TSA nominee Erroll Southers withdraws name from consideration

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 20, 2010; 8:47 AM

Erroll Southers, President Obama's nominee to lead the Transportation Security Administration, has withdrawn his name from consideration, the White House said Wednesday.

Southers's nomination had faced fierce opposition from Republicans since revelations that he may have misled Congress about an incident in the late 1980s involving a background check of the boyfriend of his ex-wife.

As The Eye first reported in November, Southers told senators that he asked a co-worker's husband who worked for the San Diego Police Department at the time to run a background check on his ex-wife's boyfriend.

The incident did little to stop his unanimous confirmation by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. But a day after the panel referred his nomination to the Senate, Southers told lawmakers that he twice conducted the database searches himself, downloaded confidential law enforcement records about the boyfriend and then passed the information on to the police department employee.

The White House released this statement from Southers:

I was extremely excited about the opportunity to lead the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and fulfill Secretary Napolitano's objective to develop it into the best organization of its kind in the world, however, it is apparent that this path has been obstructed by political ideology. I have decided, after deep reflection and in consultation with my family and friends to respectfully withdraw my name from consideration for confirmation as the Assistant Secretary for the TSA. It is clear that my nomination has become a lightning rod for those who have chosen to push a political agenda at the risk of the safety and security of the American people. This partisan climate is unacceptable and I refuse to allow myself to remain part of their dialogue. The TSA has important work to be done and I regret I will not be part of their success. I would like to thank the President, Secretary Napolitano and all of the people at the Department of Homeland Security who worked tirelessly to successfully move my nomination through two Senate committees during the past seven months.

"The President believes that Erroll Southers would have been an excellent TSA administrator but understands his personal decision and the choice he has made," said White House spokesman Nicholas Shapiro.

"Southers was uniquely qualified for this job and it is with great sadness that the President accepted Southers' withdrawal. Fortunately the acting TSA Administrator is very able and we have a solid team of professionals at TSA doing vital national security work to keep us safe," Shapiro said.

The White House never responded to requests for more information on the Southers nomination, said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who led Republican efforts to derail the nominee.

"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 too much for this nominee," DeMint said in a statement. "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."

Shapiro could not say when Obama might name a new TSA nominee or if the White House will just nominate Acting Administrator Gale Rossides to the job full-time.

DeMint's initial opposition to Southers centered around concerns that the nominee would eventually approve collective bargaining rights for airport screeners. TSA employees can join a union, but cannot collectively bargain and DeMint and other Republicans argued that union interference might jeopardize airport and national security.

Southers's withdrawal comes on an already bad day for the White House, as it attempts to salvage health-care reform efforts following Tuesday's Republican victory in the Massachusetts Senate race. The Obama administration has also struggled in recent months to get top nominees confirmed.

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