Washington (CNN) - Frustrated Democrats plan to go to the Senate floor Friday to seek Republican approval of 53 administration nominees they say are currently blocked by the secret holds placed by GOP senators.
"If there is a legitimate complaint or grievance against any nominee, I think any senator has a right to be heard and appeal to the body for a vote," said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the number two Democrat. "But secret holds, I think, have become a reprehensible part of the process here and need to end."
Democrats are especially upset because they think Republicans are getting around a Senate rule adopted three years ago that requires senators to make public their holds once they've had them in place for six legislative days.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, called the practice "hold-laundering," which is when senators pass a secret hold off to one another before hitting the six-day trigger for making their names public and thereby keep a hold in place indefinitely.
Republicans don't deny using the method but argue it's allowed by Senate rules which could be changed if Democrats want.
"If they think the rule needs to be tightened up they can offer to change the rule," suggested a GOP leadership aide.
In fact, Democrats said an effort is underway to offer an amendment to the financial regulations bill currently on the floor to shorten the six day window to two days.
Democrats complain the secret holds keep the Obama administration from being able to effectively govern and point to one nominee, Michael Huerta to be the number two official at the FAA, as an example of a key appointee stalled by an anonymous senator.
At a news conference, Durbin said that Republicans finally lifted a hold Thursday and approved the nomination of a top National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official only after feeling pressured because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
"If they're going to move this appointee because of an oil spill, what does it take to move the Deputy Administrator of the FAA in charge of air safety?," Durbin asked. "Fill in the blanks."
Asked about Democratic concerns over the issue earlier this week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky acknowledged, "We've always had a challenging environment in the Senate with regard to the confirmation of executive branch appointments. This administration's been treated about the same as previous administrations in terms of the pace of confirmations."
Democrats disputed that notion and cited numbers suggesting Obama's nominees are moving slower than George W. Bush's at this time in his presidency.
However, for all the Democrats' consternation, a top Republican senator accused Democrats also of using rotating holds.
"What I have run into in trying to get a bill or an amendment in the Senate in the past is the same practice," said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the fourth-ranking Republican in the Senate.
"Where the Democrats would have a hold on it and you try to trace it down, and you kind of have an idea of who it might be and you go to them, [they respond] 'No I don't.' And nobody ever knew, because it was just rotated around."