Voters won’t toss Thompson, but Pelosi could

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 14, 2010

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., has escaped blame in the same ethics inquiry that has at least temporarily cost U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., his Ways and Means Committee chairmanship.

Both men accepted a Caribbean junket paid for by some of the big corporations they usually profess to loathe. It was a clear violation of the latest set of House rules, but both also employed the familiar “plausible deniability” claim, saying they didn’t know who picked up their tab. As the organizer, Rangel, who said his staff might have known but didn’t tell him, took the hit. Thompson and other members on the trip were given a pass.

Commendably, it appears House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-N.Y., might actually be trying to keep her pledge to “drain the swamp” of congressional corruption, which has no party lines. She faced down a defiant Rangel, which was no small feat.

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For his part, Rangel faces six other ethics inquiries, most related to his admitted failure to pay taxes owed on vacation properties, also in the Caribbean.

Thompson has one additional complaint pending — specifically that he, as Homeland Security Committee chairman, threatened hearings against credit card companies in order to receive campaign contributions that were, in fact, paid before the hearings were canceled. Thompson says the allegation is pure rubbish and that, as usual, he is completely above reproach.

Mississippi Democrats did not offer an alternative candidate for this fall’s election in the 2nd Congressional District. Thompson advances to the November ballot to face one of three Republicans and a smattering of independents. Most see him as a shoo-in once again.

So the biggest career threat he faces could be from his fellow House Democrats. If he becomes more of a liability than an asset, they’ll toss him overboard. If he doesn’t believe it, he can ask Charlie Rangel.