Ending the Senatorial Hold Privilege

January 23rd, 2010 at 6:22 pm David Frum | 4 Comments |

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The Democratic majority in the Senate has dropped below 60, and suddenly the air is thick with calls for filibuster reform. As a practical matter, it’s hard to see how the filibuster could be altered unless leaders in both parties agree. So – any reason Republicans should do so? Over the next few posts, I’ll suggest some ways to think about this problem.

This is the fourth installment in a series.  Click here to read the rest of the series.


Of all forms of filibuster, the one that seems most unjustifiable to me – and also by the way most injurious to Republicans – is the practice of the senatorial “hold” on presidential appointees. The Senate of course has the constitutional right to reject confirmable presidential appointees. Entrusting a power of indefinite delay to any one senator, for any reason, seems a crazily overbroad reading of the “advise and consent” clause.

This overbreadth has nasty real world consequences. In a world that moves ever faster, staffing the executive branch proceeds ever slower. Paul Light of NYU has written about the ever more sclerotic delay in executive staffing, and holds are part of the problem. As the party that has held the presidency for the majority of the years since World War II, Republicans have an interest in doing away with this extreme individual veto.

But let’s not get carried away with how much is at stake here. While holds are a part of the staffing problem, they are a very SMALL part of the staffing problem compared to the ever more intense ethics and vetting processes demanded by law, regulation, and politics. Streamlining the federal bureaucracy is a very big and difficult subject, of which the senatorial part is an annoying but hardly crucial subset.

I’d strongly support convening an outside commission on the model of the base closing commission, chaired by someone like Light, to propose a package of staffing reforms for up-or-down vote. Getting rid of the senatorial hold could be a part of that package of reforms, quite severable from the legislative filibuster.


More to come…

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4 Comments so far ↓

  • BoolaBoola

    I agree with my friend Mr. Frum! Never thought it would happen.

  • BoolaBoola

    When Republicans appoint these crazies they appoint, Dems complain and put holds. But it’s better for the Dems to let the appointees through and let the voting middle see how crazy they are!

  • sinz54

    BoolaBoola: But it’s better for the Dems to let the appointees through and let the voting middle see how crazy they are!
    Not when some of those appointees can serve for life.

    Like Supreme Court justices, for example.
    Then it doesn’t matter what the public thinks of them. They’re set for life.

    And you have also ignored the damage an appointee can do in the meantime, before the voting public gets wise to him.

    Thanks to a Deputy Secretary of State named Paul Wolfowitz and a Secretary of Defense named Donald Rumsfeld and a few others, we’ve got thousands of American dead and tens of thousands of Iraqi dead in a war that Wolfowitz believed we needed to fight. If you’re suggesting that this was a good thing because the voters then elected Obama in disgust, that’s pretty cynical of you.

  • HenryAdams

    There are so many factual errors in this post that it blows the mind. What on EARTH are you talking about in regards to the “nuclear option?” You describe it completely wrong — and materially wrong. How about (1) going to any authoritative document on this (like the Gold/Gupta article in HJLPP, or the Senate RPC article in 2005 on the “constitutional option”, or even – for heaven’s sake – WIKIPEDIA), (2) learning the issue a bit, and then (3) starting over. You can’t expect to be taken seriously on these things if you don’t even bother to learn the underlying facts. — HenryAdams