WASHINGTON - President Bush and his Senate allies will kill a Sept. 11
antiterror bill if Congress sends it to the White House with a provision to let
airport screeners unionize, the White House and 36 Republicans said Tuesday.
"As the legislation currently
stands, the president's senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill,"
said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel.
President Bush pauses as he speaks before the ceremonial
swearing-in of Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, not pictured, at
the State Department in Washington, Tuesday Feb. 27, 2007. [AP]
Senate Republicans swiftly backed up the threat with a pledge by more than
enough senators to block any veto override attempt.
"If the final bill contains such a provision, forcing you to
veto it, we pledge to sustain your veto," they wrote to the president.
Sen. Jim DeMint , R-S.C., planned to offer an amendment to strip the
provision from the bill.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said that allowing screeners to
unionize would impede the department's quick response to possible threats. Fast
redeployment of screeners, such as in response to Hurricane Rita and the failed
London plot to blow up airliners, cannot wait for negotiations, he said.
Chertoff said screeners are as much on the front lines in the war against
terror as military troops.
"Marines don't collectively bargain over whether they're going to wind up,
you know, being deployed in Anbar province or in Baghdad," Chertoff told
reporters after a briefing with senators. "We can't negotiate over terms and
conditions of work that goes to the heart of our ability to move rapidly in
order to deal with the threats that are emerging."
Other federal employees have collective bargaining and whistle-blower
Chertoff's reasoning, according to the American Federation of Government
Employees, is "an insult to the hundreds of thousands of dedicated public safety
officers with collective bargaining rights - from border patrol agents to
firefighters to the Capitol Hill police," said John Gage, president of the
The White House made its displeasure with the
union provision clear before the House passed it as part of its Homeland Security
bill. Sen. Susan Collins said Chertoff told her that a statement Thursday
would include an explicit veto threat.
Casting the provision as a deal-killer would flex Bush's political muscle
with the new, Democratic-led Congress on the old battleground of labor rights.
It also could throw an obstacle into talks over how to debate and pass the
recommendations of the Sept. 11 Commission.
For now, senators are eager to follow the House and pass a bill enacting the
commission's recommendations to tighten the nation's security. The House bill
also includes a provision that would let TSA screeners bargain collectively.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and
Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky had reached a tentative agreement
Tuesday to conduct the debate over the next 10 days without the distraction of