[Congressional Record: April 22, 2010 (Senate)]
[Page S2546-S2548]

                           EXECUTIVE CALENDAR

  Mrs. McCASKILL. Mr. President, I came to the floor on Tuesday of this 
week to do something I do not think had been done before under the 
rules. We had a new law that went into effect in the early part of 2007 
that gave us a mechanism that was supposed to stop secret holds. We are 
all waiting to see if by moving all of the nominations by unanimous 
consent, in fact, the owners of the secret holds step forward.
  While we wait to see if the rule that was designed and passed into 
law works, a bunch of us have been talking. The folks who have been 
talking about this are the newest Members of the

[[Page S2547]]

Senate in the Democratic Party. There are 21 of us who have arrived in 
the Senate sometime between now and January of 2007. It is a pretty big 
group of Senators.
  In discussing the secret holds with my colleagues who have been here 
for a fairly short period of time, we decided: Why don't we just quit 
doing them? Let's quit worrying about whether you are identifying 
yourself in 6 days, whether you are going to play the switcheroo, pull 
your secret hold and put on another secret hold. Let's just stop it. No 
more secret holds.
  We now have drafted a letter to Leader Reid and Leader McConnell, and 
we have said: First, we will not do secret holds. We are out of the 
business of secret holds. We are not going to do them. Second, we want 
the Senate to pass a rule that prohibits them entirely.
  If a Senator wants to hold somebody, fine, but say who they are and 
why they are doing it. If a Senator wants to vote against somebody, 
that is their right. But this notion that they can, behind closed 
doors, do some kind of secret negotiation to get something they want 
from an agency--let's be honest about it; that is what a lot of this 
is. It is getting leverage, secretly getting leverage for something 
they want. Those are not appropriate secrets for the public business.
  We have 80 secret holds right now. About 76 of those are Republican 
secret holds; 4 are Democratic secret holds. By the way, all 80 of the 
ones on which I made the unanimous consent request came out of 
committee unanimously. We even checked on the voice votes to make sure 
no one said no in committee. There were no ``no'' votes. These 80 
nominees were completely unopposed out of committee.
  They are everything from the Ambassador to Syria to U.S. marshals to 
U.S. attorneys. These are people who need to get to work. They are 
going to be confirmed. They are all going to be confirmed. We need to 
get this done. We need to stop secret holds. We need to get these 
people confirmed. We need to change the way we do business around here.
  I, once again, give a shout-out to Senator Wyden and Senator Grassley 
who worked on this issue for a number of years. We are going to open 
this letter to all Members of the Senate and, hopefully, before we find 
out--we are all waiting to see what happens in the 6 days that are 
looming for all these secret holds, if people step up into the 
sunshine. If they do not, in the meantime we, hopefully, will get 
unanimous support from Senators that secret holds are now out of 
fashion and no longer going to be tolerated in the Senate.
  Mr. President, I yield the floor for my colleague from Colorado, 
Senator Bennet.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Colorado is recognized.
  Mr. BENNET. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Missouri for 
kicking off this discussion. I rise in strong support of this effort by 
a group of reform-minded Senators to finally get rid of this ridiculous 
and insane practice of anonymous holds. The American people have little 
patience for this political game when they are going through what they 
are going through.
  What people should understand is, at least in my view, this is less 
about partisanship. The Senator from Missouri talked about the fact 
that these are people who passed unanimously out of committee, with 
Republicans and Democrats supporting the nominees who somehow, between 
the committee process and the Senate floor, got stuck. They are getting 
stuck anonymously. I say it is not about partisanship. I say this is a 
perfect illustration of Washington, DC, being completely out of touch 
with what is going on in the country.
  No one else in the country invents a set of rules to make sure they 
do not get their work done. But that is what we are doing in the 
Senate. That is why I think it is high time we got rid of these 
anonymous holds. I would go even further. I have legislation that gets 
rid of the anonymous holds and bans these secret holds. But it would do 
more. It would also require that a hold be bipartisan or else it 
expires after 2 legislative days. If a Senator wants to place a hold, 
that is within their rights, but we are going to make sure it is 
scrutinized. We are going to make sure they can get support from 
somebody on the other side of the aisle for holding up the country's 
business. All holds under my bill would expire after 30 days, whether 
they are bipartisan or not.
  I also wish to highlight that the Senators who have taken this strong 
stance against secret holds are willing to put our money where our 
mouth is. While Washington bats around about this and other reforms, we 
have all pledged that we will stop the practice of secret holds 
ourselves. It was easy for me to do because I have never placed a 
secret hold on the Nation's business, and I never will.
  This is a small but important illustration of what is not working 
well in the Senate, what is blocking progress for the American people. 
It is a small step but an important step to demonstrate that we can 
actually do our work differently, that we have been sent here to have 
an open and thoughtful debate about the issues that confront our great 
country. I am proud to be here today with my other colleagues.
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from New Hampshire is recognized.
  Mrs. SHAHEEN. Mr. President, it is unfortunate that we have to be on 
the Senate floor this afternoon to talk about so many of the nominees 
we need to do the work of this country who are being held up, and being 
held up by people who are not willing to identify themselves or say 
what their issue is with these nominees.
  I am pleased to join my colleagues. I am glad we are mounting this 
effort. We need to get rid of the secret holds. But it is unfortunate 
that we are where we are.
  I understand why people are frustrated with what is happening here. 
People want to see things get done. They understand we have significant 
challenges facing the country, and they want to see action on those 
  It is clear that one of the areas where there is a problem is with 
the 80 or so people who were nominated who have been held up, some of 
them for months and months, because somebody has an issue, not with the 
person who is being held up usually, but as my colleague from Missouri 
said because someone wants to get the attention of a department or 
agency within government or because somebody wants to keep the Obama 
administration from doing the work of the people.
  I wish to point out some of the people who have been on hold. No one 
has identified themselves as to why they had these people on hold. 
Until just a few minutes ago, we had five U.S. attorneys and five 
marshals. We have the Deputy Director of National Drug Policy Control. 
They come from States all across this country--from New York, Indiana, 
North Carolina, South Carolina, Michigan, Maine, Idaho, and Florida. We 
have a lot of big States there, a lot of States where the people's 
business is not getting done because those nominees have not been put 
in place.
  The sad thing is, the people who have these folks on hold are trying 
to get back at somebody in government, but the people who are suffering 
are the constituents in those States where the work is not getting 
  I have a very personal example that I have talked about before on the 
floor of the Senate. A woman from New Hampshire who has now been 
confirmed to lead the Office of Violence Against Women, Judge Susan 
Carbon. This is someone who was appointed first by Senator Judd Gregg 
to be a judge, and I then made her a full-time judge. She got through 
the committee on a unanimous vote.
  I think all of us would like to see the work of the Office of 
Violence Against Women done, just as we want to see the work of the 
U.S. attorneys done and the work of the marshals done. Yet she was held 
up for 2 months, until I came to the floor and started asking questions 
about who had that secret hold on her. We never did find out. We never 
did find out why she was on hold or what the concern was. That is the 
problem with all these different holds.
  Senator Bennet said he hasn't put any secret holds on anyone. Well, 
neither have I. If I am going to put a hold on somebody, I want the 
world to know about it because it is somebody whom I have a serious 
issue with or someone we have concerns about the job they would do. 
That is not the case with any of these folks.

[[Page S2548]]

  So I would urge all my colleagues to sign on to say that they will 
oppose secret holds and to release those holds on the nominees who are 
being held up and let's let the work of the people in this country get 
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Colorado is recognized.
  Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. President, I also rise to express my 
appreciation to the Senator from Missouri, Mrs. McCaskill, for her 
leadership on this effort to reform the way the Senate advises and 
consents. Because I have great respect for the traditions of the 
Senate, I was curious as to why holds are a mechanism or a tool 
available to individual Senators. What I found out is basically 
speculative; that is, that in the past, there is a belief that 
Senators--because they could only get back to Washington by horse and 
buggy or by horse itself--needed time to study a potential nominee. It 
was a courtesy. It maybe made sense in those horse-and-buggy times, but 
these are modern times, and the secret hold now, in particular, is 
being used to accomplish, in many cases, political or perhaps even 
policy goals. I have great respect for the venerable traditions of the 
Senate, but this seems like one that should be set aside, frankly.
  I was also curious to study some of the statistics that I will share 
with the entire Senate. Since President Obama took office--I think it 
is 16 months, give or take a few days--we have voted on 49 nominations. 
Of those 49 votes, 36 of them--which is about 75 percent of the 
nominations--have been delayed. On average, these nominations languish 
or sit on the Executive Calendar for over 105 days. That is on average. 
Some have waited many months more. Then, when we look at the vote 
totals of the nominations that finally come to the floor, 17 received 
more than 90 votes, 10 received more than 80 votes, and 6 received more 
than 70 votes. So out of the 36 nominees, there were 33 that I think 
you could characterize as being approved overwhelmingly by the Senate, 
after a very long and unfortunate wait.
  Right now, on the Executive Calendar, there are 94 nominees awaiting 
the Senate's advice and consent action. At this time in George W. 
Bush's Presidency, there were 12 nominees. So we have 94 on the one 
hand and 12 on the other hand.
  It is time for my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to stop 
abusing the Senate's responsibility to provide advice and consent for 
the President's well-qualified nominees.
  Let me just end on this note. If a Senator wants to place a hold, 
that is all well and good, but it shouldn't be a secret hold. As the 
previous two speakers have said--and I think Senator McCaskill as 
well--I have never used a hold. If I wish to put a hold on a nominee, I 
will make it public. I will make the case and take a stand on the floor 
of the Senate. That is the way we want our debates to be in the 
Senate--the world's greatest deliberative body. We shouldn't be doing 
things such as this in secret.
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Minnesota is recognized.
  Ms. KLOBUCHAR. Mr. President, I listened to the Senator from 
Colorado, and I was thinking about our two States. They both are 
beautiful States. OK, they have a few more mountains than we do, but we 
have 10,000 lakes. We both have open democracies--governments that 
work, governments that are open. There is no secrecy in our States. We 
have blue skies, open prairies, open lands. To me, it is no surprise 
that we would have Senators from these two States standing and saying 
this is ridiculous.
  I thought Senator Udall did a great job of going through all the 
numbers and the nominations that have been put on hold, but we all know 
what is at the root of this. It is a procedural game that allows this 
to happen--the secret hold.
  When I came to the Senate in 2007, my first priority was ethics 
reform. I was so pleased, and I thought we had gotten rid of the secret 
hold. That is what we said we did. The rule we adopted then--as soon as 
unanimous consent was made regarding a specific nominee--said that a 
Senator placing a hold has to submit to the majority leader a written 
note of intent that includes the reason for their objection. So they 
have to put in writing why they are objecting. Then it says that no 
later than 6 days after the submission, the hold is to be printed in 
the Congressional Record for everyone to see.
  So we thought this was a pretty good idea--sunshine being the best 
disinfectant. By making the hold public and forcing Senators to be 
accountable for their actions, we could have open debate. As I heard 
Senator Shaheen just say, we should be able to tell the world why we 
are putting on a hold. We may have a good idea.
  But that is not what has been happening. Instead, what has been 
happening is, Senators are playing games with the rules. They are 
following the letter but not the spirit of the reform. It is 
unbelievable to me. They are actually rotating holds.
  It is sort of like what we see in the Olympics, where they have a 
relay and they hand off the baton. This baton is going from one Senator 
to another so they can keep the hold going. One Senator has it for 6 
days. Then it is passed off to another for 6 days. So I guess if delay 
was an Olympic sport, they would get the Gold Medal.
  What we have is a group of Senators from the other side of the aisle, 
for the most part, who are gaming the system. We have been spending a 
lot of time in the last few days talking about other people who game 
the system--people on Wall Street--so I don't think it should be 
happening in this very Chamber.
  I am very pleased Senator McCaskill, along with Senators Grassley and 
Wyden, have been working on this for so long and have taken a lead on 
it. I urge my colleagues to sign this letter to end the secret hold. 
There shouldn't be secrets from the public when it comes to 
nominations. This isn't a matter of top-secret national security or 
some strategy that we would use when we go to war. This is about 
nominations from the White House. This is about people who are going to 
be serving in public jobs. We should know who is holding them up, who 
doesn't want them to come up for a vote and why. Then we can make a 
decision and the public will have the knowledge of what is going on in 
this place. That is the only way we are going to be able to build trust 
again with this democracy.
  I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. BENNETT. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent the order for the 
quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.