WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s choice to lead the Transportation Security Administration withdrew his name Wednesday, a blow to an administration trying to explain how a man could attempt to blow up a commercial airliner on Christmas Day. Erroll Southers said he was pulling out because his nomination had become a lightning rod for those with a political agenda. Obama had tapped Southers, a former FBI agent, to lead the TSA in September but his confirmation has been blocked by Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who said he was worried that Southers would allow TSA employees to have collective bargaining rights.
Big boost for national debt
Senate Democrats on Wednesday proposed allowing the federal government to borrow an additional $1.9 trillion to pay its bills, a record increase that would permit the national debt to reach $14.3 trillion. The unpopular legislation is needed to allow the federal government to issue bonds to fund programs and prevent a first-time default on obligations. It promises to be a challenging debate for Democrats who, as the party in power, hold the responsibility for passing the legislation.
Gate crashers invoke Fifth
White House gate crashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination Wednesday, refusing to answer a House committee’s questions about their uninvited appearance at a state dinner. The jet-setting Virginia couple repeatedly said they were remaining silent on advice of counsel, but that didn’t prevent members of the Homeland Security Committee from peppering them with questions about how they got through Secret Service checkpoints on Nov. 24.
California: Sierra Club boss
The Sierra Club, the largest and oldest environmental advocacy group in the U.S., has named Michael Brune its next executive director. A longtime environmental organizer who has headed the Rainforest Action Network for the last seven years, Brune will succeed Carl Pope in March. Pope, the organization’s executive director since 1992, will stay on as executive chairman and devote himself to climate-change issues. Brune, 38, is moving from a small, feisty group known for its attention-getting stunts to a pillar of the mainstream environmental movement.
S. Carolina: Adultery apology
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford praised the wife he cheated on and apologized for what he says is the last time in his final state-of-the-state address. Sanford praised his wife for her grace in handling what he called the storm of his affair during the Wednesday speech in the House chambers. He told the audience he was apologizing for the last time for an affair with an Argentine woman. It prompted investigations and ethics charges. Legislators last week formally rebuke Sanford for the embarrassment he brought upon the state.
Mexico: Inmates die in riot
Twenty-three inmates were killed Wednesday morning in a brawl between rival drug gangs at a northern Mexico penitentiary, officials said. A prison spokeswoman said she did not know the reason for the fight at the facility housing 2,025 inmates in the city of Durango, and officials wouldn’t identify the gangs involved. The brawl was quelled in about an hour by soldiers and state police officers.
New Zealand: Bible verses
The defense force said Thursday that Biblical citations on markings on weapon sights used by its troops in Afghanistan will be removed. Going to war in Afghanistan with Biblical citations stamped on their weapons is not appropriate for New Zealand soldiers, a defense force spokesman said. U.S. manufacturer, Trijicon of Wixom, Michigan, would be instructed to remove the inscriptions on further orders of the gun sights and the letters would be removed from gun sights already in use by New Zealand troops, he said.
Germany: Hot sauce woes
Officials said eight teenagers were hospitalized after a test of courage in which they drank chili sauce more than 200 times hotter than normal. The Red Cross in Augsburg said 10 boys, aged 13 and 14, year drank the sauce Wednesday, apparently in school. The Red Cross said the boys complained of feeling sick, and eight were taken to a hospital. The Red Cross said that on the Scoville scale, which measures the hotness, the sauce measured 535,000 — compared to 2,500 for normal Tabasco sauce.
From Herald news services