Review Category : Poltics

Why Congress’ Only 5-Time “Jeopardy” Champ Chose Science over Lobbying

US Congress(WASHINGTON) — He has a resume unlike any other elected official: Five-time Jeopardy champ, research physicist, patent holder, arms-control expert.

So when U.S. Rep. Rush Holt announced his retirement from Congress, he might easily have made his next step into the so-called “revolving door” of the lobbying world.

But, according to the New Jersey Democrat, who earned a reputation for being a leading advocate for science in Congress, there’s just better work to be done elsewhere.

Holt, 66, has since announced he will be joining the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) as its newest CEO, as well as its executive publisher of scientific journals.

In a recent interview with ABC News, edited for brevity, Holt expressed doubt about the quality of the science debate in 114th Congress, talked about where he hopes his next venture will lead him, and reflected on his decision to leave the Washington political game behind.

When you announced your retirement, many suggested it was further evidence of the “death of science” in the halls of Congress. True?

I’ve been careful not to say that I was leaving because of the atmosphere in Congress or leaving out of disappointment or frustration. But I must say the atmosphere in Congress doesn’t make me want to stay. Part of the problem is that ideology has trumped evidence and trumped science so often here on the Hill. There’s a real frustration when people are much more interested in advancing their ideological positions than they are in making policy on the basis of reliable knowledge.

You were the first physicist to be elected to Congress as a Democrat. How did your passion for science intersect with your duties serving constituents?

Too many people have the idea that a scientist must be otherworldly or academic, in the narrow sense of the world. I think a lot of people have been surprised that I’ve actually had good political instincts and a real ability to interact with people and, I would say, lead people. It shouldn’t be surprising that somebody with a science background could do well in politics. It’s not an obvious overlap, but they’re not incompatible. On some issues, my scientific background has been particularly useful. But what’s always useful is a reverence for evidence, and science brings an analytical ability that helps you understand a situation be it in the physical universe or in politics and human relations.

Does it trouble you then that there aren’t more scientists succeeding as politicians?

It’s a real problem. I think there are more scientists who are or can be adept at politics than there are politicians who are comfortable with science. There should be more people who, while choosing not to be scientists professionally, are comfortable thinking about science and thinking like a scientist. I think Congress suffers and policy-making in government suffers because there are not enough non-scientists who are comfortable thinking about science.

Republicans trounced Democrats in the midterm elections, and many have looked to label the GOP as an anti-science party. Does science have a friend in the 114th Congress?

I think over many years, appreciation of science has slipped and education of science has slipped. I think that it shouldn’t be possible to deny and patently reject the preponderance of scientific understanding. That’s not to say every scientist is always right. But the idea that you can just flat out deny evolution or climate change or any number of things that are so well established in the science community would have been, in past years, unthinkable. Now, it’s really quite common that people will blatantly, even proudly get on the political stump and say they deny what the scientists think is right.

You’re taking a very different path than many retiring members of Congress who become lobbyists. Why?

It was a deliberate move to avoid the revolving door. But I was very much interested in staying engaged in the policy process, to work on something that I think is of great social benefit. I really think if we improve the health of science in America it will be of great benefit to human welfare. Not just because you’ll have more scientists employed, but because with improved science we learn things that are beneficial to all humans.

Do you think that you’ll be able to accomplish more in the name of science than you could have as a congressman?

Maybe not more than what one could do in Congress, but in the current Congress I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of good accomplished. I certainly hope that’s not true but, from my perspective, the signs are not very promising.

You expressed some dismay in a 2008 interview that not more members of Congress were knowledgeable about science. Has that changed during your time on Capitol Hill?

I think I’ve been very well-engaged with members of Congress, but not on science issues. Most Americans say that science is for scientists, and they see themselves not as scientists and therefore they don’t think that science is for them and that’s really unfortunate. They miss a lot of beauty in science and a lot of truth in science.

How did you decide to take the helm of AAAS? What will your role be like there?

When I announced I was leaving I did not know what I was going to do next. I was pretty sure I was not going to go out to pasture and I avoided using the word “retire.” But AAAS is an organization that I have known and intersected with time to time over many decades now. To look at it in a general sense, it’s about the health of science and its mission has to do with communication between scientists and the public, promoting integrity in science and strengthening support for science in technology, and making sure science plays a constructive role in the formulation of public policy. It’s a fairly natural step for me, but nobody predicted it. Least of all myself.

You’re one of the few members of Congress to compete on Jeopardy, and you actually beat IBM’s Watson in 2011. Do you ever see yourself returning to that stage?

I think I’m a lot slower now. I did beat Watson, but it was not televised. It was something IBM set up. It was an actual Jeopardy match so it was very life-like, but it was a demonstration that IBM set up a couple of years ago.

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Head of Phoenix VA System Removed from Post

ABC News(PHOENIX) — Sharon Helman, the director of the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, was removed from her post on Monday after an investigation into wait times and substandard care.

The decision to remove Helman from her role in command of the Phoenix VA system “underscores VA’s commitment to hold leaders accountable and ensure that Veterans have access to quality and timely care,” a statement from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs read.

“Lack of oversight and misconduct by VA leaders runs counter to our mission of serving Veterans, and VA will not tolerate it,” Secretary Robert McDonald said. “We depend on VA employees and leaders to put the needs of Veterans first and honor VA’s core values of ‘Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect and Excellence.'”

It is not immediately clear when the VA will name a new director for their Phoenix system. In the interim, longtime administrator Glenn Grippen has been named the director.

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Obama on Ferguson: ‘This Decision Was the Grand Jury’s to Make’

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) — President Obama spoke at the White House Monday night, reacting to the Ferguson, Missouri, grand jury decision not to file charges against Police Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown on Aug. 9.

Obama emphasized the importance of the rule of law.

“We are a nation built on the rule of law and so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make,” he said.

Obama also called on Americans to heed Michael Brown’s family’s wishes.

“Let me repeat Michael’s father’s words: ‘Hurting others or destroying property is not the answer. No matter what the grand jury decides I do not want my son’s death to be in vain,'” the president said. “I join Michael’s parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully.”

At the same time, the president also appealed to law enforcement officials in Ferguson to “show care and restraint.”

“The situation in Ferguson speaks to the broader challenges we still face as a nation,” Obama said, noting that “a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color.”

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Obama on Ferguson: ‘This Decision Was the Grand Jury’s to Make’

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) — President Obama spoke at the White House Monday night, reacting to the Ferguson, Missouri, grand jury decision not to file charges against Police Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown on Aug. 9.

Obama emphasized the importance of the rule of law.

“We are a nation built on the rule of law and so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make,” he said.

Obama also called on Americans to heed Michael Brown’s family’s wishes.

“Let me repeat Michael’s father’s words: ‘Hurting others or destroying property is not the answer. No matter what the grand jury decides I do not want my son’s death to be in vain,'” the president said. “I join Michael’s parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully.”

At the same time, the president also appealed to law enforcement officials in Ferguson to “show care and restraint.”

“The situation in Ferguson speaks to the broader challenges we still face as a nation,” Obama said, noting that “a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color.”

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Rep.-Elect Debbie Dingell on What Her Husband John Is Not Telling Her

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) — Rep.-elect Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, is no stranger to the halls of the Congress. Her husband, the 88-year-old dean of the House, Rep. John Dingell, has served on the Hill since 1955.

But now, Rep.-elect Dingell, 61, is set to take on the U.S. Congress herself — representing her retiring husband’s old district in the 114th Congress.

On the campaign trail, she said, the two were careful to maintain a “concrete wall.”

“I needed to earn the respect of everybody in the 12th and have them to get to know me,” she told ABC News’ Jeff Zeleny.

Asked if her husband would act as an adviser during her tenure, Dingell told ABC, “I think that he’s really afraid to give me advice — and I hope he gets over that.”

Rep.-elect Dingell, who just chose her new office last week, said she’ll likely use her husband’s desk. It also belonged to Dingell’s father, Rep. John Dingell Sr., who served in the House for 22 years.

“If I could have the desk that the man who authored Social Security and the man who sat in the chair and helped author Medicare and the Civil Rights Act [used], maybe it’ll inspire and help me to do good things while I’m here,” Dingell said.

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Rep.-Elect Debbie Dingell on What Her Husband John Is Not Telling Her

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) — Rep.-elect Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, is no stranger to the halls of the Congress. Her husband, the 88-year-old dean of the House, Rep. John Dingell, has served on the Hill since 1955.

But now, Rep.-elect Dingell, 61, is set to take on the U.S. Congress herself — representing her retiring husband’s old district in the 114th Congress.

On the campaign trail, she said, the two were careful to maintain a “concrete wall.”

“I needed to earn the respect of everybody in the 12th and have them to get to know me,” she told ABC News’ Jeff Zeleny.

Asked if her husband would act as an adviser during her tenure, Dingell told ABC, “I think that he’s really afraid to give me advice — and I hope he gets over that.”

Rep.-elect Dingell, who just chose her new office last week, said she’ll likely use her husband’s desk. It also belonged to Dingell’s father, Rep. John Dingell Sr., who served in the House for 22 years.

“If I could have the desk that the man who authored Social Security and the man who sat in the chair and helped author Medicare and the Civil Rights Act [used], maybe it’ll inspire and help me to do good things while I’m here,” Dingell said.

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Republicans Could Complicate Iran Extension

Architect of the Capitol(VIENNA) — Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that he was confident President Obama and he could convince a skeptical Congress that an additional seven months of nuclear negotiations with Iran could lead to a deal they could support, but that confidence may be challenged by Congress.

“We have earned the benefit of the doubt,” Kerry said at a press conference in Vienna, Austria, just before getting on a plane back to Washington.

But back home on Capitol Hill, Republican critics of the administration’s position, bolstered by an incoming majority in both houses of Congress, seem to have already decided to take matters into their own hands to penalize the regime in Tehran if negotiations fail or lawmakers think whatever deal is reached is too weak.

Kerry said Congress should avoid passing judgment on the interim deal announced Monday until he’s able to brief top members behind closed doors, but that hasn’t stopped the GOP from flexing its soon-to-be-strengthened legislative muscles.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who will assume the gavel in the new session, released a statement after Kerry’s announcement indicating that Republicans – and some Democrats – could soon vote on additional Iran sanctions. He also insisted that Congress vote on any final deal before it can be implemented.

“With so much riding on these talks for the security of our nation and that of the region, Congress must have the opportunity to weigh in before implementation of any final agreement and begin preparing alternatives, including tougher sanctions, should negotiations fail,” Corker said.

The new extension would seek to reach an agreement on the broad political dimensions of a deal by March and work out the technical details by July 1. Iran is also still bound by an interim deal reached last year that froze its nuclear activity in exchange for limited sanctions relief.

A bill introduced early this year by Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., would have imposed additional sanctions on Iran if it walked away from negotiations or violated the terms of that interim deal, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blocked senators from voting on it in February.

One of the concerns that prompted Reid to pull the bill was the administration’s contention that holding a vote on additional sanctions before Iran did anything bad could scare off the Iranians from continuing to negotiate.

No such roadblock, however, will exist come January, something incoming majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., noted earlier this month. “What we ought to do, if we can’t get an acceptable agreement with the Iranians, is tighten the sanctions,” McConnell said, noting that while Reid prevented such a vote the last time, “that’s the kind of thing a new Senate would be voting on.”

Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a skeptic of the negotiations, said he expects Republicans to vote quickly on a trigger for strict new sanctions on Iran, but that such a measure might get slightly tempered by the need for Republicans to get a handful of less hawkish Democrats on board in order to surpass a presidential veto — which requires at least 67 votes.

“Republicans are going to be in a position where they’re going to have significant leverage to negotiate a tough bill. But the reality of the numbers is such that they still need at least 14, 15 Democratic senators to overcome any veto,” Dubowitz said.

That calculus, Dubowitz suggested, could lead to a rare moment of bipartisanship in 2015.

“I think those numbers are there but I also think that they’re probably only there if Republicans are willing to compromise,” he said.

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Hagel Issues Statement to Defense Department on Resignation

Department of Defense/Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo(WASHINGTON) — Chuck Hagel announced on Monday that he is stepping down as secretary of defense.

After President Obama accepted his resignation, Hagel issued the following statement to the men and women of the Defense Department:

I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know that this morning, President Obama accepted my letter of resignation. I have agreed to continue to serve as Secretary of Defense until my successor is confirmed by the United States Senate.

You should know I did not make this decision lightly. But after much discussion, the President and I agreed that now was the right time for new leadership here at the Pentagon.

I want you to know that I am immensely proud of what we have accomplished together. We have prepared ourselves, our Allies and the Afghan National Security Forces for a successful transition in Afghanistan. We have taken the fight to ISIL and, with our Iraqi and coalition partners, have blunted the momentum of this barbaric enemy. We have come to the aid of millions of people around the world who have suffered the ravages of natural disaster and of disease. We have worked tirelessly to sustain our all-volunteer force that has given so much during 13 years of war. And we have bolstered enduring alliances and strengthened emerging partnerships, all the while setting in motion important reforms that will prepare this institution for the challenges facing us in the decades to come.

Most importantly, we have helped keep this country and our fellow citizens safe. We have sustained the blessings of liberty our ancestors secured and upheld the oath we took.

That work will continue. It must continue. The world is still too dangerous, the threats too numerous, for us to lose focus. And even as I promised the President my full support going forward, so, too, do I promise that I will work hard to support you right up until my last day in office. I owe you that.

There will be time later to say farewell. For now, please know how much I respect and admire your service and that of your families. As I gather with my own family this Thanksgiving holiday — a luxury I realize not all of you will enjoy — it will be the privilege of having worked with you these last two years for which I will be most grateful.

Thank you for all you do for this country. God bless you. Happy Thanksgiving.

Chuck Hagel
Secretary of Defense

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Obama Announces Hagel’s Resignation

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — President Obama on Monday praised the work of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel as he announced his resignation, saying Hagel determined “it was an appropriate time for him to complete his service.”

As the lone Republican on his national security team and the first enlisted combat veteran to serve in the position, Obama explained that Hagel “has been no ordinary Secretary of Defense.”

“He understands our men and women like few others because he stood where they stood, he’s been in the dirt, and he’s been in the mud. And that’s established a special bond,” the president said in the State Dining Room. “He sees himself in them, and they see themselves in him. And their safety, their lives have always been at the center of Chuck’s service.”

The president said Hagel had been critical to helping his administration during a “significant period of transition,” as U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan and the Defense Department faces a host of budgetary challenges. The president also lauded Hagel’s role in tackling the immediate threat from ISIS and shepherding the administration’s response to the Ebola crisis.

“Thanks to Chuck, our military is on a firmer footing, engaged in these missions and looking ahead to the future,” Obama said.

On a personal note, the president thanked Hagel for showing how the two parties can come together.

Recalling that Hagel traveled with him to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008, Obama said “it’s pretty rare, at a time when sometimes this town is so politicized, to have a friend who was willing to accompany a nominee from another party, because he understood that whoever ended up being president, what was most important was that we were unified when we confronted the challenges that we see overseas, and that’s the kind of class and integrity that Chuck Hagel’s always represented.”

“We come from different parties, but in accepting this position you send a powerful message, especially to folks in this city. And when it comes to our national security and caring for our troops and their families, we are all Americans first,” he added.

Hagel will stay on until his successor has been confirmed by the Senate. The president has yet to announce whom that may be, but he did drop Sen. Jack Reed’s name during his remarks, who is believed to be on his short list.

In brief remarks following the president, Hagel said it has been the “greatest privilege” of his life to lead the Defense Department.

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McCain Encouraging Lindsey Graham to Consider 2016 Run

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) — Sen. John McCain is prodding one of his closest allies in the Senate to consider a run for the White House — Sen. Lindsey Graham.

“I think he is looking at it, and I am strongly encouraging him to take a look at it,” McCain, R-Ariz., told ABC News. “I know of no one who is better versed and more important on national security policy and defense than Lindsey Graham, and I don’t think these challenges to our security are going away.”

“He is eminently qualified,” McCain added.

In an interview with The Weekly Standard last month, Graham, R-S.C., said he might consider a presidential bid after this year’s midterm elections if other candidates aren’t promoting an aggressive foreign policy agenda.

“If I get through my general election, if nobody steps up in the presidential mix, if nobody’s out there talking– me and McCain have been talking — I may just jump in to get to make these arguments,” Graham said.

On CNN’s State of the Union Sunday, Graham said running for president is “the hardest thing one could ever do. You go through personal hell. You have got to raise a ton of money. I’m nowhere near there.”

McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, said he expects a “very crowded field” in 2016 that will be compromised of both senators and governors.

“I think there’s an old saying that if you are a United States senator that unless you are under indictment, or detoxification that you can automatically consider yourself a candidate,” McCain joked. “I think we should let a thousand flowers bloom. I think that the process is wide open right now, and I think not only will members of the Senate be considered, but I think some of our successful Republican governors will also be interested.”

While another presidential run isn’t in McCain’s future, the Arizona senator said he will “likely” run for a sixth term in the Senate when he’s up for re-election in 2016.

“Most likely I will, and I expect it to be a very tough race as I have every time, and I’m making every preparation,” McCain said. “As one of my Irish friends once said, a fight not joined is a fight not enjoyed.”

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