Will the Port Deal Delay Allay Critics' Fears?

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from Feb. 27, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.


SEN. HARRY REID, D-NEV., MINORITY LEADER: How in the world was the decision made to give another country control of our ports? It’s not another company taking control of our ports. It’s another country. This is a state-owned company.


BRIT HUME, HOST: In fact, Senator Reid is right. Dubai Ports World is owned by the United Arab Emirates.

However, they are not getting control of the ports. They are getting management of some parts of some ports. But never mind.

Analytical observations on this whole controversy now from Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call, Nina Easton, deputy Washington bureau chief of The Boston Globe, and the syndicated columnist, Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors, all.

Well, now this matter will be referred back to the same departments that already said it was a go. And they will be asked to give it another look for 45 days. What is the effect of this outcome, or at least the short- term outcome? Mort?

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: Well, I thought that the 45-day investigation would clear the decks for the administration, give it new life, and all that.

I think it’s a little bit more complicated than that now, in so far — because of this Coast Guard memo that came up today, indicating that the Coast Guard had said that it — that there were intelligence gaps, and that the Homeland Security Committee went into a private, closed hearing today. And afterwards, Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman, who are both pretty fair-minded people, say that the whole process of vetting this sale was flawed, and that it has to be gone into deeper — much deeper.

Now, you have got Harry Reid missing no opportunity to beat up on the president, no matter what he does. But Collins and Lieberman are the kind of people who are not going to go out of their way to beat up on Bush. And, if they say that this was a flawed process, the whole thing is more complicated than it was days ago.

HUME: Well, I know, but isn’t the answer to that, presumably, some further review of this?


HUME: And didn’t Treasury say at the hearing that — actually, they couldn’t discuss it, because it was classified, but that the concerns had been alleviated?

KONDRACKE: Well, then they went into a hearing, and Collins and Lieberman were not satisfied.

HUME: Nina?

NINA EASTON, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE BOSTON GLOBE: Well, whatever comes out of this review, I think it has been clear over the last couple days that this is becoming red meat for a Democratic Party that needs an in on national security issues, and they see it.

And I was watching Senator Reid down there on the floor today, saying, we are letting our ports go to foreign governments. They are also using the rhetoric of the — accusing the Bush administration of having a pre-9/11 world view...


EASTON: ... turning Karl Rove’s statements back on this White House.

They see this as an opportunity. And they are not going to let it go. We have also got Senator Clinton with her bill to even ban foreign ownership, or foreign control, foreign management, of ports altogether. So...

HUME: What are the prospects for those measures?

EASTON: I don’t think there is of much of a prospect for it, but I do think it gives the Democrats...

HUME: Something to talk about.

EASTON: Something to talk about, but a national security issue. If they just — they don’t even have to take the national security issue away from the Republicans, but they see an opening to at least muddy the issue enough in an election year.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, FOX NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that’s why I think the — even the review is going to be a problem, because, look, the objective of this month-and-a-half delay and re-review, which the company, supposedly on its own, requested — that’s an interesting and obviously ridiculous cover — the purpose of that review is to reel in the Republicans.

You are not going to get any Democrats, because, as Nina said, Democrats understand this is a huge political club with which to hit the administration, on an issue on which Democrats are normally weak. So, I don’t expect a single Democrat will flip on this, perhaps Lieberman.

But, if Lieberman and Collins and others, who are pretty reasonable, are skeptical, it’s going to be a big — it’s going to be really hard. You have got Frist, for example, who has already been reeled in. And the hope of the administration is that, if you thoroughly — it’s not so much re-looking at the facts again — it’s making the case in public, so that these lopsided numbers in public opinion, which are hugely against this deal, change.

If that happens, I think a lot of Republicans will come back, enough to sustain a presidential veto, which is what is really at stake here.

HUME: Question: What is the danger here? Is the danger that the president will lose control of the issue to Congress? Congress will pass a bill through both houses to block to deal and perhaps to do other things as well, and the president’s veto will be overridden; is that in prospect here?

KONDRACKE: I, you know, he needs 40 — what — 34 votes in the Senate and 150-something in the House, in order to override a veto.


KONDRACKE: Does he want to go there? I mean, he has never vetoed a bill up to now. Does he want to cast his first veto to protect...

HUME: Let’s assume he means what he says when he says he would do that.


HUME: If he does, is it your view that this issue is in danger of sliding, to the point where he couldn’t sustain a veto?

KONDRACKE: It could.


HUME: I know. I know it could. I wouldn’t ask the question if it couldn’t. I’m just asking you whether you think it will.

KONDRACKE: I will tell you something.

You remember, in the State of the Union message, the president warned against isolationism and all that kind of stuff?

HUME: Right.

KONDRACKE: That is run — and it’s his people who have been running this thing. His talk show hosts have been bellowing about how our borders are insecure and all this kind of stuff.

HUME: You mean the talk show hosts he controls?

KONDRACKE: Well, they are mainly right-wing talk show hosts. They have been creating this climate. And now you get this Arab takeover of the ports. Oh, my God, you know?

And it affects both Republicans and Democrats. The Democrats are playing nativism, just like the Tancredos of this world have been...


HUME: All right.

Now, Nina, let’s assume, for example, we have — everybody has kind of said what they were going to say, and they said it again today, and made a bit more news with it today. Harry Reid made some news, even though some of what he said was factually challenged.

But other have continued to make news with it. Bills have been dropped into the hopper. The thing goes back for some review. What continues — how does it continue to make enough news to keep it in the headlines and keep the issue alive?

EASTON: Well, it’s only 45 days. I think the Democrats, certainly, and concerned Republicans, will continue...

HUME: But, I mean, what are the events that will make the news?

EASTON: News coming out about the review, more releases like today, more insights into what went on with that initial review.

It — and I am not even sure you have to have news. I think the Democrats will be pretty good at keeping this alive. I mean, as Charles pointed out, the polls are really lopsided on this. It’s a nuanced issue that is hard to...

HUME: I understand. But the question is — sometimes, these issues disappear into the process.


HUME: And — and they get off the front pages for a while. The question is, what effect would that have?

KRAUTHAMMER: If public opinion stays 3-1 against it, it will be in the news, even if you revive it in six weeks.

If the vote were held today, the president would lose on a veto. But the question is, can he change that in six weeks? I think probably yes. And he will do it not by argument alone, but by inventing sort of a cover. And the cover, I think, will be a U.S. company which will run it on behalf of the UAE company, so that the profits end up in the UAE, and operations end up in America, and with a committee of Americans, security people, oversight inside the company, etc., reporting to Congress.

Lawyers do this kind of stuff — that’s why you have lawyers — invent an intermediary. And I think it will be done. If the president comes up with a compromise like that, I think he will win on a veto.

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