WASHINGTON -- President Obama's Transportation Security Administration nominee is withdrawing his nomination, saying he has become a lighting rod for those with a political agenda.
"I was extremely excited about the opportunity to lead the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and fulfill Secretary Napolitano's objective to develop it into the best organization of its kind in the world, however, it is apparent that this path has been obstructed by political ideology," Erroll Southers said in a written statement.
"This partisan climate is unacceptable and I refuse to allow myself to remain part of their dialogue. The TSA has important work to be done and I regret I will not be part of their success," he said.
White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said the president understands Southers' "personal decision and the choice he has made."
"Southers was uniquely qualified for this job and it is with great sadness that the President accepted Southers' withdrawal. Fortunately the acting TSA administrator is very able and we have a solid team of professionals at TSA doing vital national security work to keep us safe," Shapiro said.
Obama tapped Erroll Southers to lead the TSA in September but his confirmation has been blocked by Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who said he's worried Southers would allow TSA employees to join a labor union and provided conflicting accounts over background checks he ran on his then-estranged wife's boyfriend while he was an FBI agent two decades ago.
In an October affidavit for the Senate 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.
But a day after the committee approved his nomination and sent it to the full Senate, he wrote to the senators and told them that he was incorrect; he said he twice ran background checks himself.
In the letter correcting the record, Southers also said he downloaded law enforcement records and shared them. He said he forgot the incident in 1987 or 1988.
Southers again raised concerns during his nomination by saying that the United States' ties to its democratic allies were reason enough for terror targeting against the country.
"Due to connectivity that we have with countries such as Israel, France -- countries that are seen by groups, by Al Qaeda, as infidels or anti-Islamic -- by the true nature of our alliance with them means we are subject to being attacked as well," Errol Southers said in an interview with the online publication VideoJug.
Republican lawmakers who opposed Southers' nomination said they were pleased with his decision to step down.
"I think he did the right thing. I think the hold we placed on him was justified. I hope the president moves forward with a new nominee," said Arizona Sen. John McCain.
"Americans deserve a leader at TSA with integrity and with an unwavering commitment to putting security ahead of politics," DeMint said. "The White House never responded to requests for more information relating to Mr. Southers' false testimony to Congress and his censure by the FBI for improperly accessing files. And Mr. Southers was never forthcoming about his intentions to give union bosses veto power over security decisions at our airports. ...
"The Senate could have had an open and transparent debate this week to approve Mr. Southers, but apparently, answering simple, direct questions about security and integrity were too much for this nominee," DeMint added.