WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will force a vote on President Barack Obama's nominee to lead the Transportation Security Administration when the Senate reconvenes in three weeks.
Reid's announcement Tuesday that he will file a motion for cloture, a procedural step to limit debate and lead to a roll-call vote, follows the alleged attempt by a Nigerian extremist to blow up a U.S.-bound commercial flight on Christmas Day.
Reid had sought Senate consent to confirm TSA nominee Erroll Southers without floor debate, along with multiple other nominations, before the Senate adjourned for its winter break Christmas Eve.
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., objected, calling for more debate and temporarily halting the confirmation, as part of DeMint's opposition to unionizing TSA, a move he believes Obama will push. With the health care debate running up to Christmas Eve, Reid had yet to make his next move on Southers.
The alleged terrorist plot involving Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian whose name was in a terrorism database but who boarded a plane with explosive material, has brought new urgency to the nomination. White House spokesman Nicholas Shapiro said Tuesday that while the acting TSA administrator filling the job for now is "very able," DeMint and any others inclined to delay the vote "should put their short-term political interests aside."
DeMint said Tuesday in a statement that Reid had "completely ignored this nominee for weeks until the recent terror attempt" and was now grandstanding.
"I'm only looking for some time to debate the issue and have a vote so this isn't done in secret," DeMint said. He added that he hoped the debate and the alleged terrorism attempt "will convince Reid and President Obama that we cannot give union bosses veto power over national security at our airports."
Reid spokesman Jim Manley said DeMint was being "petty and vindictive" and that "he can't have his cake and eat it, too. The fact is he objected to us confirming this nominee. The one who's grandstanding is Sen. DeMint."
"In light of Mr. Southers' outstanding credentials, I'm confident that the votes will be there to confirm him," Manley said. "It's become obvious the TSA deserves to have a head."
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 cleared Southers with bipartisan support. An acting administrator is in place pending his confirmation.
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