WASHINGTON – The chairman of the Democratic National Committee sought to capitalize Saturday on the recent divide between President Bush and congressional Republicans over ports security, arguing that the GOP has a "pre-9/11 mind-set" on ensuring safety at U.S. entries.
In his party's weekly radio address, Howard Dean trumpeted the Democrats' success in helping to derail a plan for a Dubai-owned company to manage some operations at six U.S. ports.
Bush strongly backed the deal involving the United Arab Emirates-based company, but many lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, opposed having a foreign government oversee operations at ports vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
In a surprise announcement, DP World said Thursday it would transfer terminal operations at six ports to a U.S. entity, sparing Bush a veto showdown with GOP lawmakers.
However, the Financial Times newspaper of London reported Friday that DP World is considering retaining a 49 percent interest in the port operations. A DP World spokesman said he didn't know whether the report, attributed to a person involved in the deal, was accurate.
"Any of these plans that allow Dubai Ports World to retain any portion of ownership or control over U.S. ports is absolutely unacceptable," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "If they insist on doing so, we will move our legislation preventing them from owning or controlling any percentage of U.S. port operations."
"America had a great victory this week in the War on Terror," Dean said in the radio address. "Key Democratic senators and representatives forced President Bush to give up the idea that six major American ports should be run by a foreign country. Republicans in Congress followed the Democrats' lead to demand the president change the policy."
Bush said Friday he was open to changing how the government reviews such transactions. But, he told a gathering of newspaper executives, "I'm concerned about a broader message this issue could send to our friends and allies around the world, particularly in the Middle East."
"In order to win the War on Terror, we have got to strengthen our friendships and relationships with moderate Arab countries in the Middle East," he said.
National security has been Bush's signature issue since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, boosting him to a second term in 2004. In January, White House adviser Karl Rove promised to make the War on Terrorism a central campaign issue as Republicans looked to maintain their grip on the House and Senate in the midterm elections.
Rove told the GOP activists: "Republicans have a post-9/11 view of the world. And Democrats have a pre-9/11 view of the world."
In an echo of Rove's approach, Dean said the ports security controversy highlights a different Republican Party.
"Republicans have shown a pre-9/11 mind-set when it comes to closing the gaps in our security at our ports," the Democratic chairman said. "Democrats will continue to fight to secure our ports."
On another issue, Dean assailed Bush for running up the U.S. debt by $3 trillion during his tenure, contending that amounts to another security crisis.
"One of the implications of this increased debt is that increasingly, foreigners are financing this debt, putting the American economy in the hands of foreign debt holders, just like the ports deal would have put port security in the hands of a foreign-owned government," Dean said.
Dean said the Democrats will oppose budgets that deepen the deficit.