Transcript: GOP Reps. Hunter, Pence on 'FNS'

The following is a partial transcript from the March 12, 2006, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: After the GOP revolt over the Dubai ports deal, what's the fallout for the president and congressional Republicans? And who will be setting the agenda this election year? We turn to Republican Congressmen Duncan Hunter and Mike Pence, who have both had their differences with the Bush White House.

And, gentlemen, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."

REP. MIKE PENCE, R-IND.: Thanks, Chris.

WALLACE: Good to have you here. I want to start by asking you both about the Dubai ports deal and about assurances the president gave the American people that it would be safe for homeland security. Let's take a look.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People don't need to worry about security. This deal wouldn't go forward if we were concerned about the security for the United States of America.


WALLACE: Mr. Bush said that U.S. intelligence agencies okayed the plan. He was satisfied with it.

Congressman Hunter, why wasn't the president's endorsement enough for you?

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER, R-CALIF.: Well, the president has an arm of government. It's called the Committee on Foreign Investment, CFI. It is supposed to look at these foreign acquisitions and look at them from a security standpoint. These folks let him down.

The Dubai government in 2003 shipped 66 nuclear triggers, high-speed switches that can be used to detonate nuclear weapons — allowed that shipment to go to Islamabad, even while we had an American agent standing on the dock asking the customs director of Dubai not to let this shipment go.

That information was not given to the Committee on Foreign Investment. They didn't get it. They let him down. They did a superficial look at this thing. And when the president turned to his people that he'd relied on, they gave him the go sign. They had rubber stamped this thing. So they let him down.

And you know, I gave the president the federal district court documents, the affidavits of our customs agents, and he was very interested in getting those before they made the decision to — before Dubai pulled the plug on this thing. So I think the president, having all the information, would have stopped this deal.

WALLACE: Let me bring Congressman Pence in and ask it a little bit differently.

You're a loyal Republican. This is a Republican president. He says I'm satisfied with the security of this deal. Why not follow the line, follow the leader?

PENCE: Well, Chris, let me tell you, I thank God every day that George W. Bush is a president more determined than the enemies of this country to keep the American people out of harm's way.

On this deal, I just think the president was ill-served by an antiquated process in the so-called CFI plan that Chairman Hunter refers to. We simply ought to talk in an orderly way about changing that in ways that reflect the post-9/11 world.

This new homeland security report confirms what the common sense of the American people felt about this deal, that while we cherish our relationship with the United Arab Emirates, that this was just a bridge too far in that new relationship given some of their troubling associations in the past.

But let me also say I think it's extremely important, Chris, that the United States Congress and this administration seek a way in the immediate future to reaffirm our sense of the importance of our new relationship with the United Arab Emirates.

WALLACE: And how do you do that?

PENCE: Well, there are a variety of means, economic and diplomatic, and as a member of the International Relations Committee, I hope to be a part of some conversations on the Hill and with the White House about ensuring that the royal family in Dubai knows that while this particular deal was not possible in our new relationship, that there's a great deal of gratitude for their support of our War on Terror.

WALLACE: Congressman Hunter, you not only wanted to block the ports deal, you have proposed legislation that would mandate all critical infrastructure in the United States be American-owned.


WALLACE: Are you going to go ahead with that bill?

HUNTER: Yes, we're moving ahead with the bill. Now, part of what was in the bill, which was to kill the Dubai deal, is now done. And of course, that would be stripped away.

But it's important that the secretary of defense, in consultation with Homeland Security, identifies what is critical infrastructure. That is, infrastructure that is critical to national security. And having identified that, that that infrastructure be owned, operated and managed by Americans.

And you know something, Chris, it can be. And the idea that somehow we Americans can project enormous power halfway around the globe, we can offload tons and tons of material, and we can send people to far reaches of the globe in very short periods of time, but we can't run a port — that idea is just not logical.

And we've got lots of great people coming back from Afghanistan, from Iraq. Let's get a good colonel out of the 101st Airborne, retired, and let him operate some of this critical infrastructure.

WALLACE: Congressman, I want you to take a look, though, at this list, if you will. Foreign companies now operate about 80 percent of U.S. port terminals. Another Dubai company, Inchcape, moves ships in and out of two dozen American ports.

An Australian company owns the Chicago Skyway Bridge and the Detroit Windsor Tunnel. And German and French firms purify water for 24 million Americans. Congressman, would you ban all of that?

HUNTER: Well, what we do in this bill is require that you have a security committee, if something is defined by the secretary of defense as being critical American infrastructure.

WALLACE: Well, we're talking about water purification, key bridges, key tunnels.

HUNTER: Well, whatever he goes with, we give a five-year period for divestment by the parent companies. You don't have a fire sale.

And we have a requirement that you have a security committee made up of independent directors in that entity that runs that critical infrastructure, and that has to work with the secretary of defense to put together a security plan.

The point is, Chris, you know, we talk about having a strong homeland security, checking 100 percent of cargo containers, et cetera. In the end, our commercial interests get ahead of us, and here we are, years after 9/11, still with a relatively small percentage of cargo being checked. We have to move ahead.

And the other point is this, Chris. You couldn't open a hamburger stand in Dubai because Americans can't own anything. All we're asking to foreclose to foreign ownership is a tiny percentage of that vast array of economic opportunities. Let's let people buy apartments in Chicago or farmland in Iowa, but they can't own and operate port operations.

WALLACE: Let's do a lightning round on other issues that are likely to come up this year.

Congressman Pence, you proposed a budget this week that would cut spending faster and deeper than the president. No problem at all separating yourself from the president's budget?

PENCE: Well, it wouldn't be the first time that House conservatives disagreed with this administration, Chris. Many of us broke with the president on the expansion of the Education Department and No Child Left Behind, and a few dozen of us broke with the president when he advanced the creation of the first new entitlement in the Medicare prescription drug bill.

What we put out this week we actually call the Contract With America Renewed, because it was based on the budget that the brand new Republican majority passed out of the House of Representatives in 1995. We balanced the budget in five years. It is significantly more aggressive than the budget that the president sent to the Hill.

But, Chris, I really believe that we are in danger of becoming the party of big government. And despite the fact that we just passed the first deficit reduction bill since 1997, I think the American people long for leadership, independent leadership, on Capitol Hill that hews to the conservative principles that minted this majority in 1994.

WALLACE: Let me ask you about another issue, immigration. The president wants a guest worker program to provide a basis for immigrants to work in this country. Are you going to support that?

PENCE: Well, just as many Americans that feel that we can't control spending worry that we won't control the border, and I along with many House conservatives believe that the first priority of our government in this immigration issue is to secure our borders.

A nation without borders is not a nation. But once we secure our borders and the American people are confident that we have control of the south, in particular, I believe that we will be able to have a rational national debate about what to do with the 8 million to 10 million souls that are here.

WALLACE: Given these issues, Congressman Pence, and given past concerns when it came to Social Security, or the Miers nomination or the Katrina response, are Republicans moving away from this president? Is Mr. Bush becoming a lame duck?

PENCE: Well, I don't believe this president's a lame anything. He is a determined and focused leader who is going to continue to be that energetic executive that the American people have come to appreciate.

I think what you're actually seeing is that the Congress is simply beginning to step back up to its truly independent role. You know, I always tell those eighth grade kids that I give tours of the Capitol to that the Congress, even if it's of the same party, doesn't work for the president of the United States, that they are two co- equal branches of government.

And to some extent, I think what you see here is a very healthy constitutional friction that our founders contemplated.

WALLACE: But you know, taking the long look at this, Congressman Hunter, over the course of the first five-plus years, I think it would be fair to say you followed the party lines set by the White House. What's changed?

HUNTER: Well, I followed the party line except on trade. We've always had a difference of opinion on that and, you know...

WALLACE: But now it goes to a lot more areas — and not just you. I'm talking just generally.

HUNTER: I disagree with that. I think that the president's main role now — because everything, I think, is taken against the backdrop of the war against terror, and specifically the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There is strong, strong support for the president as commander in chief. And if you — you know, this guy's a tough guy, and he's also a guy that likes Congress to stand up. When you go to the White House and you disagree with the president, I've never seen him do anything but say okay, that's your position. In the end, he tries to change your position. Let's move ahead.

He's good at that. He's resilient. He's tough. He's got a lot of endurance. He's a good leader. And he's been doing a great job in the war against terror.

In this particular ports deal, he got totally let down by this Committee on Foreign Investment that rubber-stamped it, said we've checked it out. They hadn't checked out anything. And so the president was left in an embarrassing position, but he's recovered from that already.

WALLACE: Congressman Pence, I want to show you a comment by one of your colleagues. Take a look at this. Republican Congressman Tom Davis said this week, "This is probably the worst administration ever in getting Congress' opinion on anything."

Truth to tell, has this White House been high-handed in dealing with Congress and has that caught up with the White House?

PENCE: I really don't think so. I mean, I disagreed with the president along with a few others on his top priority during the first session of Congress, No Child Left Behind. I disagreed with him on the creation of the new Medicare entitlement. If anybody...

WALLACE: You disagree with him on the budget. You disagree with him on...

PENCE: Well, yes.

WALLACE: ... immigration. You disagree with him on ports.

PENCE: But, Chris, if anybody would have felt the high hand, I think it would have been me and House conservatives. And I think it's actually what Duncan Hunter just said. This president is a man of strong opinions, and he's always been more than willing to have members of Congress down to the West Wing and have a conversation about that.

But I haven't sensed a high-handedness. I really do believe — and I've only served under one president. I've been in Congress for five years. I really do believe that what you are seeing happen is not that the president has changed, but that Congress is beginning to assume that independent role that our founders contemplated here.

And whether it be Duncan Hunter's leadership on Dubai Ports World or what House conservatives are doing on trying to reassert fiscal discipline, I think this is really the kind of friction between the two co-equal branches of government that our founders contemplated.

HUNTER: And, Chris, Let me follow up on what — Mike has just said something I think is really important. This president is very busy. When he was back here to — the last time I saw him on the Dubai ports thing, he was coming back to brief us on being on the India trip, talking with Pakistan, India, about their nuclear relations.

He didn't have the time to have a seven-hour hearing, which the House Armed Services Committee did. He didn't have time to get into the weeds in this and drill down on this Dubai ports thing. We provided, I think, a valuable service in doing a lot of investigation and coming up and shoring up this Committee on Foreign Investment and uncovering some of this.

WALLACE: I'm not sure he'd thank you for that, but we're going to have to...

HUNTER: Oh, I'm sure he would.

WALLACE: We're going to have to leave it there. Congressman Hunter, Congressman Pence, I want to thank you both so much for coming in and talking with us today.

PENCE: Thank you, Chris.

HUNTER: Good to be with you.