The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Bennie Thompson, didn’t realize the severity of the Jan. 6 insurrection until his wife called him.

He was in the Capitol, sat in the upper gallery, and hoped for a “bird’s-eye view” of the process. He also wanted to be able tell his grandchildren that he was there to witness Joe Biden’s victory.

London Thompson said that people were breaking into the building and that it was being broadcast on television. She said, “I’m seeing people climbing over the walls right now.”

In an interview with The Associated Press, the Mississippi Democrat said that “it doesn’t register”. “I said, “You can’t get in. “There are police, barricades, and many other things out there.

The House chamber was soon under siege. Police rushed Thompson and several dozen other members of Congress to another side of the gallery and told them to duck under their seats as supporters of then-President Donald Trump tried to break down the doors to the chamber below.

Thompson said, “It was an awful day” and that it is “almost surreal” that it ever happened.

Many Capitol employees and staff are trying to understand the chaos of Jan. 6. And he now has a guiding role in the process, appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as the chairman of a select committee that will investigate the attack. The panel will hold its first hearing Tuesday with police officers who battled the rioters.

Thompson, the Homeland Security Committee’s long-standing chairman, is used to handling serious national security issues. But his stewardship of the Jan. 6 panel will be a test unlike any other, as he tries to untangle the events of a violent insurrection that many House Republicans increasingly play down and deny.

Thompson stated, “We must get it right.” Thompson stated that if the committee could find ways to stop it happening again, then “then I would make what I consider the most valuable contribution for this great democracy.”

Thompson, 73 years old, is a long-standing liberal fixture in Congress. He also champions civil rights and is the only Democrat to be included in the Mississippi delegation. Thompson hails from a predominantly black district in Mississippi’s western half. He has remained in the background for more than 15 years as a member of the Homeland Security Committee and has achieved many successes through careful bipartisan outreach.

Many Democrats and Republicans agreed that Thompson was the best choice to lead an investigation which is bound to be partisan, fraught and partisan.

“I have known Bennie for fifteen years and we disagreed on many things, but I don’t think there was ever any harsh words between us,” ex-Republican Rep. Pete King of New York who served as the Chairman and top Republican on Homeland Security Committee for several years alongside Thompson. “Bennie is very low-key and he manages his team well. He was a great guy to work alongside. He was strong, knew his goals and was not afraid to speak his mind. There was also very little drama.

John Katko (New York Rep.), who is currently the top Republican on Homeland Security Committee, made a similar assessment. Katko stated in a statement that Thompson was “a good man,” a patriotic American, and a “productive friend”.

After he and Katko drafted legislation that would have established an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate Jan. 6’s attack, Pelosi elected Thompson to be the chairman. The bill was supported by nearly three dozen Republicans in the House, but it failed to win support in the Senate due to the opposition of Mitch McConnell, the Senate GOP leader.

House Republicans voted far less for the creation of the House select committee and dismissed the idea as partisan. Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican Leader, said that the GOP would not participate in the House select committee after Pelosi rejected Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jim Banks of Indiana.

Only two Republicans voted for the creation of the panel: Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, and Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger. Pelosi appointed Cheney first to the committee, and then Kinzinger was added on Sunday after McCarthy withdrew.

“I look forward. Thompson stated last week that he hopes to eventually have 13 of his fellow members.

Adam Schiff, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was appointed to the Jan. 6-committee. He said that Thompson’s past work with Republicans and his popularity will make it easier to criticize the panel’s work. He said that it was difficult to reach a bipartisan agreement with Katko.

Schiff stated, “I believe he has an even keel that’ll help him get through these,”

Jamie Raskin (a Maryland Democrat) says that both parties have “partisan brawlers”, and Thompson isn’t one of them.

Raskin stated, “He’s a workhorse so he likes to get stuff done.” Raskin said, “And I believe that’s the right spirit to do this.”

Thompson still takes strongly partisan positions. Thompson voted with 30 Democrats to invalidate President George W. Bush’s win in 2005 — similar to the many Republicans who voted to invalidate Biden’s January victory. The dissenting Democrats claimed fraud or irregularities in Ohio’s election.

John Kerry, the defeated Democratic presidential candidate for the presidency, didn’t lead or join the effort against Bush’s victory.

A frequent critic of Trump, Thompson joined other Democrats in filing a lawsuit against the former president after the insurrection, charging that he incited the attack and conspired to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s victory.

Last week, Thompson withdrew his participation in that lawsuit, which he joined soon after the Senate acquitted Trump, at his second impeachment trial, of inciting the insurrection. Thompson requested a withdrawal petition stating that he wanted to “eliminate any appearance of conflict of interest between the Select Committee role and his Plaintiff role in this litigation.”

The lawsuit, which is still active, names as defendants Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, and the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. In connection with the attack, the Justice Department has brought charges against the members of these groups. The panel will investigate the allegations.

Thompson is familiar with domestic extremism and its connections to white supremacy. This is not only because of his involvement in the Mississippi civil rights movement, but also because of his time on the Homeland Security Committee. Before he was elected mayor in his small hometown, Bolton, he was involved with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and organized voter registration drives.

He said that the FBI’s assessment of the increasing dangers of domestic extremism shows that “the importance of this committee’s work is as great as it can get.”