Embattled TSA nominee Southers withdraws

Republicans had blocked Senate confirmation of President Obama's pick

By Alex Koppelman
Published January 20, 2010 3:21PM (EST)

President Obama is going to have to find a new nominee to head the Transportation Security Administration. His first one, Erroll Southers, has withdrawn after months of stalling by Senate Republicans.

"It is unfortunate that we are residing in such contentious political times, that exceptional, 'apolitical' candidates have to seriously consider their willingness to participate in public service," Southers wrote in an e-mail to friends and colleagues, the Associated Press reports.

Southers' nomination had been held up, primarily by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., first over concerns that he might allow security screeners to engage in collective bargaining and then over discrepancies in accounts he gave about an incident in the 1980's when the FBI censured him for improperly accessing a confidential database to get records about his estranged wife's boyfriend. (Emily Holleman profiled Southers in this space last week; you can read that here.)

All things considered, it's pretty amazing that the White House couldn't get Southers confirmed. They seemed to have a golden opportunity to do so in the wake of the attempted bombing of Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day, when DeMint started taking serious heat in the press for holding up the nomination. But apparently that wasn't enough.

DeMint, naturally, took a little time in the winner's circle in the wake of the news.

"Americans deserve a leader at TSA with integrity and with an unwavering commitment to putting security ahead of politics. The White House never responded to requests for more information relating to Mr. Southers (sic) false testimony to Congress and his censure by the FBI for improperly accessing files. And Mr. Southers was never forthcoming about his intentions to give union bosses veto power over security decisions at our airports," the senator said in a statement. "The Senate could have had an open and transparent debate this week to approve Mr. Southers, but apparently, answering simple, direct questions about security and integrity were (sic) too much for this nominee. I hope the President will quickly put forward a new nominee that is fully vetted and that will put the safety of the American people first."

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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Erroll Southers Jim Demint R-s.c. Transportation Security Administration