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Senate confirms Obama TSA nominee

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • John Pistole confirmed as head of TSA
  • Pistole confimed by unanimous consent
  • Question of airport screeners unionizing dominated confirmation process
  • Pistole was Obama's third TSA nominee

Washington (CNN) -- The Senate confirmed Deputy FBI Director John Pistole as head of the Transportation Security Administration on Friday, ending a lengthy search process in which two previous nominees withdrew from consideration.

Pistole's nomination was approved by unanimous consent.

Pistole received praise for his law enforcement experience from both Democrats and Republicans during the confirmation process. His hearings were instead dominated by politically polarizing labor issues -- specifically whether airport screeners should be allowed to unionize. The controversy had resulted in a GOP senator -- Jim DeMint of South Carolina -- placing a hold on an earlier TSA nominee.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Texas, told Pistole during a June 10 hearing that that she is "adamantly against" allowing screeners to join unions.

"You can't have eight-hour days," Hutchinson argued. "You have to be able to respond to emergencies."

Pistole did not express an opinion on whether TSA workers should be able to unionize but told the senators that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has asked him to study the issue.

DeMint said he was not satisfied with Napolitano's position that security jobs and collective bargaining are not mutually exclusive. Collective bargaining rights, he said, "will have a direct, negative effect on security."

DeMint contended that screeners "need to be able to quickly respond to changing counterterrorism tactics so we can thwart the tactics of our adversaries and protect passengers without having to get a sign-off from a union boss."

During the hearing, Pistole discussed the challenges in discovering every would-be terrorist. Among other things, he noted that Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, who allegedly tried to blow up a Detroit-bound plane on December 25, never touched his bomb so no explosive traces would have been detected in screening. Pistole also said that the bomb had no metal parts, meaning metal detectors could not find it.

Under such circumstances, he said, while it's important to have the best technology, solid intelligence on what terrorists are plotting is just as important.

Pistole was Obama's third nominee to head the TSA. Both Los Angeles Airport police department official Erroll Southers, whose nomination was blocked by DeMint, and retired Maj. Gen. Robert Harding withdrew their nominations.