WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama's choice to lead the Transportation Security Administration withdrew his name yesterday, a setback for an administration still trying to explain how a man could attempt to blow up a commercial airliner on Christmas Day.
Erroll Southers said he was pulling out because his nomination had become a lightning rod for those with a political agenda. Obama had tapped Southers, a top official with the Los Angeles Airport Police Department, to lead the TSA in September, but his confirmation has been blocked by Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who says he was worried that Southers would allow TSA employees to have collective bargaining rights.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Southers said the confirmation process made him question his willingness to participate in public service.
"I am not a politician. I'm a counterrrorism expert," Southers said. "They took an apolitical person and politicized my career." Southers said he couldn't give DeMint a definitive answer on the collective bargaining issue because it wasn't a yes or no question, and required access to information he wouldn't have had until he was confirmed.
DeMint said in a statement that answering simple, direct questions about security and integrity appeared to have been too much for Southers.
Questions also have been raised about a reprimand Southers received for running background checks on his then-estranged wife's boyfriend two decades ago. Southers, a former FBI agent, wrote to lawmakers this month acknowledging that he had given inconsistent answers to Congress on that issue.
The White House said that the Obama had accepted Southers' withdrawal with great sadness and continued to believe he would have made an excellent TSA administrator.