WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama's choice to lead the Transportation Security Administration withdrew his name Wednesday, 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 counterterrorism expert," Southers said Wednesday. "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. He said he hoped Obama would select a new nominee quickly.
Questions have also been raised about a reprimand that Southers received for running background checks on his then-estranged wife's boyfriend two decades ago. Southers, a former FBI agent, wrote a letter to lawmakers earlier this month acknowledging that he had given inconsistent answers to Congress on that issue.
In an October affidavit for the Senate Homeland Security committee, Southers initially said he asked a San Diego police employee to run a background check on his then-estranged wife's boyfriend and was censured by his FBI superiors 20 years ago for what he said was an isolated instance.