Vietnam War
Credit: manhhai/Flickr

The New York Times has a great article up right now comparing the surprise upset victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the primary victory of Elizabeth Holtzman in 1972. It’s of personal interest to me because I once appeared on a panel with Ms. Holtzman at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia to discuss the possible impeachment of George W. Bush. I don’t know why I was invited but she was there because she served on the House Judiciary Committee that voted out articles of impeachment against President Nixon.

Reading the article, I was pleased to learn a little more about her career in Congress.

Ms. Holtzman’s time in Congress, which was followed by a long tenure as Brooklyn district attorney and then a short one as New York City’s comptroller, was distinguished by her role in helping found what would become the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, by the lawsuit she brought against President Richard M. Nixon’s administration for the bombing of Cambodia and by her membership in the House Judiciary Committee that voted to impeach Nixon. With Senator Edward M. Kennedy, she wrote the Refugee Act of 1980, in response to the exodus of Vietnamese after the war, which raised the annual ceiling for refugees coming into the country, significantly, to 50,000 and created a formal process for reviewing and adjusting the numbers to accommodate emergencies.

When I was in elementary school, these refugees were initially referred to as “The Boat People,” which struck me as odd then and still seems strange and dehumanizing today. I did not know about the Refugee Act of 1980, although I guess I knew that there must have been some legislative effort to accommodate the influx of Vietnamese people after Saigon fell to the North. She and Senator Kennedy must have done an adequate job because their bill breezed through Congress.

The bill passed unanimously in the Senate late in 1979. “No one said Vietnam is sending their rapists and killers and not their best,” Ms. Holtzman elaborated. “The fact that we are in hysteria over admitting 2,000 children to this country is something I cannot fathom. It is totally astonishing.”

It does seem strange in retrospect that having just lost over 50,000 soldiers in a war with North Vietnam, and after killing countless Vietnamese people, we didn’t have a bunch of conservatives freaking out that there might be sleeper cells among the refugees who would come here to get revenge. But, Fox News and hate radio didn’t exist back then, so it was harder for the Louie Gohmerts of the world to become president.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at