House Republicans Force Showdown over Port Deal

The House Appropriations Committee voted Wednesday to block a deal that would allow Dubai Ports World to take over administrative operations at six U.S. ports. The measure was tied to legislation authorizing more than $90 billion in emergency funding for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and for Hurricane Katrina rebuilding efforts — making it even more difficult for President Bush to veto. Noah Adams discusses the issue with NPR congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

From Guantanamo to Washington now where President Bush's troubles continue. The House Transportation Subcommittee is holding hearings on foreign operations of U.S. Ports. Intense grilling about the Dubai Ports World deal is expected. And yesterday a House Appropriations Committee voted to bar Dubai Ports World from holding leases or contracts at U.S. ports. That provision was attached to a must-pass spending bill to provide more than $90 billion dollars for the war in Iraq and money for Hurricane Katrina relief.

Joining us to talk about these developments is Andrea Seabrook. Hi, Andrea how are you doing?

ANDREA SEABROOK reporting:

Hey, Noah.

ADAMS: The vote yesterday in the House Committee, was that for show or was that for real? 'Cause Republicans are lining up against the President.

SEABROOK: You know, Noah, that's for real. I mean it was kind of stunning to watch the numbers that came out of that, 62 to two. I mean it's amazing to see Republicans turning around and saying, We've heard too much from our constituents at this point, we can't just go ahead and allow you, President Bush, to shove this deal through.

I think a lot of them are, as I said, hearing thousands of calls a day from constituents. They're also miffed at the political process the White House has put forth here, the fact that for five, six years, since 9/11, they've been the party of, the Republicans have been the party of security and now suddenly it looks as if they sort of had their eyes closed on this one. And it's an election year, and in the House of Representatives that means every single one of these guys, 435 men and women, are up for re-election, and they are particularly answerable to their constituents this year.

ADAMS: Well, let's look at the Senate now for a minute. The Democrats, of course, in the Senate would want to see a similar vote. President Bush wants the Senate Republicans to save him on this issue. How is it going to work there?

SEABROOK: Well, I think they're trying, in a way. Right now the Senate is debating this lobbying reform bill. And of course, fascinating. Yesterday Chuck Schumer, the Senator from New York, a Democrat, came and attached, proposed an amendment on the lobbying reform bill that would shut down the Dubai Ports World deal. And everyone was kind of thrown into flux over there in the Senate because the Republicans, you can't really vote against it, 'cause again, they're hearing from their constituents as well. They're just as miffed at the President on this issue as their colleagues over in the House. But they don't want to just fly in the face of the President either. I think some of them really do want to help the President out. And I think the chances are that that bill may end up being pulled from the floor altogether, at least until this gets worked out.

ADAMS: Well, if you're at the White House and trying to plan this out for the next weeks or so, how do you see a chance for the ports deal to actually go through and work?

SEABROOK: You know, from my point of view, from the other Pennsylvania Avenue here in the U.S. capital, it does not look good. I mean the President doesn't have the political capital that he once had. And it's not likely that he could muster, especially in this election year, enough political capital to get this bill through unless it's changed remarkably. And again, the President here is a lame duck, especially in election year. I mean I think you might find he's more of a lame duck when the House is running every man for himself than he would be next year after they're re-elected.

And so I think, I think it doesn't look good for the President's case right now.

ADAMS: NPR Congressional Correspondent Andrea Seabrook. Thank you, Andrea.

SEABROOK: You're welcome, Noah.

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