Senator Sessions Places Hold on Presidential Records Bill

On January 22, 2008, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) brought the “Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2007” (H.R. 1255, S. 886) to the floor under the Senate’s unanimous consent rule that allows non-controversial bills to be considered on an expedited basis. However, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) became the latest Republican senator to publicly put a hold on the bill and blocked floor consideration.

Last September, Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) blocked a vote in the Senate on the bill, preventing floor action throughout the fall. However, on December 18, 2007, without explanation, Senator Bunning suddenly lifted his hold. The next day, Senator Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT) requested that the bill be passed. However, an anonymous Senator placed a secret hold on the bill.

Since the White House has not rescinded its threat to veto the bill, it is reasonable to assume that Senator Sessions is holding up the bill at the behest of the Administration. Senator Sessions gave no explanation on the floor as to why he was blocking the consideration of the presidential records bill.

Passage of the bill is even more important given the on-going controversy over the extent of missing e-mails from White House servers from 2003-2005. In response to questions in a federal court case, the White House recently admitted it had recycled its e-mail back-up tapes before October 2003 and only began retaining the back-ups starting at that point. The White House also admitted that “at this stage, this office does not know if any emails were not properly preserved in the archiving process,” in the period 2003-2005.

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.