WASHINGTON – A leading House Republican plans to push legislation Wednesday against a Dubai company's effort to take over some U.S. port operations, probably defying President Bush with an effort to block the deal.
Rep. Jerry Lewis, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, plans to attach a provision to a spending bill for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and aid for Gulf States recovering from Hurricane Katrina.
The move reflects election-year unease among the GOP rank-and-file about a foreign-owned company managing American ports. The government of Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates, controls the company.
In a statement Tuesday, Lewis, R-Calif., said he had been working with Republican leaders and committee chairmen to write an amendment "to address these concerns."
Lewis' effort could force a confrontation with the president, who wants the money for Katrina aid and the wars but has threatened to veto legislation that would block or delay DP World's takeover.
It was unclear whether House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., supported the effort.
House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the war-spending bill — expected to beat a quick path to the House floor — makes it a logical vehicle for legislation relating to DP World, a company owned by the Dubai government.
"This is a very big political problem," Boehner said. He did not say if he would support the move.
Lawmakers and congressional staffers were debating Tuesday what exactly the legislation would do.
Congressional officials said it most likely would seek to block DP World from assuming control of terminals at six U.S. ports, or require that Congress have the chance to reject the takeover following a 45-day investigation of security risks the Bush administration has agreed to undertake. Under current law, Bush alone would have to sign off on the acquisition after the security investigation.
But lawmakers also were considering a simple statement putting the House on record objecting to the takeover, markedly weaker language that probably wouldn't pacify GOP critics.
The officials described the options on condition of anonymity, noting the discussions were private and no decision had been made.
Republicans and Democrats in Congress have spent weeks criticizing the Bush administration for approving DP World's purchase of London-based Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co., which holds contracts at several U.S. ports.
The administration last month reluctantly agreed to do a broader investigation into potential security risks of DP World's plans in hopes of stunting a potential revolt by members of Bush's party. Republican congressional leaders were mindful that a vote could embarrass the president and further weaken him at a low point in his presidency.
But criticism has persisted, particularly in the House.
In an unusual break from the administration, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, pledged to block the deal and introduced his own legislation to that effect Tuesday.
Meanwhile, another leading House GOP critic of the takeover, Rep. Peter King of New York, has suggested that DP World could soften the controversy by subcontracting its U.S. port operations to an American company and, thereby, having no role in work at the ports.
"This is the only way I can see that would possibly satisfy all legitimate concerns about security and diplomacy," said King, who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Michael Moore, DP World's senior vice president, said the company has not discussed such a scenario with administration officials or lawmakers.