WASHINGTON - The Christmas Day attempt to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight from Amsterdam to Detroit would be all-consuming for the chief of the Transportation Security Administration - if there was one.
Instead, the post remains vacant because Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., has held up President Barack Obama's nominee in an effort to prevent TSA workers from joining a labor union.
DeMint, in a statement, said Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's attempted attack "is a perfect example of why the Obama administration should not unionize the TSA."
Two Senate committees have given Obama's nominee, Erroll Southers, a former FBI special agent and a counterterrorism expert, their bipartisan blessing.
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DeMint has objected to a full Senate vote, saying he wants additional testimony to clarify Southers' stand on unionizing the TSA, a shift Democrats support. An acting administrator is in place at the TSA, the division of the Department of Homeland Security that oversees airport security.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., hadn't scheduled a floor vote for Southers before the Senate left town Christmas Eve. Senators won't be back in session for another three weeks.
Reid spokesman Jim Manley said Monday the majority leader is working with the White House to get Southers confirmed "as quickly as possible" and charged "Republican obstructionism has prevented TSA from having the leadership in place that the organization deserves."
DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton said Obama didn't nominate Southers until September, and charged Reid "has been too busy trading earmarks for votes on health care" to deal with the TSA nomination.
DeMint's objection creates a procedural hurdle likely to take at least three days of debate and test votes to overcome.DeMint said, the TSA has "flexibility to make real-time decisions that allowed it to quickly improve security measures in response to this attempted attack."
He said if organized labor were involved, union bosses would have the power "to veto or delay future security improvements at our airports." DeMint urged Obama to "re-think" supporting unionizing the TSA "and put the interests of American travelers ahead of organized labor."
Southers, the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department assistant chief for homeland security and intelligence, is associate director of the University of Southern California's Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events.