WASHINGTON – Two key GOP lawmakers pledged Sunday to overhaul the way the U.S. reviews foreign acquisitions of companies involving national security, saying that the Bush administration's handling of the Dubai ports deal was flawed.
The problem is "the committee that conducts the review is weighed towards the Treasury Department," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
"I think we need to scrap the committee, start again, constitute it within the department of Homeland Security," said Collins, adding that the panel should also include a member of the intelligence committee. "The process now is deeply flawed."
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he wants to scuttle the Dubai ports deal and then require foreign governments to divest from critical U.S. installations unless they pass a review by the departments of defense and homeland security.
"I trust President Bush, but I think he needs to get more information," said Hunter, calling Dubai a dangerous place. "I think they looked at it at a superficial level, and they didn't get those intelligence briefs."
The Bush administration, through a secretive board headed by the Treasury Department, initially approved DP World's $6.8 billion purchase of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., which would let the company take over significant operations at major U.S. ports.
In the wake of a bipartisan backlash, the administration agreed last month to a 45-day investigation of potential security risks. Days later, a second Dubai-owned company, Dubai International Capital LLC, was informed that it, too, would undergo a 45-day security review as it seeks U.S. approval.
Collins and Hunter, who appeared on ABC's "This Week," said they were introducing bills to revamp the review process to ensure bad actors aren't allowed to take control over major U.S. operations.
Hunter, one of the administration's most trusted allies, has been particularly critical of the deal, calling the United Arab Emirates "a bazaar for terrorist nations." Collins says it's too early to tell under the current review whether Dubai is a terror threat.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, on Sunday declined to say whether the ports deal should be approved but defended the United Arab Emirates as a vital military ally.
"I think the policy debate is going to continue in public, and that's outside of my lane," Pace said on "Fox News Sunday." "Everything we do with the UAE military is very positive, very friendly, very supportive, and they've been very, very good partners."
Democrats have sought to turn the public furor over the ports deal to their political advantage, using their weekly address Saturday to scold the Bush administration over national security.
Last week, House Democrats also tried to force a debate and vote on legislation that would require the 45-day security review and congressional approval of the takeover. That effort failed on a procedural, largely party-line vote.
On Sunday, Collins and Hunter downplayed the notion that Democrats could effectively capitalize on the controversy in November's congressional midterm elections.
"I don't think it's going to hurt our party," Hunter said. "I think the Republicans in Congress have a good record for security."
Collins said it would be unfortunate if national security is used for political gain. "We ought to all be behind the administration's new decision to have a thorough review, to report to Congress, and we ought to reform the entire process. That ought to be our focus," she said.