WASHINGTON, Nov. 1 (UPI) -- President George W. Bush made a last-ditch appeal Thursday to House Republicans undecided on the aviation security bill, which could decide the extent of federal oversight of airport screeners.
About 13 House Republicans were summoned to the White House where they heard the president push for support of the bill introduced by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The Young bill would federalize but not nationalize airline security screening. The measure mandates stricter screening standards, federal supervision of the screening process and background checks and testing.
Thursday's meeting was the third time the president had brought congressional members to the White House this week to make his case for the Young bill. He met Monday with a separate group of GOP members and with moderate Democrats.
Republicans emerged Monday from the West Wing satisfied with changes to the measure amended to mandate that airport screeners be American citizens and place them under federal control as deputized transportation employees with police powers.
"The president was able to make his case about why he thought it was important to pass a bill that provided for stronger cockpit doors, for increased federal marshals, that provided for stringent and tough federal standards for background checks and screening standards, and why it's important to learn the lessons of Europe and Israel and not respond to this crisis by putting every screener on the federal payroll," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said during his afternoon briefing Thursday.
Jim Phillips, spokesman for Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., said the congressman changed his mind after listening to Bush.
"He was truly undecided and wanted to hear out the president," Phillips said of Boehlert, a GOP moderate. "He emerged declaring he would vote for the Young bill," Phillips said. The president's argument "sealed it for him," Phillips said.
The Senate passed 100 to 0 the version backed by Democrats that requires federalization of all airport security personnel.
Democrats favor complete federalization that would make the nation's 28,000 airport screeners federal employees. The White House pointed out that complete federalization would make it tougher to dismiss poorly performing workers.
Bush said the Young bill would allow allow using private contractors operating under tough federal standards on background checks with federal law enforcement at every gate to promote better screening services. The bill also would ensure that security managers can move aggressively to discipline or fire employees who fail to live up to the rigorous new standards.