At the start of a new Congress, each house adopts a set of rules to govern legislative procedures. Minor tweaks to existing rules are the norm with minor tweaks adding up to major changes as the decades pass, while well entrenched rules become “traditional” long after they’ve served any useful purpose. The rule allowing one or more senators to place a hold on legislation is one of the entrenched rules long overdue for a change..
I don’t know the precise date but think it was adopted early in the 20th century as a courtesy to senators who needed a bit more time to study legislation that would affect their constituents. As far as I know it was little used until the hyper partisanship of the post Reagan years when it was used to stall floor votes until the Senate caved to special pleading demands that could not stand on their own.. In short, it became a legislative form of extortion legitimized by a rule
That brings me to two current examples. Senator Paul recently released his hold on approval of ambassador confirmations until the executive branch met his demands for more information on the source of COVID he believed would point to China’s malfeasance. Apparently he was given adequate information to remove the hold but has remained quiet about what it said. In he meantime he jeopardized the nations diplomatic capabilities.
The other case seems to know no end. Sen. Tuberville has put a hold on all military promotions requiring Senate confirmation until the Military abolishes its policy of paying for travel expenses incurred by service members who need to terminate a pregnancy. However heartfelt his anti-abortion beliefs may be, his intent to force his private beliefs on a public agency is serving to undermine its ability to function.
Tuberville displayed his ignorance of basic American civics during his campaign, and has shown little improvement during his short time in office. However, he has learned to use one powerful tool –the hold. What is he trying to prove, and to whom? That he is a tough guy not to be messed with or else? That his Alabama constituents will think him a hero? I don’t know. I only know he is an embarrassment to the Senate; that he has revealed the cowardice of Republican senate leadership; and that he has contributed in a major way to the Fitch downgrade of America’s credit rating. His tactic has all the signs of barroom bullying and I imagine he goes home at night smugly proud of himself.
Will no one rid us of this tuberlesome senator’s holds? (With apologies to T.S. Eliot)