homeland Security custody,” Thompson wrote.
The partial federal government shutdown dragged into its 20th day Friday as leaders on Capitol Hill and in the White House sparred over whether to fund a southern border wall, one of Trump’s top campaign promises.
Being the state’s only Democrat serving in Washington, Thompson isn’t likely to receive support from the rest of Mississippi’s delegation. His three Republican colleagues in the House and both of Mississippi’s senators have expressed their strong support of Trump’s demands to fund a border wall.
On Wednesday afternoon, as Trump’s meeting with congressional leaders ended in yet another stalemate, telephones in the waiting room of U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith’s Capitol Hill office rang constantly. All the calls, about 250 a day, one assistant estimated, were about border security.
The assistant answered one.
“Well I can assure you — with regards to this issue, the senator (Hyde-Smith) stands 100 percent behind the president,” she told the caller.
But even among Republicans who support Trump and the wall, patience is wearing thin. Former Sen. Trent Lott, who served as Senate majority leader, told Mississippi Today this week that the partisan bickering and gridlock was as bad as he has ever seen it.
Days into his first term in Congress, U.S. Rep. Michael Guest, a staunch Trump supporter who has called on his colleagues to fund a border wall, expressed frustration with the shutdown and the gridlocked negotiations, for which he blames Democrats.
“Democrat and Republican, and House, Senate, White House — if they’d all sit down with an attitude that we need to get this done … then we’d be able to reach some sort of compromise on these measures,” Guest told Mississippi Today. “As long as we continue this shutdown and continue to fight over immigration reform and border security, it’s going to prevent us from getting to other important items.”
But as 800,000 federal government employees go without pay and dozens of government programs remain in limbo, Thompson called the proposed wall “the most primitive form of border security known to man,” and said Trump’s blaming Democrats for refusing to fund an ineffective border wall is “an unfair representation of reality.”
“There’s nothing happening at the border right now that hasn’t been happening for years,” Thompson said. “My trips to the border are just the opposite of what I’m hearing from the president. None of us are against border security, but we need to consider what the experts tell us when we have that conversation. Instead of that, the president is lying to the American public and using 800,000 federal employees as pawns. It’s a means to his political end. It’s unacceptable.”