Print | Comments () Posted by Foon Rhee, deputy national political editor December 29, 2009 05:08 PM
The running battle between Big Labor and congressional Republicans now has a new front -- the attempted airliner bombing on Christmas Day.
That's because President Obama's nominee to lead the Transportation Security Agency -- which is in charge of airline safety -- has been put on hold by Senator Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, who is concerned that the nominee would allow TSA screeners join a union.
DeMint's spokesman, Wes Denton, told Politico that the agency is better off without a permanent leader than with unions running the nation’s airports.
“This is an important debate because many Americans don't want someone running the TSA who stands ready to give union bosses the power to veto or delay future security measures at our airports,” Denton said.
That brought this reaction from Eddie Vale, a spokesman for the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor federation:
"Now that this issue has been brought to the forefront the past few days you're going to hear a lot more of this slime and slander from DeMint against hard working Americans who are fighting every day to keep our country safe.... DeMint has no legitimate security concerns, he only cares about advancing a political and ideological agenda -- no matter what the risk or cost to our country."
Part of the delay is Obama's own fault -- it took him eight months to nominate former FBI agent and police detective Erroll Southers. But the hold means that an interim director is in charge of TSA as it takes part in the sweeping review of security policies Obama has ordered.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid now tells CNN that he will seek to force a confirmation vote when the Senate returns in January. It would take 60 votes to cut off debate, which Reid hopes to have with 58 Democrats and two independents who usually vote with Democrats.
UPDATE: DeMint hit back today at Democratic critics accusing him of obstructionism.
"The president has downplayed the threat of terror since he took office, and he waited eight months to even nominate Mr. Southers for this position. And then he wanted him approved in secret with no debate and no recorded vote in the Senate," DeMint said on Fox News Channel.
"And this is all in the context of the president promising the unions that he will submit our airport security to collective bargaining with union bosses. This is the last thing we need to do right now. Our airport security needs to have massive flexibility, the ability to move people around and change protocols. And it makes absolutely no sense to submit the security of our airports and the passengers here in this country to collective bargaining with unions."
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.