Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Bush Only Learned About Arab Port Deal A Few Days Ago

As noted by the NY Daily News, ties between the Bush administration and the government-owned Dubai compnay that wants to run six U.S. ports have already opened the White House up to charges of cronyism.

Treasury Secretary John Snow used to be chairman of the company that sold its international rail interests to the Dubai company, DP World, and Preznit Bush just named David Sanborn, the man who runs the Dubai company's European and Latin American operations, to head the U.S. Maritime Administration.

The Bush administration has been fighting allegations of cronyism throughout the last five years because people and/or companies with ties to the administration have been given sweetheart deals in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and for the Katrina aftermath (think Cheney's former company, Halliburton, and its subsidiary, KBR.)

Whether Snow or Sanborn had anything to do with the Dubai deal is unknown. But even the appearance of cronyism should have given the Bushies pause before okaying the deal, since the cronyism meme has really taken hold with the American public.

The other meme I would be worried about if I were the Karl Rove is the one that states the preznit is out-of-touch and kinda clueless.

And guess what?

Turns out Preznit Bush only learned about the port deal after his administration okayed it.

Here's MSNBC on that story (probably crimping an Associated Press report without naming the AP, as MSNBC often does):

Bush unaware of port deal until after approval
White House: President only learned recently of handover to Arab firm

WASHINGTON - President Bush was unaware of the pending sale of shipping operations at six major U.S. seaports to a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates until the deal already had been approved by his administration, the White House said Wednesday.

Bush on Tuesday brushed aside objections by leaders in the Senate and House that the $6.8 billion sale could raise risks of terrorism at American ports. In a forceful defense of his administration’s earlier approval of the deal, he pledged to veto any bill Congress might approve to block the agreement involving the sale of a British company to the Arab firm.

Bush faces a rebellion from leaders of his own party, as well as from Democrats, about the deal that would put Dubai Ports in charge of major shipping operations in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia.

“I will fight harder than ever for this legislation, and if it is vetoed I will fight as hard as I can to override it,” said Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. King and Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said they will introduce emergency legislation to suspend the ports deal.

Another Democrat, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, urged his colleagues to force Bush to wield his veto, which Bush — in his sixth year in office — has never done. “We should really test the resolve of the president on this one because what we’re really doing is securing the safety of our people.”

And just in case you thought the cronyism angle to the ports deal had gone away, here's more from MSNBC:

Firm’s connection to Bush appointee questioned

Sen. John Kerry on Wednesday sent a letter to Treasury Secretary John Snow, seeking full disclosure on the deal with DP World.

“As you know, the CSX rail corporation, where you previously served as chief executive officer, sold its port operations to DP in 2004,” wrote Kerry, D-Mass., in a letter obtained by MSNBC. “Moreover, the president’s nominee for administrator of the Maritime Administration, David Sanborn, was DP’s head of operations for Latin America while this transaction was being reviewed ...”

While House spokesman Scott McClellan dismissed any connection between the deal and David Sanborn of Virginia, a former senior DP World executive whom the White House appointed last month to be the new administrator of the Maritime Administration of the Transportation Department. Sanborn worked as DP World’s director of operations for Europe and Latin America.

“My understanding is that he has assured us that he was not involved in the negotiations to purchase this British company,” McClellan added.

“In terms of David Sanborn, he was nominated to run the Maritime Administration because of his experience and expertise,” the spokesman said. Sanborn is a graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. He is an operations professional.

The preznit really stepped in it on this one and while the White House is going to push back against both Republicans and Democrats who are creating legislation to prohibit the ports deal (the Bushies plan an "education campaign" to illuminate the American people on why it's a good idea to allow a foreign government-owned company with ties to terrorism to run six U.S. ports), I think ultimately they have already lost this battle.

You know, when Majority Leader Frist and Speaker Hastert are leading the charge against Bush administration policy, that policy is in serious trouble.

Especially since the Ed Henrys and Tweety Birds of the world love the "bipartisan battle" story angle.

Ultimately, the port story is a loser for the administration, however, because it reinforces two damaging memes: the administration is rife with cronyism and the preznit is clueless and out-of-touch.

The port story is also damaging because it undercuts the preznit's "strong on terrorism" meme.

And finally the port story is damaging because it is means the last two major news cycles have been dominated by negative news stories for the administration: the press went straight from covering the Cheney/hunting "accident" to the ports deal without the administration being able to get on message about its health care proposals or energy policies, two areas in which the White House believes the preznit needs to shore up his poll numbers.

Oh, well - that's what happens when your administration is rife with cronyism and your preznit is clueless and out-of-touch.

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