WASHINGTON -- Missouri Republican Rep. Jo Ann Emerson sandwiched her workday between two important calls: one from the president, the other from the attorney general, both seeking to change her mind about voting to make every airport screener a federal employee.
But Emerson held fast to her support for a Democrat-sponsored measure that would place airport security in the hands of the government, putting all 28,000 baggage screeners on a federal payroll. That proposal was rejected by the House 218-214 Thursday night. Minutes later, the House passed a GOP plan 286-139.
Like Democrats, Republicans are seeking to fortify security in airports and airplanes in response to the Sept. 11 terror attacks. But they generally want private companies to handle security, with the government supervising.
"You've got 270 million Americans whose security and safety is at issue, and that is the function of government; it doesn't get sent out to the lowest bidder," Mrs. Emerson said. "Look at it this way: The FBI, Customs, Border Patrol, all of them are federal. You wouldn't want to privatize them, would you?"
She said she told Attorney General John Ashcroft, a former Missouri GOP colleague in Congress, that she views airport security as a law enforcement issue that should be a job of the Justice Department and not the Department of Transportation.
"He said, 'I've got my plate full.' I said, 'I know you do, but I have incredible faith in your wisdom and judgment,"' Mrs. Emerson said.
Supporters say one attraction of the Democratic bill was the swiftness with which it could reach Bush's desk if it had prevailed in the House, because it is identical to the measure passed unanimously by the Senate on Oct. 11.
Approval of the GOP House bill forces the issue into a House-Senate conference that could delay security changes.