- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Republican House leaders last night split with President Bush and said they would derail a Dubai-owned company’s bid to take control of operations at six major U.S. ports.

“It is my intention to lay the foundation to block the deal,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis, California Republican and House Appropriations Committee chairman.

Ron Bonjean, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, said the rest of the House Republican leadership backed Mr. Lewis, who is expected to have his committee add to a must-pass emergency spending bill an amendment to block the DP World deal.

“We do not believe the U.S. should allow a state-owned company to run American ports,” Mr. Bonjean said.

Mr. Bush has said he supports the takeover and has promised to veto any legislation that would thwart DP World, which is owned by the government of Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates.

House Republicans and the White House “are not together on this issue at the moment,” said Mr. Lewis, adding that Republicans at the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue would continue talking.

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said earlier in the day that his party’s rank and file is worried about the deal.

“Our conference is pretty excited about this issue,” he said, adding that the deal has become a “very hot political potato” and he would “like to see it go away.”

Republicans have expressed concerns since reports last month detailed how the administration had approved a deal to allow DP World to take control from a British company of operations at some terminals in the ports of Baltimore, New York, New Orleans, Miami, Philadelphia and Newark, N.J.

The administration already has agreed to a 45-day review of the deal. Several lawmakers have expressed concerns about the United Arab Emirates’ ties to terrorism, including that it was the home of two of the September 11 hijackers.

Mr. Lewis plans to offer his proposal during today’s scheduled markup of the supplemental bill for Iraq war and Katrina relief spending.

He was vague about the details of his proposal, which is still being drafted, but said it “makes certain that we’re protecting the security interests of the United States.”

The Appropriations Committee will vote on the spending bill today, and the full House is expected to vote on it next week.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, “We are committed to working with Congress” on the deal, adding that there are “many lines of communication open.”

She stressed that there is “a long way to go” in the legislative process and said the 45-day review should go forward.

“We need to let the process get started,” she said.

She reiterated that Mr. Bush’s position has not changed, but added that the White House is “committed to having a sincere and open discussion.”

Earlier yesterday, before the House leaders broke with the president, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said the Tennessee Republican still wants to wait until the 45-day review is over before moving any potential legislation.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, yesterday said he is looking at various Senate bills as vehicles to attach a Dubai-related proposal, and he pledged the issue is “not going to go away.”

“This is an issue where the White House was asleep at the switch,” he said.

Also among the flurry of legislation against the deal, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, is leading a bipartisan group of senators in supporting a bill that would give Congress the ability to block the deal if lawmakers are unsatisfied with the 45-day review.

Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, has the companion bill in the House and has been talking to the White House about compromises on the deal.

Under one idea, DP World would give all management of the port terminals to an American company and be the owner in name only.

Mr. King said he thinks that the White House realizes the public outcry on the deal is becoming a “political nightmare” in an election year and that there are legitimate security concerns with the deal.

“They’re trying to work it out,” he said.

Mr. Schumer was doubtful that a compromise arrangement allowing DP World to remain the owner would fly with Congress. He said there would have to be “a very thick wall” between the Dubai citizens and the daily port operations.

Members of both parties said they’ve been bombarded with calls from constituents opposing the deal over the past two weeks.

Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, said the calls have eased up this week, but that many citizens have “hardened” in their opposition to the deal, and it will be difficult to change their minds.

Mr. Thune is waiting to see what comes out of the 45-day review, but said the Senate could hold a vote on whether to block the deal before the 45 days is up.

“I can see that happening,” he said.

Charles Hurt contributed to this report.

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