Congress’ Man of Science Favors Evidence Over Ideology

Election day is fast approaching and Rep. Rush Holt (D-12) is seeking a sixth term. The five-time “Jeopardy!” winner and astrophysicist spoke at length with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider about gridlock in Congress and events overseas.

Holt, whose congressional career began in 1998, says the current House of Representatives reflects how partisan the country has become with more people entrenched into ideological positions.

“As a scientist that bothers me because I like to make decisions based on evidence rather than ideology,” said Holt.

The scientific approach is something Holt says is in short supply these days when it comes to taking a political position.

“However pigheaded or arrogant scientists may be, they all buy into a deal which is if the evidence as presented by your peers shows that your ideas are wrong you have to yield. In other words, it’s evidence that ultimately determines the arguments.”


One issue that Holt has firmly supported is suicide prevention among the military. He has been instrumental in securing funds for suicide prevention and outreach programs. He said his involvement arose from an encounter with family members who lost a son. In becoming more aware of the issue, he said he discovered that more soldiers were dying at their own hand than in combat.

“I’m really pleased that I’ve been able, in a bipartisan way, to get $80 million — 40 million last year, 40 million this year — in the VA and defense department for suicide prevention and mental health among soldiers and veterans and I think it’s making a difference,” said Holt. “This is an example of what you can do if you’re willing to reach across the aisle.”

Holt, who served as an arms control expert at the U.S. Department of State, spoke out about nuclear proliferation which he says “keeps you awake at night.” The subject arose in the context of whether Iran was in the process of developing nuclear weapons.

“If the country is set on building a bomb, there are very few tools we have available. The president has engaged almost all other nations now in very strong sanctions which are biting. They are having an effect on Iran.”

Asked whether Israel would be justified in a preemptive attack if Iranians reached the threshold point that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alluded to in his address to the United Nations, Holt framed the question in a different way .

“The question is not whether they’d be justified but whether that would be effective, whether that could stop it,” posed Holt. “No, I don’t think it would be effective. I think the result of an attack would be really an international disaster and wouldn’t stop this.”

He cited the approach taken by South Africa, Brazil, Argentina and Ukraine concerning nuclear armament. “All of these nations have, on their own, said nuclear weapons are not in our national interest … and that’s what we should want all nations to do including our own, by the way, ultimately. Nuclear weapons are not militarily useful and any retired general will tell you that.”

In his last reelection campaign, a pro-Israeli PAC supported Holt’s opponent. But this year, that same PAC announced that it is not raising funds for his opponent, which was news to Holt.

“Actually, I have not heard that about NORPAC, but let me hasten to say that in the last election, many friends of Israel and organizations that support Israel supported me.”

Two years ago, Holt came under attack by some pro-Israel groups as one of the signers of the so-called “Gaza-54” letter which urged President Obama to pressure Israel to allow food, medicine, fuel, and other supplies through its blockade of the Gaza Strip. But Holt shrugs off any charges of being anti-Israel.

“There was one fringe organization … that ran against me based on a kind of bogus claim and what they took was my call for humanitarian relief for Palestinians who were hurting to be somehow an anti-Israeli position. Prime Minister Netanyahu himself told me .. he did not see that as anti-Israel position. He thinks that I’m a friend of Israel.”