Members of Congress are notorious for being tight-lipped about the details of the legislative process -- especially when they’re talking to journalists. Luckily there are exceptions to the informational lock-down reporters face: members of Congress who are on their way out. Our “DecodeDC: Exit Interview” series continues with one the few lawmakers who is also a scientist: New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt.
Rep. Rush Holt Jr., a Ph.D. in physics, says science trains your mind.
“Scientists want the evidence first and consensus later. Politicians tend to look for consensus first, and look for the evidence to match,” Holt says.
That has set up a bad precedent in the current Congress, Holt says. When it comes to climate change, and other science-based topics, “ideology has trumped evidence.”
Holt is also frustrated at how the Republican Leadership is running the House of Representatives.
“The House is run by people who are so skeptical of government that they don’t believe government can or should do anything to help people,” Holt says. “Of course that’s troubling to those of us who got into this because we believe the government can and should help people. “
But that’s not why he’s leaving Congress.
“Everybody assumes I’m bailing out of Congress because I can’t take it anymore -- it is just too frustrating, you know -- but that’s not the reason,” Holt says.
Instead, Holt says he’s leaving with a real sense of accomplishment and even optimism.
“I feel good about what I’ve done and what I’ve been doing,” Holt says.
The 65-year-old representative has spent slightly more than a decade and a half as a liberal Democrat promoting scientific thinking and advocating for education, environmental protection and civil rights. The scientist-turned-congressman’s political interests were inherited from his parents – his father, the youngest person ever elected to U.S. Senate. and his mother, who served as Secretary of State of West Virginia.
Holt believes his most important legacy has been increasing the trust people have in government -- at least for some. He’s leaving now, he says, simply because “it’s time.”
“For more than two centuries, there has been representative following representative following representative – that’s the way it’s supposed to work,” Holt says. “It’s not about any one person, and I think it’s time for the citizens of the 12th district in New Jersey to choose their next representative.”
Katie Lepri contributed to this story.