President Bush will veto a proposed bill to implement measures recommended by the September 11 commission if the bill is passed with language granting collective-bargaining rights to airport passenger and baggage screeners employed by the Transportation Security Administration, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told Republican senators yesterday.
Mr. Chertoff’s comments at a private luncheon were reported by Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, and confirmed by the Department of Homeland Security and a senior administration official authorized to speak to the press.
Mr. Chertoff “did make very clear that if the bill goes to the White House with the current provision related to TSA personnel authorities, his recommendation, and that of other senior administration officials, would be to veto it,” department spokesman Russ Knocke said.
A letter sent yesterday to Mr. Bush from 36 Republican senators shows that the votes are there to sustain a veto, according to Republican aides.
One of the provision’s strongest backers, Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat, said a veto would also kill numerous other provisions of the law.
“I hope that the president would consider all the improvements made by this legislation to protect the nation before making veto threats,” he said.
Mr. Knocke said the administration’s view is that “the issues relating to the TSA are so extraordinarily problematic that there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind” about the need for a veto.
The Senate is slated to begin today debating the bill, which includes measures addressing rail and aviation security, emergency communications, cargo security, nuclear proliferation and national standards for drivers’ licenses. The House has passed its version of the bill, which includes the labor rights language, along with dozens of other provisions and authorization for billions of dollars of homeland-security spending.
The provision at issue was introduced as an amendment to the bill while it was in committee and passed on a party-line vote. It repeals a footnote in the 2001 law setting up the TSA, which gave the agency’s director wide discretion to decide issues of union and other labor rights for the 40,000-plus passenger and baggage screeners it employs.