Anonymous Senator Uses “Secret Hold”: Blocks FBI’s Immediate Response To Violent Crimes Bill

Donna Anderson
December 18, 2012

A bill that would eliminate red tape and allow FBI officials to immediately step in and offer assistance in cases involving mass killings is currently being held up in the Senate by an unknown Senator, for an unknown reason, using the “Secret Hold” procedure.

Currently, the FBI has no authority to directly assist investigations where there is no immediate evidence of violations of federal law, such as mass killings at schools, non-federal office buildings, theaters and shopping malls.

While the FBI does typically become involved in the investigations it’s generally by an indirect route that will allow them to operate within their Federal guidelines. Finding this “indirect route” often leads to delays that hamper the investigation.

If passed, HR.2076, the Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act of 2011, would enable the FBI to become involved immediately upon the request of state and local law enforcement officials.

The bill also defines “mass killings” as three or more killings in a single incident and would raise funding limits for the FBI for deployment of tactical response, command and control, and other crisis-management assets.

According to the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), an anonymous Senator has placed a “secret hold” on the Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act, a procedure which prevents the bill from reaching the Senate floor.

The Standing Rules of the United States Senate allow one or more Senators to prevent a motion from reaching a vote. The Senator can publicly object, on the Senate floor, which is referred to as a “Senatorial hold.” Or, if he doesn’t want to publicly reveal his reasons for blocking a bill, he can object privately, to his or her party leadership, and use the “Secret” or anonymous hold.

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Angered over the Sandy Hill shooting incident and the earlier incident in Portland, Ore., Jon Adler, President of FLEOA said, “It is an absolute outrage that one senator cowering behind the curtain has placed an anonymous hold on the mass killings legislation.”

Senators often use secret holds to block legislation as a tactic to win concessions. There are no legal guidelines, they simply tell their leadership, “I don’t like it” and it’s blocked. Hidden behind a curtain of anonymity, Senators can successfully block legislation from being debated without having to explain themselves to their constituents.

In January 2011, Oregon’s Democratic Senator Ron Wyden prevailed in his 10-year attempt to end the practice of secret holds. In his press release, Wyden said:

“A ten year, bipartisan effort to end the practice of allowing senators to place secret holds on legislation or nominations before the U.S. Senate met success today, with Senate passage of a binding resolution that will require public disclosure, in The Congressional Record, within two legislative days of an objection being made by any senator to Senate action on legislation or nominations.”

The resolution pass by a vote of 92-4. The four Senators voting against the resolution were Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Jim DeMint (R- S.C.), and John Ensign (R-Nev.)

However, Wyden’s resolution lasted about as long as any other Gentlemens Agreement in Washington. Just five months later, on May 11, 2011, a GOP senator placed a secret hold on the nomination of Heather Higginbottom as the deputy budget director at the Office of Management and Budget.

Wyden’s agreement also doesn’t take into account the fact that Senators can team up to block legislation indefinitely. When the two days are up, another Senator just uses is “secret hold” card and keeps the bill from hitting the Senate floor.

The Senator holding up HR2076 remains anonymous and his reason for blocking the bill are unknown. Supporters say the bill will not expand the FBI’s jurisdiction, it will simply make it easier for them to offer immediate assistance in the case of mass killings where no federal crime has been committed.


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