The Best Disinfectant: Putting an End to Secret Holds

We work for the public, and I believe that if a senator wants to block a piece of legislation or a nominee, they owe the public an explanation.
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Since I arrived in Washington, I've been repeatedly astonished by the way business is sometimes done around here. A great example of this is the so-called secret hold. Along with my colleagues Mark Warner and Sheldon Whitehouse, I have been working to end the process of secret holds, which is when senators anonymously block legislation or nominations without explanation. We are sending a letter to both parties' leadership, currently signed by 42 senators, pledging not to anonymously block legislation or nominations and asking for an end to secret holds.

We work for the public and I believe that if a senator wants to block a piece of legislation or a nominee, they owe the public an explanation. Measures I helped pass as part of sweeping ethics reform legislation in 2007 were designed to clean up Washington and force members to be transparent about their objections, but my colleagues have continued to circumvent the rules for the past three years. Senators Ron Wyden and Chuck Grassley have recently introduced a bill to require senators to be open about their holds within 48 hours. While this is better than what we have now, I believe we should eliminate the process of secret holds all together.

As of last week, nearly 80 non-controversial nominees were being blocked anonymously and without explanation. Let me be clear about what I mean by non-controversial: that means that each nominee received the unanimous support of all the Senators on the committee responsible for reviewing the nomination - not one vote against; not even one public statement against. Senator Whitehouse and I went to the Senate floor last week and attempted to call up these nominees for consideration, but Republicans objected repeatedly. Someone, it seems, secretly has a problem with these nominations but they don't want to be open and transparent about it.

The letter remains open for additional signatures and I encourage all my colleagues, both Democrat and Republican, to sign.

Text of Letter

Dear Leader Reid and Leader McConnell,

We the undersigned Senators hereby pledge that we will not place secret holds on legislation or nominations.

We further call upon you to bring an end to the practice of permitting secret "holds" on legislation and nominations for those Senators who are unprepared to make the same pledge. While we deeply respect and appreciate the importance of tradition in this institution, we believe the practice of the secret hold has no rightful place in the Senate or in an open and transparent democracy. When a member of the Senate wishes to hold legislation or a nomination, that Senator owes to this body and, more importantly, to the American public a full explanation. The Senate endorsed this principle in Section 512 of S.1, passed by a vote of 96-2 on January 18, 2007.

As you know, S.1 has failed in practice to end the use of secret holds. We, therefore, urge you to promptly consider further changes to the Senate rules in order to bring a clear and definitive end to secret holds on legislation or a nomination. We stand ready to work with you on such a rule change, as long advocated for by Senators Wyden and Grassley, the leaders of a decade-long effort to eliminate secret holds in the Senate. We applaud their work and believe it must now be pursued to its conclusion.

Again, in making this request, we pledge that we will not place secret holds on legislation or a nomination.


Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO)

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

Senator Mark Warner (D-VA)

Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD)

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

Senator Bob Casey (D-PA)

Senator Jim Webb (D-VA)

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)

Senator Jon Tester (D-MT)

Senator Mark Udall (D-CO)

Senator Tom Udall (D-NM)

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)

Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC)

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR)

Senator Mark Begich (D-AK)

Senator Roland Burris (D-IL)

Senator Ted Kaufman (D-DE)

Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO)

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

Senator Al Franken (D-MN)

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)

Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI)

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA)

Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA)

Senator Tom Carper (D-DE)

Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT)

Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND)

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL)

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI)

Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD)

Senator John Kerry (D-MA)

Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA)

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT)

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)

Senator Jack Reed (D-RI)

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY)

Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA)

Cc: Senator Charles Schumer, Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules
Senator Robert Bennett, Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Rules
Senator Ron Wyden
Senator Charles Grassley

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