Letting go of secret holds

LETTING GO OF SECRET HOLDS…. The Senate’s tolerance of “secret holds,” thankfully, appears to be nearing an end. It’s a step in the right direction for an institution badly in need of reform.

The practice has become entirely too common — the White House sends the Senate an administration or judicial nominee, who waits indefinitely for a vote after some peeved senator with a chip on his/her shoulder quietly and anonymously blocks the nomination from reaching the floor. Often, the holds don’t even relate to the nominee’s qualifications.

Nearly two months ago, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) set out to eliminate the practice altogether, telling her colleagues that if they want to place a hold, the very least they can do is put their name on it, and not hide in anonymity. As of yesterday, McCaskill appears to secured enough support to succeed.

Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, announced Saturday that she has enough Senate support to overturn members’ ability to anonymously delay confirmation proceedings for nominees and legislation requiring Senate confirmation.

Republican Senators Kit Bond of Missouri and Sam Brownback of Kansas provided the 65th and 66th signatures on a letter sent to Majority Leader Harry Reid requesting a vote to end the so-called secret holds. Mr. Reid also supports the ban.

“First battle won!With Sens Bond and Brownback now have 67 Senators on my letter calling for the end to secret holds.Now gotta get a vote,” McCaskill wrote on Twitter.

The next step will be a Senate Rules Committee hearing, scheduled for Wednesday, where the measure will be endorsed by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

There was some debate about exactly how many votes McCaskill’s effort would need — did this constitute a formal institutional rule change? — but with 67 votes, the question is moot. Unless Republicans start changing their minds, “secret holds” will soon be a thing of the past, and the Senate will operate with a little more transparency and accountability than it does now.