Washington — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will force a vote on President Obama's nominee to lead the Transportation Security Administration when Congress reconvenes in three weeks.
Reid's announcement Tuesday that he will file a motion for cloture, a procedural step to limit debate and lead to a roll-call vote, follows the alleged attempt by a Nigerian extremist to blow up a Detroit-bound commercial flight on Christmas Day.
Reid had sought Senate consent to confirm TSA nominee Erroll Southers without floor debate, along with multiple other nominations, before the Senate adjourned for its winter break Christmas Eve.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) objected, temporarily halting the confirmation, as part of his opposition to unionizing the TSA, which he believes Obama will push.
The alleged terrorist plot involving Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian whose name was in a terrorism database but who boarded a plane with explosive material, has brought new urgency to the nomination.
White House spokesman Nicholas Shapiro said Tuesday that although the acting TSA administrator is "very able," DeMint and any others inclined to delay the vote "should put their short-term political interests aside."
In a statement, DeMint said Tuesday that Reid had "completely ignored this nominee for weeks until the recent terror attempt" and was now grandstanding.
"I'm only looking for some time to debate the issue and have a vote so this isn't done in secret," DeMint said. He added that he hoped the debate and the alleged terrorism attempt "will convince Reid and President Obama that we cannot give union bosses veto power over national security at our airports."
Reid spokesman Jim Manley said DeMint was being "petty and vindictive" and that "he can't have his cake and eat it too. The fact is he objected to us confirming this nominee. The one who's grandstanding is Sen. DeMint."
Southers, a former FBI special agent, is the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department assistant chief for homeland security and intelligence. He also is the associate director of the University of Southern California's Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events, and he served as a deputy director of homeland security for California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.