Following several days of heated floor debate on the issue, U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and a group of at least 20 other senators are sending a letter to Senate leadership pushing to change the way the Senate does business by putting an end to rules that allow members to secretly block legislation and nominations.
Cardin and his colleagues are pledging to not place "secret holds' and are calling upon Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to end the practice and force senators to give a public explanation of why they are blocking a certain piece of legislation or a nomination. Despite measures passed as part of sweeping ethics reform legislation in 2007 to require senators who want to place a hold on bills and nominations to be transparent about their objections, senators continue to circumvent the rules and file anonymous holds.
"The rules of the Senate have been abused. No single senator should be allowed to block legislation indefinitely or bring the action of the Senate to a halt -- and he or she certainly should never be permitted to do it anonymously," said Senator Cardin.
The letter reads: "While we deeply respect and appreciate the importance of tradition in this institution, we believe the practice of the secret hold has no rightful place in the Senate or in an open and transparent democracy. When a member of the Senate wishes to hold legislation or a nomination, that Senator owes to this body and, more importantly, to the American public a full explanation."
Senator Cardin and the other senators are now asking their colleagues to join them in their pledge by opening up the letter to all Democratic and Republican senators for signature.
The discussion of secret holds arose because approximately 80 nominations are being blocked anonymously and without explanation. These nominees are largely non-controversial and were voted out of committee without opposition. On Tuesday of this week, dozens of these nominees were brought up for consideration but Republicans objected repeatedly. Today's letter reaffirms the senators' commitment to ending the practice of secret holds and encourages colleagues to follow the spirit of ethics reform.
The full text of the letter is below.
Dear Leader Reid and Leader McConnell,
We the undersigned Senators hereby pledge that we will not place secret holds on legislation or nominations.
We further call upon you to bring an end to the practice of permitting secret "holds" on legislation and nominations for those Senators who are unprepared to make the same pledge. While we deeply respect and appreciate the importance of tradition in this institution, we believe the practice of the secret hold has no rightful place in the Senate or in an open and transparent democracy. When a member of the Senate wishes to hold legislation or a nomination, that Senator owes to this body and, more importantly, to the American public a full explanation. The Senate endorsed this principle in Section 512 of S.1, passed by a vote of 96-2 on January 18, 2007.
As you know, S.1 has failed in practice to end the use of secret holds. We, therefore, urge you to promptly consider further changes to the Senate rules in order to bring a clear and definitive end to secret holds on legislation or a nomination. We stand ready to work with you on such a rule change, as long advocated for by Senators Wyden and Grassley, the leaders of a decade-long effort to eliminate secret holds in the Senate. We applaud their work and believe it must now be pursued to its conclusion.
Again, in making this request, we pledge that we will not place secret holds on legislation or a nomination.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Senator Mark Warner (D-VA)
Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD)
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
Senator Bob Casey (D-PA)
Senator Jim Webb (D-VA)
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Senator Jon Tester (D-MT)
Senator Mark Udall (D-CO)
Senator Tom Udall (D-NM)
Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC)
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Senator Mark Begich (D-AK)
Senator Roland Burris (D-IL)
Senator Ted Kaufman (D-DE)
Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO)
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Senator Al Franken (D-MN)