New Anonymous Hold Placed on Senate Presidential Records Bill

As we have reported since September, Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) has been blocking a vote in the Senate on the “Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2007” (H.R. 1255, S. 886). On December 18, 2007, without explanation, Senator Bunning finally lifted his hold. The next day, it was expected that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) would bring the bill to the floor under the Senate’s unanimous consent rule that allows non-controversial legislation to be considered on an expedited basis. However, another unnamed Republican apparently placed a hold on the bill, preventing floor consideration.

According to the on-line publication The Secrecy File, published by the Cox News Service, Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT) intends to “smoke out” whoever put the hold on the bill when the Senate returns in January. Republican Senator John Corynyn of Texas, a co-sponsor of the bill, is quoted in the article as saying, “Our democracy is based on a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, and I believe sealing presidential records indefinitely goes against that philosophy.”

Since the White House has not rescinded its veto threat, its reasonable to assume that whoever is holding up the bill in the Senate is doing so at the behest of the Administration. While this is disappointing, we should take heart in the fact that the lobbying efforts of the broad-based coalition of groups supporting the bill has been able to convince two Republican senators to lift their holds on the bill.

Passage of the bill is even more important given the recent ruling by a federal judge invalidating the section of Executive Order 13233 that allowed former presidents to indefinitely delay the release of records. And the uncertainty over the impact of the federal lawsuit has once again generated controversy over former-President Clinton’s assertions that he is not blocking release of records from his presidential library.

In November 2001, President George W. Bush issued Executive Order 13233, which gave current and former presidents and vice presidents broad authority to withhold presidential records or delay their release indefinitely. The “Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2007” would nullify the Bush executive order and re-establish procedures to ensure the timely release of presidential records.

On March 14, 2007, by a vote of 333-93, the U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 1255.