At least three senators who oppose secret holds have holds of their own

At least three senators who want to end the practice of placing secret holds on nominees and legislation have holds of their own, according to a survey by The Hill.

Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.) are collectively blocking two Obama administration nominees and two bills as they push to end secret holds.

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Feingold and Baucus have signed on to a letter being drafted by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on the subject, while Inhofe is co-sponsoring a resolution by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to ban secret holds.

 The Hill contacted the offices of all 59 co-signers of McCaskill’s letter (including Wyden) as well as Inhofe and Grassley. All 61 senators or their offices responded to requests for comment.

Staffers for Feingold, Baucus and Inhofe maintained that their holds have not been a secret. However, Feingold was the only one of the trio who had announced his holds publicly before The Hill conducted its survey.

 Reid supports the effort to crack down on holds. Earlier this month, Reid claimed that Republicans were the only ones obstructing bills or nominees.

“There are no Democratic holds. They’re gone,” Reid said on May 4. “There are scores and scores of Republican holds. They have been asked to follow the law and they refuse to do so. The law is, after a set number of days, they’re supposed to state in the Congressional Record why they have the holds. They refuse to do that.”

According to the Senate’s Executive Calendar, there are 108 judicial or executive branch nominations pending before the chamber, dating back to June 2009. The only senator to publicly identify his holds: Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who is blocking six administration nominees. Coburn published his holds on the Executive Calendar.

Feingold is blocking the appointment of Federal Election Commission nominee John Sullivan out of concern that the commission’s two other vacancies are still unfilled, as well as a bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to crack down on gang violence. Feingold said in his May 6 floor speech that he has suggestions to improve the bill.

Inhofe is blocking the nomination of Solomon Watson to be the Army’s general counsel, citing Watson’s stint as a legal adviser to The New York Times, which coincided with the Times’s investigations of the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance programs. Inhofe’s office said the senator made his concerns public during a recent Armed Services Committee hearing, and an aide for the senator said he simply wants “greater scrutiny” of the nomination.

 Holds are so ingrained in Senate tradition that some senators forget they placed them — as with both Baucus and Inhofe. Baucus told The Hill that he has no holds in place, only to be corrected later by his office, which stated he is blocking a water compact because he wants to coordinate it with a separate water compact specific to Montana. Inhofe also forgot about his hold and was initially unaware of it when asked by The Hill.

 Although Grassley and Inhofe have signed on to Wyden’s resolution, the McCaskill letter was signed by only two GOP senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Scott Brown of Massachusetts.

 “It’s legitimate to put a hold on a bill or a nominee, but a senator ought to be willing to publicly identify him- or herself,” Collins told The Hill. “I’ve never thought secret holds are a good practice. I thought we put an end to them a few years ago when we voted on this issue, and yet they continue to occur.”

 The Senate implemented a rule in 2007 that senators had to publicly acknowledge any holds after six business days. But enforcing the rule has proven difficult. Reid earlier this month said he and Wyden are considering crackdown measures, such as referral to the Senate’s Ethics Committee.

Reid said the only other alternative is to file a cloture petition to lift each hold — a cumbersome step that requires several days of legislative delay.

 Collins said other Republicans would have signed McCaskill’s letter, but that it was hurriedly offered to only a few GOP senators.

 “I don’t think there was an effort to get widespread signatures on it,” she said.

McCaskill said the letter is still available, and that she doesn’t plan to send it to Reid and McConnell until she has 67 signatures — the number of senators required to change the chamber’s rules.

Grassley indicated he would have signed the letter, and a Grassley aide noted the senator has been working on the issue since 1996. Meanwhile, an Inhofe aide said the senator supports a stronger measure, such as legislation, instead of a letter.

“We’re not eliminating holds, we’re just eliminating secrecy,” Grassley said. “The public’s business ought to be public, and if you’re a senator and you want to put a hold on a bill, you ought to have guts enough to say it.”

Wyden last week lashed out at Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) for attempting to add a border security measure to his and Grassley’s secret-holds amendment. Wyden subsequently withdrew his amendment.