Claire McCaskill’s War on Secret Holds

This is interesting: apparently Sen. Claire McCaskill (D–Mo.) thinks she’s rounded up enough votes to eliminate the practice of secret holds. I had no idea this was even on anyone’s radar. However, Jamelle Bouie doesn’t think this will really make much difference:

I have no idea if McCaskill’s hold legislation will make it through the Senate; senators are very reluctant to give up their power, and this would diminish the ways in which individual senators can impose their preferences on the entire chamber. And of the possible avenues for reforming the hold, this isn’t my first choice. Like Jonathan Bernstein (of the fantastic Plain Blog About Politics), I’m not convinced that secrecy is the problem with the hold….Rather, the problem is that there are too many holds. Obstructionist senators are abusing Senate norms, and it’s not clear that McCaskill’s bill will address that core dilemma.

This is basically right, of course: holds are the problem, not secret holds specifically. Still, I guess there are two ways of looking at McCaskill’s bill. The first is that senators wouldn’t bother fighting against it if they didn’t really care whether their holds were public or not. So they must care. And if they care about their holds being public, then taking away secret holds should make holds less common. Unfortunately, the second way of looking at this is that if it were really going to make a difference, McCaskill wouldn’t have even a prayer of getting 67 votes. Republicans have shown an impressive ability to maintain a united front even on fairly innocuous issues, so if they’re divided this issue must be really innocuous.

So which is it? Beats me. But I hope McCaskill gets the votes regardless. The Senate is a public body and its official actions ought to be public whether or not it actually changes anyone’s behavior. Besides, you never know what use watchdog groups will be able to make of public records on holds. At the very least, it will force legislators to defend their holds, and I think they’re going to have a harder time doing that repeatedly with a camera in their face than they might think. In the end, I’ll bet that making holds public will reduce their numbers noticeably. Not dramatically, maybe, but enough to be well worth doing.

MORE HARD-HITTING JOURNALISM

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones, a special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.