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L.A. airport official named by Obama to run TSA withdraws

Erroll Southers, the Los Angeles airport official whose nomination to lead the Transportation Security Administration was blocked by Republican opposition in Washington, has withdrawn his name from consideration.

Southers, in a statement issued today, complained that his nomination had become a political lightning rod.

President Obama nominated Southers, who is a former FBI agent with experience in counter-terrorism, to head the TSA in September. But Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican who complained that Southers hoped to make good on an Obama pledge to allow TSA workers to join unions, had placed a hold on Southers’ confirmation by the Senate.

Southers also had faced questions over an event years ago, when he had ordered criminal background checks on the boyfriend of his estranged wife. He acknowledged in a letter to senators that it was wrong and he regretted the incident. He had been censured by his FBI superiors for the action 20 years ago.

“Americans deserve a leader at TSA with integrity and with an unwavering commitment to putting security ahead of politics,” DeMint said in a statement today.

He said the White House had never responded to requests for more information about Southers’ testimony during his committee confirmation hearing about the background checks.

“And Mr. Southers was never forthcoming about his intentions to give union bosses veto power over security decisions at our airports,” DeMint said.

Southers maintained that he had no intention of sacrificing security in the interest of collective bargaining for TSA screeners.

The White House accepted Southers’ withdrawal of his nomination today, while maintaining that he would have made an excellent TSA administrator.

Following the attempted bombing of a U.S.-bound airliner on Christmas Day, congressional leaders had called for a speedy confirmation of Southers for the vacant TSA post.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had said he would seek to force the confirmation over Republican objections in the Senate by invoking cloture.

However, the Democrats’ 60-vote super-majority in the Senate, which enables the party to override GOP filibusters, is evaporating with the loss this week of a Senate seat in Massachusetts to Republican Sen.-elect Scott Brown.

The forfeiture of the administration’s nominee in the face of Republican objections may also be taken as the first sign of the effect of the GOP’s stunning victory in Massachusetts, where Republican Brown claimed the seat held by the late and long-serving Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in a special election on Tuesday.

Marshall McClain, president of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Assn., said his group was saddened by Southers’ decision to withdraw.

“We understand his decision but are saddened he has chosen to withdraw his name from consideration because of the manner in which the political process was playing out in Washington,” McClain said in a prepared statement.

“The TSA desperately needs permanent leadership at this crucial time in our nation’s war on terrorism. We are grateful that his decision will allow him to remain in Los Angeles as assistant chief for homeland security and intelligence to help keep LAX secure.”

mdsilva@tribune.com


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