A chairman of a key House committee late Monday called for the confirmation of President Barack Obama's choice to helm the Transportation Security Administration, a nominee blocked by a Republican senator.
Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said the confirmation is a crucial step in preventing another attempted terrorist attack such as the one on Christmas Day.
"The TSA needs a permanent administrator," Thompson said in a statement. "Erroll Southers, an experienced, highly-qualified nominee, continues to be held up in the Senate by someone who obviously puts process ahead of progress."
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has placed a hold on Southers's nomination and has said he wants answers from Southers on whether he'll support unionizing TSA workers. DeMint views unionization as a potential threat to the agency's ability to swiftly perform security upgrades at airports, and has described the failed attack in Detroit as an example of why unionization of TSA should not be allowed.
But Thompson says that the agency needs an administrator to run at full capacity.
"If TSA is to become the kind of nimble, responsive organization the American people deserve in times like this, it will need a Senate-confirmed administrator," he said. "If nothing else, the events of last week highlighted this lack of leadership."
DeMint's hold has come under greater scrutiny after authorities said 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate an explosive aboard a Northwest Airlines flight bound for Detroit from Amsterdam. The Nigerian man was subdued by passengers and crew after the detonator failed to properly set off the explosive.
As part of the inquiry into the attack, government officials and congressional committees will examine why airport security measures failed to prevent Abdulmutallab from boarding the plane with explosives.
Thompson also called for the confirmation of the Customs and Border Protection administrator who he says plays a "key role" in homeland security matters. There is no hold on that nomination.