By Megan Carpentier for Air America
Republican Senator Jim DeMint cares more about whether security screeners can unionize than whether bombs get on planes--or at least that's what his legislative record shows. Ben Smith of Politico reports that even as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was plotting his attack on the United States, DeMint was holding up the confirmation of the new head of the Transportation Security Administration to try to make sure the people who are in the front lines of securing America's skies can't unionize. For DeMint, the unionization of the people paid to keep terrorists and their weapons off planes is a greater threat to this nation than the terrorists plotting the deaths of Americans.
And DeMint's not the only one who thinks that the GOP's pet projects and their personal feelings are more important than the safety of individual Americans. Leading House Republicans including Minority Leader John Boehner, Michigan's own Pete Hoekstra, Indiana's Mike Pence, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Michelle Bachmann, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Darrell Issa of California, and Joe "You Lie!" Wilson voted against the appropriations bill that would have provided money to the Transportation Security Administration--including for increased bomb detection--out of a sense of pique over a procedural disagreement that they lost. I'm sure that seems quite important now.
So, will DeMint release his hold on the TSA nominee? His appearance on "Fox News Sunday" indicates that, to this say, he believes unionization to be as big a threat as ever and, until he isn't faced with the possibility of TSA screeners collectively bargaining for pay increases to keep this nation safe, he's not going to let any Obama nominee take the helm of the agency charged with keeping the skies safe. One must have one's priorities, after all.
If you think Jim Demint should stop playing politics with our safety, let him know:
Senator Jim DeMint
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
or by email: http://demint.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Contact.Home
Here are some more articles on the blocked appointment:
Who's Running the TSA? No One, Thanks to Sen. Jim DeMint
Monday 28 December 2009
by: Margaret Talev | McClatchy Newspapers
Washington - An attempt to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day would be all-consuming for the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration — if there were one.
The post remains vacant because Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., has held up President Barack Obama's nominee in opposition to the prospect of TSA workers joining a labor union.
As al Qaida claimed responsibility Monday for the thwarted attack and President Barack Obama made a public statement about it, Democrats urged DeMint to drop his objection and allow quick confirmation of nominee Erroll Southers, a counterterrorism expert, when the Senate reconvenes in three weeks.
Obama, speaking from Hawaii, where he and his family are vacationing, told Americans, "We will not rest until we find all who were involved and hold them accountable."
Obama warned anyone plotting against the U.S. from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia or elsewhere that he doesn't intend to rest at simply strengthening defense.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee announced a hearing to be set for next month to examine how Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian whose name was in a terrorism database, boarded a plane with explosive material.
"Why aren't airline passengers flying into the U.S. checked against the broadest terrorist database and why isn't whole body scanning technology that can detect explosives in wider use?" said committee chairman Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent.
Meanwhile, Florida Republican Rep. John Mica said in a statement that the TSA had grown lost and bloated in bureaucracy and called for a review.
Mica also said Congress "must change the process by which TSA administrators serve. There has been no TSA administrator for nearly a year and the next one will be the fifth in eight years. Running a security agency with a revolving door is a recipe for failure."
Janet Napolitano, the head of the Department of Homeland Security, of which the TSA is part, made the rounds of morning television news programs on Monday, backing away from her initial stance that the system had worked in averting attack.
She told NBC that "our system did not work in this instance. No one is happy or satisfied with that. An extensive review is under way."
Southers, a former FBI special agent, is the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department assistant chief for homeland security and intelligence. He also is the associate director of the University of Southern California's Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events, and he served as a deputy director of homeland security for California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Two Senate committees have given Southers their bipartisan blessing. An acting administrator is in place pending his confirmation.
Marshall McClain, the president of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association, said that the Senate should have acted sooner to confirm Southers.
"Friday's terrorist attack on U.S. aviation makes it all the more imperative that there be no further delays in filling this crucial position," he said.
DeMint said in a statement that the attempted attack "is a perfect example of why the Obama administration should not unionize the TSA." He wants Southers to clarify his stand on unionizing the TSA, a shift that Democrats support.
Without collective bargaining, DeMint said, the TSA has "flexibility to make real-time decisions that allowed it to quickly improve security measures in response to this attempted attack."
If organized labor got involved, DeMint said, union bosses would have the power "to veto or delay future security improvements at our airports."
He urged Obama to "re-think" supporting unionizing the TSA "and put the interests of American travelers ahead of organized labor."
DeMint also wants a Senate floor debate and roll call votes, not confirmation by consent as the Democrats sought.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., hadn't scheduled a floor vote for Southers before the Senate left town on Christmas Eve.
Reid spokesman Jim Manley said Monday that the majority leader is working with the White House to get Southers confirmed "as quickly as possible" and charged that "Republican obstructionism has prevented TSA from having the leadership in place that the organization deserves."
DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton said that Obama didn't nominate Southers until September, and he charged that Reid "has been too busy trading earmarks for votes on health care" to deal with DeMint's concerns.
DeMint's objection creates a procedural hurdle that could take three days of debate and test votes to overcome, or could potentially be limited if Democrats offered DeMint a compromise. No one was taking conciliatory stance on Monday, however. Manley called DeMint's opposition "disgraceful."
(Lesley Clark contributed to this article.
December 29, 2009
DeMint defends blocking appointment of TSA chief
Posted: December 29th, 2009
Washington (CNN) - Elected officials on Capitol Hill are planning to hold hearings in January to investigate the safety gaps in airline security, made more pronounced since the attempted bombing over Detroit on Christmas Day.
But one important officeholder, the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, likely won't be present at any of the hearings - simply because his nomination is being blocked in the Senate.
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, has been holding up the confirmation of Erroll Southers to be TSA chief, in an effort to prevent TSA employees from joining a labor union. Southers is a former FBI special agent and counterterrorism expert.
"The attempted terror attack in Detroit is a perfect example of why the Obama Administration should not unionize the TSA and allow our airline security decisions to be dictated by union bosses," DeMint said in a statement. "I hope this incident will lead the President to re-think this policy and put the interests of American travelers ahead of organized labor."
DeMint points to inefficiencies that will arise from the organizing of TSA employees, which he says may ultimately jeopardize the safety of Americans, such as the inability of rewarding exceptional screeners and firing those who are underperforming, the inflexibility to change protocols as emergency situations arise, and the need to require more collective bargaining as new safety mechanisms create new job descriptions.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid contends that Democrats "have been trying to confirm Mr. Southers" since his nomination was approved by two separate Senate committees.
"Sadly the Republican obstructionism of just one person, Senator Demint, prevented TSA from having the leadership in place that the organization deserves," said Reid spokesman Jim Manley.
But the largest organizer of transportation security officers, the American Federation of Government Employees, disagrees with DeMint's central claims against unionization – citing the unobstructed cooperation by union members of both the New York City police and fire departments in the aftermath of the September 11attacks.
"This is not an issue of security. There is no evidence that labor rights have any effect on transportation security officers," said Emily Ryan, spokeswoman for AFGE.
AFGE represents 12,000 of TSA's nearly 40,000 transportation security officers in many personnel matters, while also overseeing the broader collective bargaining of nearly 40,000 other government employees at the Department of Homeland Security, including the Coast Guard, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"This is a dedicated workforce who see their jobs as important to the security of the nation," said Ryan.
While Southers' nomination is being blocked, there is an acting administrator of the TSA running the agency.
White House defends nominee to head TSA, says delay is based on politics
HONOLULU (AP) — Acknowledging he has given inconsistent answers to Congress, President Barack Obama's pick to lead the Transportation Security Administration wrote to lawmakers to explain a reprimand he received for running background checks on his then-estranged wife's boyfriend two decades ago.
Erroll Southers, a former FBI agent whose nomination has been delayed by Republicans for unrelated concerns, sent a letter to senators in November to correct what he called a distortion of his record. As Democrats push for his speedy confirmation, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee said he maintained faith in the nominee.
"I am distressed by the inconsistencies between my recollection and the contemporaneous documents, but I assure you that the mistake was inadvertent, and that I have at all times taken full responsibility for what I know to have been a grave error in judgment," he wrote in a letter to Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine.
"This incident was over 20 years ago, I was distraught and concerned about my young son, and never in my career since has there been any recurrence of this sort of conduct."
In an October affidavit for the Senate committee, he initially said he asked a San Diego police employee to run a background check on his then-estranged wife's boyfriend and was censured by his FBI superiors 20 years ago for what he said was an isolated instance.
But a day after the committee approved his nomination and sent it to the full Senate, he wrote to the senators and told them that he was incorrect, that he twice ran background checks himself.
In the letter correcting the record, Southers also said he downloaded law enforcement records and shared them. He said he forgot the incident in 1987 or 1988.
The letter was first reported by The Washington Post's Web site on Thursday. The letter, which was distributed to all members of the Homeland Security Committee and whose contents were verified to The Associated Press by a Democratic source, was dated Nov. 20.
Lieberman aide Leslie Phillips said the senator continues to support Southers.
"Twenty years ago, Mr. Southers committed a serious error in judgment," Phillips said. "He admitted that error and was disciplined for it. He went on to develop broad knowledge and build an excellent reputation in the areas of security and law enforcement. Mr. Southers was forthcoming about his past censure during his nomination process and about errors he made in recalling the details."
White House officials lined up behind Southers' nomination to head a Transportation Department agency that lacked a confirmed chief when a suspected terrorist failed to destroy a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day.
"Southers has never tried to hide this incident and has expressed that these were errors he made in judgment that he deeply regretted and an error that he made in an account of events that happened over 20 years ago," said Nick Shapiro, a White House spokesman traveling with Obama on vacation in Hawaii.
"Southers' nomination has not been held up over this as he has been entrusted with significant and increasing responsibilities in the area of homeland security over the years since, but he is being held up by Sen. (Jim) DeMint over a political issue."
Southers' nomination has been delayed by DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, who said he feared TSA employees would join unions with Southers' support. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he would force a vote on Southers by the full Senate in the new year, his spokesman said.
Southers' nomination secured the backing from former colleagues, including the Republican governor of California who nominated him as his No. 2 homeland security adviser and has known Southers for 30 years, back to his days as a Santa Monica police officer.
"Erroll brings vast homeland security experience at the federal, state and local levels, along with hands on airport security expertise," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement. "California is safer and better prepared because of his hard work and dedication. Erroll is a committed public servant and highly qualified for the role."
His former boss also praised Southers' character.
"He is a man of unquestioned integrity who, for the past 30 years, has dedicated his life to public service," wrote Ronald Iden, now chief security officer for the Walt Disney Co., who brought Southers on as his deputy at the California homeland security office in 2004. His was among the letters sent to the Senate in support of Southers' nomination.
Southers is the assistant chief of the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department. He previously taught at the University of Southern California, was a security consultant and a police officer.