December 29, 2009 / 11:53 PM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 1-Democrats to push to fill US transport security post

* Reid seeks January vote to end nominee hold

* Republican Senator opposes unionization of TSA (Adds comment by Senator DeMint)

WASHINGTON, Dec 29 (Reuters) - Senate Democrats, spurred by last week’s failed attack on a U.S.-bound jetliner, will try to break a deadlock and confirm President Barack Obama’s choice to run the Transportation Security Administration, a Senate aide said on Tuesday.

Majority Leader Harry Reid will schedule a vote when the Senate returns in January from its holiday recess to break the hold Republican Senator Jim DeMint put on the nomination of counter-terrorism official Erroll Southers, Reid spokesman Jim Manley said.

“In light of the outrageous and petty move by Senator DeMint, Senator Reid intends to file cloture when we get back,” Manley said.

Obama in September chose Southers, a former FBI special agent who is assistant chief for homeland security and intelligence for the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department.

DeMint blocked the nomination, saying Southers would unionize the TSA, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Breaking the hold one senator can put on a nomination requires 60 votes of the Senate’s 100 members.

DeMint, however, said in a statement that Reid had refused to schedule a timely vote and now was trying to “grandstand by filing cloture” while all DeMint wanted was time to debate the issue and hold an open vote.

“Senator Reid refused to schedule a vote on this nominee for weeks and now after the recent terror attempt he’s trying to show concern for airport security,” DeMint said.

“I hope this critical debate and the Christmas bomber incident will convince Reid and President Obama that we cannot give union bosses veto power over national security at our airports,” he said.

Lawmakers have said filling the TSA post has taken on new urgency after the Christmas Day incident on a commercial flight from Amsterdam to Detroit in which passengers and crew overwhelmed a man who set alight an explosive device.

Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, was charged with smuggling explosives on board and attempting to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight with almost 300 people on board.

Another key counter-terrorism job, the head of the Customs and Border Protection Agency, has not been filled and the Senate has yet to hold a hearing on Obama’s choice for that position, former U.S. Attorney Alan Bersin. (Editing by Bill Trott)

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