P: As NPR's David Welna reports, an effort is now underway to ban secret holds altogether.
DAVID WELNA: Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill decided to use that law to try to reveal which senators had put secret holds on dozens of President Obama's choices. So two weeks ago, she went to the Senate floor and one by one demanded consideration of 74 stalled nominees.
CLAIRE MCCASKILL: Unidentified Man: Is there objection?
JON KYL: Unidentified Man: Objection is heard.
WELNA: Iowa Republican Charles Grassley, on the other hand, has tried for years to end secret holds. He spoke on the Senate floor the following day.
CHARLES GRASSLEY: Let me just say that if any of my colleagues have holds on either side of the aisle, they ought to have the guts to go public and to go public the minute that they put the hold on, not like this mysterious way that it's done now, which really amounts to nothing.
WELNA: Last week, Democrat McCaskill returned to the Senate chamber to demand confirmation votes on two Obama nominees for the National Transportation Safety Board. And just as he had a week earlier, number two Republican Kyl objected.
KYL: I have no objection to these two people, so I am not holding them. I am objecting on behalf of the Republican leadership in order to enable the two leaders to clear both of these nominees - that is, to make sure that there is no objection on either side so that they can both go forward. That's the basis for my objection.
WELNA: McCaskill replied that the Republican and Democratic leaders had already conferred, and it was clear no Democrats objected to the nominations.
MCCASKILL: Now, if anybody can't see - as plain as the nose on your face - what's going on, they just need to tune in and pay attention. This is called stall and block, stall and block, stall and block, stall and block. And fine, but own it. If you're gonna stall and block, let's see who you are.
WELNA: Again, Claire McCaskill.
MCCASKILL: I, frankly, didn't think we'd get all of them. But I thought we'd get some of them. I was shocked that there was no disclosure in the Congressional Record on Friday, which means they have taken the position that we don't have to follow this rule, that this rule doesn't mean anything to us.
WELNA: McCaskill, in the meantime, has gotten 51 Democrats to sign a letter to both leaders demanding that the secret holds be abolished. Asked yesterday about those holds, Republican leader Mitch McConnell called them an issue of individual senators' rights.
MITCH MCCONNELL: We've always had a challenging environment in the Senate with regard to the confirmation of executive branch appointments. This administration has been treated about the same as the previous administrations in terms of the pace of confirmations.
WELNA: Rutgers University congressional expert Ross Baker says things are in fact far worse than they've ever been, but he doubts the Senate can get rid of secret holds.
ROSS BAKER: It's difficult to police something when you really aren't able to come up with any hard evidence to enforce it, and that's what makes the secret holds so diabolically difficult to deal with.
WELNA: David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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