Holding Tight: Senators Use Old Tools to Block Trump Nominees

The more things change, the more they stay the same, or at least when it comes to the use of obscure Senate tools to protect the rights of individual lawmakers to influence policy.

Even as the traditions of comity and bipartisanship ebb in the chamber, senators of both parties are making full use of the practice of placing “holds” on President Donald Trump’s nominees for executive branch jobs in order to force the new administration to side with them on policy and funding fights.

Holds aren’t actually recognized in Senate rules but are customary practices honored by party leaders of both parties when lawmakers want to delay or object to action on a nominee. Typically, the majority leader won’t even try to bring up a nominee if there is a hold pending.

For the most part, lawmakers have used the “secret” hold to block a nominee and can hand off that hold over and over again to other members. But in recent weeks both Democrats and Republicans alike have followed Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley’s (R-Iowa) practice of making their intention to block nominees public.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) put out a press release to announce his holds against two top Commerce Department nominees after he found out that the administration itself is delaying its national security investigations into predatory trade practices of China and other countries that hurt the U.S. steel industry.


The holds are on Gil Kaplan to be under secretary of commerce for international trade and Nazakhtar Nikakhtar to be assistant secretary of commerce for industry and analysis.

“I hold these nominees reluctantly, as they could be an assets to the Commerce Department, but this situation is dire and this administration must be sent a clear message that action, not rhetoric, is needed immediately,” Schumer said.

Schumer’s announcement came a week after Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) made public his own plan to block the nomination of Russell Vought to serve as Office of Management and Budget deputy director to make sure the White House makes good on a pledge to support hurricane relief for his home state.

“[It’s] solely to ensure the next Harvey aid request from OMB will satisfy Texas’s needs,” Cornyn tweeted.

Sometimes Republicans and Democrats even work in a bipartisan fashion to use holds to get a desired outcome. That’s the case in the matter of hurricane relief, where Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) also said he put on hold on Vought to make sure Florida citrus growers get the relief also promised by the president.

“He said it will be included in a November supplemental,” Nelson said. “So I just put a hold on one of his nominees to make sure we get this money, as promised.”