Correction to This Article
A Feb. 23 article incorrectly stated that Treasury Secretary John W. Snow said the following about the sale of a London-based port-management company to a government-owned United Arab Emirates firm: "I learned of this transaction probably the same way as members of the Senate did, by reading it in the newspapers." Snow said he learned about the sale only in recent days, but in the quotation he was referring to a different transaction.

Republicans Split With Bush on Ports

By Jim VandeHei and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 23, 2006

Faced with an unprecedented Republican revolt over national security, the White House disclosed yesterday that President Bush was unaware of a Middle Eastern company's planned takeover of operations at six U.S. seaports until recent days and promised to brief members of Congress more fully on the pending deal.

One day after threatening to veto any attempt by Congress to scuttle the controversial $6.8 billion deal, Bush sounded a more conciliatory tone by saying lawmakers should have been given more details about a state-owned company in the United Arab Emirates purchasing some terminal operations in Baltimore and five other U.S. cities.

"This is one where we probably should have consulted with or briefed Congress on sooner," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.

But congressional Republicans renewed their vow to prevent the sale from being finalized next month and warned Bush, sometimes in taunting terms, that an overwhelming majority of lawmakers will oppose the sale on national security grounds. "Dear Mr President: In regards to selling American ports to the United Arab Emirates, not just NO but HELL NO!" Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) wrote to Bush in a one-sentence letter.

The administration on Jan. 17 approved the sale of a London-based company that manages terminals at the U.S. ports to Dubai Ports World, owned by the United Arab Emirates.

The U.S. government reviews business transactions with national security implications and decided after a 23-day review by mid-level officials that Dubai Ports World posed no threat . McClellan said Bush learned about the sale in recent days, after it had been widely reported.

In seeking to assuage critics, administration officials noted that the local or state ports authorities and the U.S. Coast Guard would be responsible for security at the six ports -- not Dubai Ports World, which would be responsible for running terminal facilities and loading and unloading ships and storing the containers they transport.

All dock workers are union members who must undergo background checks, officials stressed. Bush said that those attacking the sale were holding a Middle Eastern company to a different standard than the British port operator that is being acquired by Dubai Ports World.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) rejected Bush's call to allow the sale to go through early next month and they remain committed to delaying it, their spokesmen said yesterday.

Republican lawmakers have been flooded with phone calls and letters from constituents encouraging them to fight Bush over the port deal, even at the expense of GOP unity on combating terrorism -- possibly their best political issue. As a result, Bush and Republicans are divided over a national security issue as never before and bracing for a possible showdown that could force Bush to either delay the sale or veto a Republican bill against it, according to congressional and White House officials.

With the president's ratings mired around 40 percent approval, some Republican lawmakers who face tough reelection bids in November have been looking for ways to distance themselves from Bush without appearing to be soft on terrorism. The president, who once enjoyed near unanimous support from GOP allies on Capitol Hill, has seen a steady rise in Republican criticism over Iraq, Iran, warrantless domestic spying and now the port deal.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) said political pressure from constituents is driving the debate. Lawmakers, he said, are "responding to incredible local political pressure."

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