Some Democrats say Republican leaders have impeded national security interests by voting against the expansion of funding for the Transportation Security Administration and holding up the nomination of President Obama's TSA director. Some Republicans say Democrats are too preoccupied with other issues, such as health care and have not done enough on national security.
At the center of the boiling debate is Sen. Jim DeMint, the Republican senator from South Carolina.
Obama nominated former FBI agent and police detective Erroll Southers as TSA head in September, eight months after the new administration took over. But when the nomination was sent to the full Senate to be confirmed in November, DeMint put the nomination on hold amid concerns that Southers would allow TSA screeners to unionize.
White House officials have downplayed concerns about the lack of a permanent TSA director, with National Security Council chief of staff Dennis McDonough saying the administration has full confidence in acting director Gale Rossides. Yet some Democrats have seized on DeMint's move.
Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Reid intends to schedule a vote to break the hold when the Senate returns in January.
"We have been trying to confirm Mr. Southers since he cleared committee, including at the end of this session," Manley said in a statement to ABC News. "Sadly the Republican obstructionism of just one person, Sen. DeMint, prevented TSA from having the leadership in place that the organization deserves."
But DeMint's office says Democrats have only themselves to blame for not having a TSA administrator in place.
"President Obama did not make this a priority, waiting 243 days in office before making a nomination and Harry Reid has been too busy trading earmarks for votes on health care to schedule debate on the nominee," spokesman Wesley Denton said in a written statement to ABC News, a claim that Reid's office denies.
DeMint himself used the opportunity to argue against the unionization of TSA employees, saying that the agency is able to make quick decisions in the event of a terror incident because its employees are not unionized.
"Many Americans aren't aware that the president's nominee to lead the TSA appears ready to give union bosses the power to veto or delay future security improvements at our airports," DeMint said. "I hope this incident will lead the president to rethink this policy and put the interests of American travelers ahead of organized labor."
Former Bush administration national security official Gordon Johndroe said today Republicans should "move on beyond the union issues" being used by DeMint to block an up-or-down vote on Southers.
"We've got to move on beyond the union issues; they will get worked out, it's an issue that the Department of Homeland Security has been working out since it was created six years ago," Johndroe said today on "Top Line," adding that he thinks DeMint's parliamentary maneuver is opening up Republicans a "little bit" to criticism from Democrats.