Erroll Southers, the Obama administration’s nominee to head the Transportation Security Administration, withdrew his name from consideration Wednesday morning after increasing questions from Republican senators over his fitness to lead the agency.
In a statement released Wednesday morning by the White House, Southers expressed disappointment that he would not have the chance to work alongside Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to whip the TSA into shape.
"I was extremely excited about the opportunity to lead the Transportation Security Administration and fulfill Secretary Napolitano’s objective to develop it into the best organization of its kind in the world," Southers said in a statement. "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.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) originally placed a hold on Southers’ consideration over concerns the nominee would support collective bargaining rights for transportation security officers. DeMint stated that doing so would endanger national security.
Southers said in his Nov. 10 confirmation hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that he would not take actions that would jeopardize national security and thus would not support collective bargaining if he thought it would do so.
The panel cleared his nomination, as did an earlier hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in October.
But other Republicans joined DeMint in his protest of Southers due to concerns related to a reported abuse of authority for which Southers received a letter of reprimand while he was an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Sens. DeMint, John McCain (R-Ariz.), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) were among those who signed a letter to the White House Jan. 6, protesting that Southers gave inconsistent answers to questions about the incident.
Southers, now intelligence chief for the Los Angeles airport authority, received the reprimand for running background checks on a boyfriend of his ex-wife more than 20 years ago.
The nominee first told Congress that he asked a friend at the San Diego Police Department to run the background check. But he later recanted and said he had run two background checks himself.
Republicans questioned if Southers could be trusted to head TSA, which handles high volumes of personal data on air passengers.
Southers accused Republicans of playing politics with his nomination.
"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," Southers said in the Wednesday statement. "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 White House voiced support for Southers and regret over his decision to withdraw his nomination.
"The President believes that Erroll Southers would have been an excellent TSA Administrator but understands his personal decision and the choice he has made," White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said in a statement.
"Erroll Southers has had a distinguished 30-year interdisciplinary career addressing public safety and homeland security issues in academia, working SWAT and investigating terrorism and foreign counterintelligence at the FBI and for the Los Angeles World Airports Police Division. 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."
Calls for a permanent TSA administrator have increasedfrom all quarters since the failed Christmas Day bombing attempt by suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, which could have killed almost 300 people on a US flight bound for Detroit, Mich.
Reforms in TSA screening procedures, which possibly could have identified the explosive Abdulmutallab hid in his underwear, would be difficult to enact without the political clout of a permanent TSA chief, critics say.