February 27, 2006
How Ports Deal Landed in Deep Water
WASHINGTON -- It was no surprise that Sen. Charles Schumer, a
fiercely partisan Democrat always hunting for political advantage,
ignited the furor over management of America's ports. But why
did congressional leaders of George W. Bush's Republican Party
join the attack?
president hovering around 40 percent in popular approval cannot
expect full support on sensitive issues even from his own party.
But President Bush contributed to lack of GOP backing with faulty
White House outreach to Capitol Hill, followed by his injudicious
veto threat against still undefined legislation.
Bush political operation's shortcomings, deeper problems are reflected
by overwhelming public opposition to a company owned by the government
of a close Arab ally operating U.S. ports. Polls suggest the darker
side of the American mind: isolationist, protectionist, nativist
and xenophobic. Bush's ceaseless efforts to rouse his countrymen
to support the war against terrorism may have unleashed the dogs
of anti-Arab prejudice.
over whether Dubai Ports World should be permitted to replace
a British company in control of U.S. ports is unexpected largesse
for Democrats, desperate to regain control of Congress this year.
Left-wing Democrats led by Schumer and Sen. Hillary Clinton seek
the opportunity to trump Bush and the Republicans on their strong
suit of national security. Newly appointed Sen. Robert Menendez,
a less than appealing candidate shown by early polls to be trailing
in the Democratic bastion of New Jersey, jumped into the fight
against the port deal.
hurriedly joined the attack on the United Arab Emirates, an indispensable
U.S. ally in the Middle East. Rep. Vito Fossella, suggesting that
the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in his New York City district was
imperiled by UAE management of the ports, compared the deal to
letting Arabs control security at American airports. In fact,
the Dubai company would not affect U.S. government security, and
the ports would remain under state and local ownership. Rep. Peter
King, the new Homeland Security Committee chairman, has acted
as though he wanted immediate House action by suspending the rules.
It is not
merely New Yorkers King and Fossella and other lawmakers with
ports in their districts who have spoken out. In South Dakota,
far from saltwater, freshman Sen. John Thune said Arab management
of the ports gave him "heartburn." With Congress in
recess, Thune typified lawmakers encountering massive public resistance
back home. That mood was generated by the feeding frenzy on cable
television and the Internet that, in turn, was triggered by bipartisan
Robert Kimmitt, an experienced Washington hand, managed the deal
at Treasury without giving a heads-up to top Republicans in Congress.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist
might have been less quick to attack the port arrangement if they'd
had advance word. Hastert heard nothing from a former staffer,
Kevin Fromer, now handling Treasury legislative affairs.
Democrats first opened fire, Presidential Counselor Dan Bartlett
was alerted by congressional Republicans to stormy waters ahead
and urged to do something about it. Bartlett replied in the imperial
style of this presidency by suggesting he hoped Republicans could
support the deal, but if they could not, it just would be too
bad. That was followed by the president's rare session with reporters
aboard Air Force One in which he threatened a veto.
Shelby, whose Banking Committee has jurisdiction of the issue,
was silent at first, but only because he was traveling in Europe.
When he issued a brief, limited circulation statement last Thursday,
it was not good news for the White House. "From Treasury's
perspective," he said, "the [foreign acquisitions] process
with respect to the Dubai transaction worked perfectly; from the
Banking Committee's perspective, it failed miserably." He
set hearings for Thursday that will not be pleasant.
of the world may wonder how a relatively routine commercial transaction
turned Republican leaders against their president. Frank McKenna,
the Canadian ambassador who is leaving Washington this week, has
cracked the code by appreciating the existence of two U.S. governments,
one executive and the other legislative. That system requires
more presidential finesse than was displayed in handling the Dubai
2006 Creators Syndicate