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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

President Bush's Poll Numbers Plummeting; Lawmakers Outraged Over Bush Handling of Ports Deal

Aired March 2, 2006 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, news, debate and opinion for Thursday, March 2.
Live in New York, Lou Dobbs.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody.

Tonight, President Bush's poll numbers are plummeting as outrage over the Dubai ports deal is escalating. We'll have a special report.

Also tonight, Republicans and Democrats are blasting the Bush administration over its handling over the Dubai ports deal. We'll be going live to Washington.

And among my guests tonight, two leading Republican and Democratic critics of the Dubai ports deal, Senator Robert Menendez and House Homeland Security chairman Congressman Pete King.

Also, Dubai not only wants control of some U.S. port operations, Dubai also wants to take over a company that makes vital components for our military. We'll have that special report as the investigations begin to widen.

And can the Bush presidency recover from the outrage over this ports deal, its conduct of the war in Iraq, its response to Hurricane Katrina?. Among my guests tonight, three of the country's leading political analysts: Ed Rollins, Michael Goodwin, Horace Cooper.

All of that and much more coming up here.

We begin tonight with a new opinion poll that gives President Bush some of the worst ratings of his presidency. The outrage over the Dubai ports deal has pushed the president's ratings on terrorism sharply lower as well. Terrorism, of course, is one of the defining issues of this presidency. As President Bush's numbers plunge, the bipartisan assault on the Bush administration over its handling of the Dubai ports deal has intensified.

We turn tonight to first to Bill Schneider for a report on the president's new lows -- Bill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice over): By last November, President Bush's numbers were way down. Sixty percent of Americans disapproved of the job the president was doing. So, he barn stormed the country to sell his victory plan for Iraq and his energy independence plan and his commitment to national security. The president's numbers went up a bit for awhile.

Now they're back down, down to 60 percent disapproval. Only 38 percent give President Bush positive marks. The negative views are more intense. More than twice as many Americans strongly disapprove than strongly approve of President Bush's job performance.

Three different news stories have driven Mr. Bush's numbers down. The situation in Iraq is deteriorating. Nearly three-quarters of Americans expect a major civil war there in the next year. Nearly two-thirds want to see U.S. forces start to withdraw.

Allowing a company owned by an Arab government to operate U.S. ports seems to defy common sense. The public opposes the deal by nearly four to one.

PROF. ARTHUR WALDRON, UNIV. OF PENNSYLVANIA: This is not an issue of xenophobia or race, this is a substantive issue of national security.

SCHNEIDER: Americans overwhelmingly agree. Result? President Bush's rating on terrorism is down seven points. He's lost his strongest issue. Now we have the videotapes of disaster officials warning President Bush about the dangers posed by Hurricane Katrina and the president's response.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to assure the folks at the state level that we are fully prepared.

SCHNEIDER: Now, nearly 60 percent say President Bush cannot manage the government effectively. His image of competence is gone.

BUSH: I've got ample capital. And I'm using it to spread freedom, to protect the American people.

SCHNEIDER: But the president's political capital is rapidly diminishing, and it's taking a toll on his party. When voters are asked how they would vote for Congress right now, Democrats lead Republicans by 14 points.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The president is getting only 10 percent support from Democrats and just 27 percent from Independents. Republicans still support their president, but they're about all he's got -- Lou.

DOBBS: They may be in fact. Have we seen erosion there as well?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, we have. He's still getting 82 percent support from Republicans, but his support there used to be in the 90s. So even there we're seeing some erosion.

DOBBS: Bill Schneider, thank you very much.

On Capitol Hill, Republican and Democratic senators today launched a new bipartisan assault on the Bush administration's handling of this ports deal. The Republican chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Senator Richard Shelby, said the United states cannot put everything up for sale.

Lisa Sylvester reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The Senate Committee on Banking and Housing oversees the interagency group that approved the Dubai deal. Senators grilled administration officials on a series of fronts.

First, why wasn't the 45-day investigation followed?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: Given the considerable number of questions related to national security, associated with this deal, I do not believe it was reviewed in a manner commensurate with such risk.

SEN. WAYNE ALLARD (R), COLORADO: Congress and the American people expect a legitimate, objective, substantive investigation, and I continue demanding nothing less.

SYLVESTER: Second, why was the decision left to midlevel bureaucrats who did not inform the president or the Treasury secretary?

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: I'm just curious as to why with this matter coming up, someone didn't raise their hand in the room of the 12 members of this committee and say, shouldn't we call the boss on this one?

SYLVESTER: No one on the panel could answer that. Senator Chuck Schumer questioned why outside groups like the port authorities were not asked for their opinions.

STEWART BAKER, ASSISTANT HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We believe that we were constrained by the confidentiality restrictions from telling anyone about the pendency of this proceeding.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: It would be fair to say that you relied only on internal governmental people in the agencies and did not ask anybody from the outside about these concerns.

BAKER: I think that would be fair.

SCHUMER: Is that typical?

BAKER: That would be typical.

SCHUMER: I think that's really wrong.

SYLVESTER: Perhaps the most important question, how much oversight will Congress have in the second review? Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt said the company has pushed off its closing until Friday or Monday to have time to file paperwork to start the second review process.

ROBERT KIMMITT, DEPUTY TREASURY SECRETARY: The re-filing will moot the prior approval. The decision at the end of the new review and investigation will supersede the prior approval. And they have agreed to abide by the results of the 45-day investigation.

SYLVESTER: So, in other words, the U.S. government will have a chance to give a final approval, an authority, though, that rests with the president.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: Lawmakers who feel they were blindsided by the deal are demanding that the second investigation is both thorough and transparent. And even though the president is on record supporting this deal, the White House has to file a report with Congress, which means there should be some accountability -- Lou.

DOBBS: There should be accountability on a number of areas here. None of that accountability, however, clearly present. The idea that these congressmen, these senators today, putting forward pretty touch questions, what is your sense of the mood on Capitol Hill tonight?

SYLVESTER: Well, I think that they're listening, that they want to be able to figure out exactly what happened with the CFIUS process. It's one thing that's very clear, that they should have done that 45- day investigation and that there should be more oversight as they go forward. They want to make sure that this process is transparent, and they're going to be keeping a very close eye on this process as it moves forward -- Lou.

DOBBS: One wonders where this Congress is distinguishing itself in terms of oversight in intelligence and national security, border security, any number of areas.

Lisa Sylvester, thank you very much.

An American company today failed in court in a last-minute effort to stop the Dubai ports deal from going ahead. A Miami-based cargo handling firm, Eller & Company, asking the British high court to block this deal because it said the deal would harm its business and force it into involuntary partnership with the Dubai government. But a British judge ruled the deal can go ahead. After that court hearing, Eller said it is considering launching an appeal of today's decision.

Tonight, the Dubai government is pursuing another aggressive push for another key U.S. national security asset. Now the Bush administration is launching an all-too-rare national security investigation. And this time it has actually informed the U.S. Congress.

Christine Romans reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The government of Dubai is set to take over another British company with strategic U.S. assets. This time it's not terminal operations but precision parts for U.S. military aircraft and tanks.

Key congressional committees have been informed by the administration that this Dubai deal's 30-day government review has now extended into a rare 45-day full investigation.

SCHUMER: Why did they do a 45-day review for tank engines in a box but not for possible nuclear weapons in a ship's container? It's become clear that Dubai Ports World isn't a single incident.

ROMANS: Dubai International Capital is on the verge of completing a $1.2 billion deal to buy London-based Doncasters, which operates in nine U.S. locations and makes precision parts for defense contractors such as Boeing, Honeywell, Pratt & Whitney and General Electric.

WILLIAM HAWKINS, U.S. BUSINESS & INDUSTRY COUNCIL: We have to look into any acquisition of defense industries by any foreign entity.

ROMANS: Dubai International Capital says it is confident the deal will be approved. But news of a second Dubai purchase reverberated through congressional hearings on the port deal.

FRANK GAFFNEY, CENTER FOR SECURITY POLICY: I hope that this one will not be just the next of this litany of a failed dysfunctional vetting of foreign investments with clear national security implications.

ROMANS: And the Treasury Department confirms there is another rare, 45-day investigation. Israeli company Check Point Software is buying a Maryland company with Defense Department business.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: Now that investigation, 45-day investigation into the Israeli company, began well before this port deal erupted, when security experts said there have been concerns that U.S. technology is migrating through Israeli companies to potential enemies of the United States and that cyber security experts within the government are quite concerned about that deal.

But Lou, potentially have three full-blown 45-day CFIUS, as it's called, reviews going on at the same time. It is unheard of. Until now, since September 11, there had only been four. Now you've got three.

DOBBS: I'm amused that you are referring to this as a full-blown CFIUS investigation. It's important to keep this in context.

Fifteen hundred -- soon to be 1,504 -- but 1,500 CFIUS investigations and reviews of deals, and only one has ever been blocked in the entire life of this group of -- I won't characterize them. I'll save an editorial view for later. But it's a remarkable rubberstamp organization. If they want to investigate CFIUS, I think the numbers speak for themselves rather loudly and clearly. This is remarkable. And this Israeli firm, do you suppose that has anything to do with ZIM coming out in support of the Dubai deal? You don't suppose there's some strategic advantage being sought here by now another business supporting an Israeli business seeking to take over a strategic U.S. assets, do you?

ROMANS: Do you think there are games being played in Washington?

DOBBS: I can't imagine it. Thank you very much, Christine Romans.

In tonight's poll, do you believe Congress has effectively abandoned its oversight responsibilities? Cast your vote at LouDobbs.com. We'll have the results for you later here in this broadcast.

In New Delhi today, President Bush signed a deal giving India access to sensitive U.S. nuclear technology. The deal is being haled as a very important arrangement between the United States and India. The U.S. will receive access, by the way, as a result of turning over that high nuclear technology to India, the United States will be receiving Indian mangoes.

President Bush, eager to expand trade with India, today agreed to share our civilian nuclear power technology to help India meet its growing needs. In return, President Bush hailed an expanded trade agreement between the two countries.

The president said, and I quote, "The United States is looking forward to eating Indian mangoes."

President Bush said it will be hard for this agreement to pass Congress, however. India still refuses to sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. But the president today insisted this deal is in the economic interest of the United States. President Bush also said today he is in favor of expanding the H1B visa program for Indian scientists and engineers looking for work in the United States.

Still ahead tonight, new charges that Dubai is a center of radical Islamist terrorism and illegal weapons sales.

We'll have that special report for you.

And foreign companies, some of them government-owned and controlled, now in charge of an alarming number of port terminals on our West Coast. We'll be going live to Los Angeles for that report.

And two leading members of Congress, Democrat and Republican, among the first to strongly oppose the Dubai ports deal join us here tonight. Senator Robert Menendez and House Homeland Security chairman Congressman Pete King will be here next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) DOBBS: New charges tonight that the United Arab Emirates is a center of radical Islamist terrorism and illegal weapons sales. Critics say the Emirates government has ignored U.S. efforts to stop terrorists and illegal weapons dealers from operating in this territory.

Kitty Pilgrim reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The UAE bills itself as an international business hub, but, in fact, terrorists have also been able to operate freely in the Emirates.

JON ALTERMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: People are always running in and out. Goods are going in and out. And it's really like an old 19th century port.

Everything happens in the UAE. The real question is, when there are bad things happening, can you track them in the UAE? Increasingly, that answer has been yes.

PILGRIM: It has been proven the UAE has been laundering terrorism money through its banking system, and its ports have been a conduit of black market nuclear technology. The 9/11 Commission found Osama bin Laden had many contacts with UAE officials.

One of the most notorious international arms dealers, Victor Boot (ph), a Russian, has operated freely in the UAE, selling arms to the Taliban and in Africa and other radical groups.

GLEN HOWARD, JAMESTOWN FOUNDATION: Boot (ph) is someone that carries five different passports. He speaks five different languages, operates with impunity out of different regions of the world, Russia. Travels back and forth between Russia, UAE.

PILGRIM: The Bush administration insists the UAE has cleaned up its act on supporting terrorism.

STEVEN EMERSON, INVESTIGATIVE PROJECT: The portrayal has been that the United Arab Emirates has one homogeneous philosophy. And it's not. Clearly, there is support for anti-terrorism policies in the United States, but there are also pockets and centers of gravity for Hamas and for other radical Islamic movements.

In light of the fact that you have some very unsavory characters and pockets of major support for radical Islamic movements, why take the chance?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Now, in defending the UAE, the Bush administration points to the progress it's made in tracking terrorism. But international security experts say they may have made progress, but the real question is, have they made enough -- Lou. DOBBS: It's certainly one of the questions. And as Steve Emerson asked, why take the chance? And secondly, why is there any issue about giving over ownership of port facilities in the United States to a foreign government-owned company?

PILGRIM: Well, when you talk to the people I have talked to today, there is no question in your mind. They do not think that this is a good deal.

DOBBS: Kitty Pilgrim, thank you very much.

The Clintons tonight appear to find themselves in completely -- on completely opposite sides of the Dubai ports battle. As Senator Hillary Clinton fights to block the deal on Capitol Hill, her husband has been counseling the government of Dubai. Two weeks ago, the former president urged Dubai to delay its port takeover, and this week the former president called the UAE, "A good ally to America."

Amazingly, President Clinton's office says the former president supports his wife's effort to block the sale and says the two are in "lockstep on the issue." That's quite clear, I think you would agree.

Former Clinton counselor and CNN contributor Paul Begala said he sees no conflict between the Clintons on the matter either.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL BEGALA, FMR. CLINTON COUNSELOR: If there is any tension, you see where Hillary's going. Right? She's going to put what she thinks is best for New York and the United States first, and whatever speeches that her husband gives comes second.

So I think to the extent there's a political issue, it sort of resolves in Hillary's favor on this deal. And I'm definitely with her. I don't think the president is disagreeing with her, though. I haven't talked to him about it, but it seems to me they are pretty much on the same page.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOBBS: Despite which page you might be looking at.

The former president is, of course, someone who receives some speaking money from Dubai. Some $450,000 for speeches he made in Dubai back in 2002, as if that would influence him. I doubt it highly. And his former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, however, is a consultant for Dubai.

Former Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke, good Republican, has weighed in on the Dubai Ports World deal. And after looking at the CNN poll today, in which just about 70 percent of Americans say they don't approve of this deal, if you're one of those, you'll be relieved to know she doesn't have hard feelings should you be against this Dubai deal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TORIE CLARKE, FMR. PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN: I can forgive the American people because they're busy. They've got things to do in their lives. It's not their responsibility to learn the facts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOBBS: I'm sure your resting easier now. And the reason I wanted personally to share that with you is I thought it was a metaphor for an attitude that is abroad in Washington, D.C., from the White House to Congress, and a remarkable, remarkable metaphor for a very unfortunate climate, in my opinion, that does exist.

The White House today couldn't wait to celebrate Senate passage of the Patriot Act. President Bush today released a statement from New Delhi, India, saying, "I applaud the Senate for voting to renew the Patriot Act and overcoming the partisan attempts to block its passage."

The president's statement was released at 1:56 p.m. Just one problem. The Senate hadn't yet voted. The Senate vote actually occurred an hour and a half later.

Still ahead here, the furor over the sale of East Coast operations shows no signs of slowing. And on the West Coast, foreign government ownership is already well entrenched. We'll have that special report for you.

And two powerful members of Congress, Democratic and Republican, outraged by the administration's dismissal of the Dubai world threat. Senator Robert Menendez and Congressman Pete King, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, join me here next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: The Bush administration's deal with Dubai Ports World illuminates concerns and questions about foreign ownership of critical U.S. infrastructure assets. And while for the last few weeks, national attention has been primarily focused on the East Coast, there are an alarming number of West Coast port terminals that are controlled by foreign companies, including the communist Chinese government.

Casey Wian reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Say "Costco" and most Americans think big-box discount retailer. But another COSCO without the "T" operates at the Port of Long Beach, California, and the China ocean shipping company is controlled by the government of Communist China. Through a joint venture with the U.S. Stevedoring Company, COSCO operates one of the largest container terminals on the West Coast.

Across the harbor at the Port of Los Angeles, another Chinese government-owned company, China Shipping, operates its own 75-acre port terminal facility. Port terminal operators are responsible for implementing homeland security procedures.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: Given the current gaps in port security, we are placing too much trust in port terminal operators that are beholden to foreign nations. These companies have access to America's classified security operations.

WIAN: A bipartisan group of lawmakers in both houses of Congress are proposing legislation to ban foreign government operation of U.S. port assets. The vast majority of container terminals along the West Coast are operated at least partly by private foreign companies. But also here are the former American president lines, now controlled by the government of Singapore, and Yang Ming, which is partly owned by the Taiwanese government.

REP. TED POE (R), TEXAS: I am not opposed to foreign privately- owned companies operating in our country or in our ports. I fully understand that we're part a global economy. But there's a big difference here. I have a serious concern about foreign governments and their puppet companies operating in our ports.

WIAN: A recent CNN poll asked Americans, "Should the government allow cargo operations at ports to be run by companies from China?" Nearly two-thirds said no.

The White House issued what it called a fact sheet last week on defense of the Dubai ports deal. It actually trumpeted the fact that COSCO and several other companies owned by foreign governments operate port terminals in the United States.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN: Now, the proposed legislation to prohibit foreign governments from operating terminals in the United States would not have any impact on those that are already here. However, it would provide for a mandatory congressional review of the national security implications of foreign government presence in U.S. ports -- Lou.

DOBBS: A review that is long overdue by any standard.

Casey, thank you very much.

Casey Wian.

Time now for some your thoughts.

Anna in Minnesota, "The only thing this 45 days is doing is giving the company time to buy out more of our politicians."

Tom in Arkansas, "This moronic Dubai Ports deal should be renamed the 'Goodbye Ports Deal' -- unbelievable."

Grace in Wisconsin, "Lou, I just heard again that the UAE are our good friends. We have a lot of good friends, but we do not give them keys to our house." And Chris in New Hampshire, "Who cares that Israel endorses the UAE takeover of U.S. ports, or have we outsourced our national security to them? Maybe we can get Iran to oversee the exchange of nuclear information to India."

And Ann in New Jersey, "If Dubai Ports World is such a straightforward, up-front and honest company, then why are they trying to silence you?"

Referring to the efforts of this company and the Dubai government to shut me up, as we reported here a week ago.

And Tom in Alabama, "Dear Lou: We now have positive proof that Cheney is in disfavor with Bush. Bush is selling control of our ports to the UAE, and not Halliburton."

Send us your thoughts to LouDobbs.com. We'll have more of your e-mails coming up here later.

Next, the bipartisan assault on Capitol Hill against this deal. Senator Robert Menendez, Congressman Pete King, Democrat and Republican, join me next.

And the Bush administration's deal with Dubai Ports World inflicting new political damage. Three of the nation's top political analysts will join me here next to assess that damage.

Illegal aliens, armed and dangerous? Our nation's border sheriffs say the border war is being lost.

That special report, a great deal more still ahead.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: One of the most powerful Republicans in Congress is House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Pete King, tonight demanding a serious and thorough review the Dubai ports deal. Congressman King says Congress must be ready to take action if the Committee on Foreign Investments fails to adequately address national security concerns.

Congressman King joins me now.

Mr. Chairman, you've introduced a bill that calls for a thorough investigation. Are you satisfied that that investigation, if it is thorough and leads to a conclusion that this is not an appropriate deal in terms of the national interests, can be rolled back?

REP. PETER KING (R), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I am pretty certain, but I'm not absolutely certain. Because we have never gone through this before, we had a 30-day review end and then have a 45-day investigation start afterwards. I mean, I would push it as hard as we have to in court if it comes to that, and I think it would certainly be a total breach of good faith if, for instance, the president decided not to go ahead with the contract and Dubai ports claim that it's still valid.

But I think we should take one thing at a time. I'm monitoring it as carefully as I can. I've been somewhat reassured in the last several days that the administration is serious about the investigation, because I was really a little skeptical over the weekend when they said they looked upon this 45 days as an opportunity to educate the Congress when the fact is, almost nobody in the administration itself knew what was going on with this deal, and we're trying to really come up with facts after the fact to justify it.

But I'm going to be monitoring it, certainly. It is a bipartisan issue. And if we have to move on the legislation before the 45 days is over, we'll do it.

DOBBS: Of all of the Republicans in Congress to have coming out as strongly as both you and your counterpart in the Senate have, Senator Susan Collins, we have the -- the chairman of those two very important committees saying wait a minute. What has been the White House reaction to you and the position that you've taken?

KING: I have had virtually no contact with the White House. The first contact I had was yesterday, when three members of the legislative liaison staff spoke with me. But that's only contact I have had in the last two weeks.

DOBBS: Did they have a reaction to the fact that you said that the investigation at best was nonexistent that had been conducted by CFIUS?

KING: Yes, basically in fairness, they want to know what they had to do to basically get people on board, and I said you have to -- for starters, have to demonstrate to both sides of the aisle that this is going to be a serious, intensive, inside/out, every which way investigation and not be used to educate us, quote/unquote, but to really do a thorough investigation.

Because I said, I think -- I still think some people think this is just politics and we're just trying to demagogue it. I've never been as serious about any issue in my life as I am about this. And what I pick up from people and from other members of Congress, by the way, is absolute concern and in many cases fear among people as to where this could lead.

DOBBS: Congressman, I had to laugh. But I just had this picture of someone from this administration, the White House, coming to you to ask, what should they do? That would be a ray of hope, I think, for most Americans that they would actually ask the question. Have you sensed any change in demeanor, attitude from -- I think you would characterize it in our discussions over the last couple of weeks -- as patronizing, condescending?

KING: Yes, I think they've definitely got the message that this is for real, that it's a very serious issue, that it's not just a partisan issue brought by some Democrats. That there are as many Republicans as Democrats concerned about it. That -- and also that the grassroots -- I've never seen grassroots America so united on an issue as I've seen on this. And today I met with Bilkey, who is head of DPW, and I just don't think either that they realized the full intensity of this. Somehow they still think it's a question of maneuvering and, you know, what do we have to do to get people to understand how good we are?

DOBBS: Yes, it's remarkable, as you put it, that the men and women we elect who represent the people of this country are looking at this. And I'm talking about executive branch, as well as Congress. Many of them looking at it as politics, rather than still bona fide national security.

KING: Again, I lost too many friends and neighbors on September 11 ever look upon this as politics. And you know, there's room in some areas of politics. Not on this. This is life and death.

DOBBS: Congressman Pete King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. thanks for being here.

KING: Thank you, Lou.

DOBBS: Senator Robert Menendez says it may be already too late to stop the Dubai ports deal. He says this sale may go forward, no matter what 45-day security review finds. Senator Menendez is fighting to stop foreign governments from controlling U.S. port facilities and operations. He joins me tonight from Capitol Hill.

Senator, good to have you here.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY; Good to be with you, Lou.

DOBBS: I presume that you just heard Congressman King, Chairman King say that he is reasonably confident, I think is a fair characterization, that if this review finds basis for concerns of national security, it can still be rolled back. Are you satisfied?

MENENDEZ: No, Lou. As a matter of fact, today in the Banking Committee in which I sit, has jurisdiction over the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States, we had an opportunity to press several of the assistant secretaries of the various departments.

And I'm certainly not satisfied whatsoever. That's why I believe that in the first instance, we should be seeking the right right now -- which we don't have, by the way, in Congress -- to have a vote on the ultimate decision of what the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States comes up with in this 45-day review that, by the way, hasn't begun yet. Because the Dubai Ports World has not actually applied.

And then in the absence, -- so that's first and foremost the most important thing, having the opportunity to have a vote, to have Congress in a position to reject the findings if they find it they should be rejected. And then hopefully to pursue my legislation with others that basically says, look, the ports of the United States is such a critical infrastructure and such a security challenge that when you combine that as well as the fact that we promote a lot of military cargo and equipment abroad for our troops through commercial ports, they should not simply be in the hands of any foreign government.

DOBBS: Senator, let me ask you. With all of your service in the U.S. Congress, now the U.S. Senate, can you imagine why after September 11th there would be any issue here whatsoever, any room for debate, that any foreign government should have control of any key U.S. infrastructure?

MENENDEZ: Well, I find that the answers that we got today, Lou, incredibly challenging. You know, the assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security tried to depict a terminal operator, simply nothing more than someone who has a crane, a pier and a parking lot. And then, when under my cross-examination, went through all of the things, they then went onto say that they elicited from the Dubai Ports World, which was a long list of security initiatives.

I said well, why would you list all of those security initiatives if this is only about a crane, a pier and a parking lot? I just can't understand, in a post-September 11th world, how the administration cannot think outside of the box of the consequences a foreign government doing the terminal operations of the ports of the country.

DOBBS: And I have to ask you, Senator. A letter sent to your colleague and couple of other folks. The Israeli shipping company, Zim, writing in to say they support Dubai Ports World in this deal. What is your reaction to another foreign company writing in to say that they support a deal -- another, in this case, foreign government- owned company?

MENENDEZ: Well, look, you know, some people are willing to put commercial transactions and the color of money above anything else. This is about national security. It's about the safety of the American people. That has no color and that has no equivalent of money.

DOBBS: Senator Robert Menendez, thanks for being here.

MENENDEZ: Thank you, Lou.

DOBBS: Still ahead, President Bush is in New Delhi, but he cant' escape Dubai. Three of our nation's top political analysts join me as the president's poll numbers get a new low.

Also, understaffed and staring down the barrel of a gun. Texas border sheriffs. They testify on the nation's border violence. It is running rampant. A special report still ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: It is clear the Dubai ports deal is a major political catastrophe for the Bush White House. The president's approval ratings on a host of issues are at an all-time low. Joining me now to assess all of this, former White House political director, Ed Rollins, one of the savviest political strategists in the country, Michael Goodwin -- savvy at just about everything, columnist of the "New York Daily News." Joining us tonight from Washington, constitutional law professor and regular contributor to the "Washington Times," Horace Cooper.

Horace, let's start with you.

HORACE COOPER, POLITICAL COLUMNIST: All right.

DOBBS: This deal has the American people exercised. It has members of both parties on Capitol Hill demanding that government begin governing. What's your reaction?

COOPER: Well, as Dick Armey would say, the former House majority leader, this issue has a high demagoguery coefficient associated with it. It is very easy to take some of the facts about this and scare people.

Now I think it's insightful to see that the polls are showing it doesn't matter who the foreign owner is that the American people are not sympathetic to the idea. So the question we really ought to be asking ourselves is, is it really that possible that a 20-plus year long policy of letting private companies come in and bid for these rights, to own and operate ports, has occurred and that somehow that's a dysfunction of our governmental system?

DOBBS: Yes, it's an interesting question. I'm not sure it's an answer to mine. Ed Rollins, let me ask you this. The president is looking at the lowest ratings on the CNN poll, as of today. A CBS poll previous this week, four points, actually, lower than ours. This looks like a freefall.

ED ROLLINS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It's a freefall, and what's happening is Republicans are defecting. Democrats have been against them and Independents have been against them, now Democrats are starting to move away from them, a good 22-to- 25 percent of Democrats aren't very -- I mean, Republicans, aren't very happy and that becomes very serious for the midterms.

The important thing here is whether this issue has been handled correctly or not, which it certainly hasn't been. The president has now said to the Congress, "I don't care what your opinion is. You are overwhelmingly getting the daylights knocked out of you by the public. We don't care. We're going to do what we want to do and we'll give you this 45-day drill, but we're still going to do what we want."

So the Congress that's going to have to make some very tough votes of this president. Their answer is going to be, "Maybe not this time. You don't listen to us, we're not going to listen to you." I think that's very serious.

DOBBS: Well everyone in Congress up for election come November, only a third of the Senate. It is entirely, it is not entirely unrealistic, I think to say, it looks like the U.S. Congress, the Republicans are going to be hung out to dry by the Senate and this White House.

MICHAEL GOODWIN, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: Well, I think if you are a Republican running for re-election this year, let's say, what would you say to the public about this policy? The Bush policies in general? I mean, you have to, for your own sake, you almost have to run away from them in those swing districts because the disapproval ratings are so high there's no way to sort of go out there and defend the president in a close contest, I think, anywhere in the country.

DOBBS: Of course, Torie Clarke, former Defense Department spokesman and CNN contributor, today said she could -- looking at those 66 percent disapproval numbers on this Dubai ports deal, said she could forgive the American people.

I said, at the beginning of the show when we were discussing it earlier, that seems to be a metaphor for a Washington attitude right now, sort of the people be damned, we know better. We have some elites in politics. We have some elites in business. And you know the great unwashed, the men and women who make the country work, go to hell. Is that attitude pretty much prevailing right now?

COOPER: Oh, I think it's a fun way to describe this story as if it's the embodiment of that. But you've got a little bit of a problem. What's going to happen if you change our policy and we eliminate the ability of these companies to bid? And suddenly automation has to occur because now that American taxpayer dollars are having to substitute, we have to eliminate these jobs.

These are some of the best paying, high -- blue-collar-type jobs left in America. If we let ourselves get stampeded the way that we're looking like we're wanting to be, then we run the risk that later we'll be explaining to the American people, particularly those who are impacted by these changes, "Oh I'm sorry. I misunderstood. I didn't understand." This is a far more sophisticated manner than people looking at.

ROLLINS: Why is it profitable for Dubai to run our ports and we can't do it here ourselves? We put 50,000 people on to guard the airport screening process. You know, I think security, we're spending billions of dollars on homeland security. For years we've been saying the ports are our most vulnerable place. And I think at end the day, the American public are willing to spend money on homeland security and I think to a certain extent, they don't feel very confident that a foreign company has the same interest that we have.

GOODWIN: If I could -- it's not just a foreign company, it's a foreign government that owns the company. I think that's an important distinction here, that this is really just about governments more than companies.

COOPER: Well that may explain why they can afford to do it because they're an actual government, but to Ed Rollins point -- actually when the federal government ramped up a major expense to protect our airports and made federal employees out of this army of people, a lot of backlash occurred as a result of that.

And you've seen that they've turned that around. So it's not the case that you can spend the billions of dollars and everybody's happy about it because it's called homeland security. Eventually people see what the consequences are.

I don't say that the American people are wrong. I say that the American people, the people in the House of Representatives, the people in the Senate, need to look at this and understand it fully.

DOBBS: You know what's really interesting is that there's this sort of patronizing, condescending attitude right now about the American people and among a lot of elites.

And I find that just infuriating as -- I can't possibly express how infuriating I find it. Because the idea is that this government is of the people and if the people make a mistake in their judgments when they vote, when they reach consensus and that consensus is represented in Congress, then we have only ourselves only to blame.

But Horace, when people are not represented -- but when the political system is dominated by corporate American special interests, there is a larger, I think, rationale for frustration on the part of just about all of us that we don't have a voice, let alone bear responsibility for the consequences. Michael?

GOODWIN: To say, also, when you have an inability to explain this topic to people in a way that they can readily understand, that's when you get the 66, 75 percent running against you. I think that's what we have here. This, on its gut level, American people understand that, that this is potentially dangerous, that the president didn't understand it is mind-boggling.

DOBBS: Color me silly, but the idea is, all of us in a democracy are a lot smarter than any one of us or a special group of elites.

ROLLINS: Well let me just say this to Torie Clarke, who's an old friend of mine. Maybe the American public will forgive her every day for standing up and defending Don Rumsfeld when he was leading us every day or misleading us about the war in Iraq.

DOBBS: Well I think Torie will send you a thank you card immediately. I'm sure she'll pass one along to me as well. Horace, thank you for being here. Michael, Ed, thank you very much gentlemen.

A reminder now to vote in our poll. Do you believe Congress has effectively abandoned its oversight responsibilities? Cast your vote at loudobbs.com. We'll have the results for you coming up here shortly.

Up next, our nation's border sheriffs facing escalating violence on the Mexican border. They're say they're fearing now for their lives. We'll have that report, still ahead, a great deal more. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Coming up at the top of the hour, "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou. Coming up, port security and the Israeli connection. It's a story we broke here on CNN earlier. We're going to show you the letter to Hillary Clinton that could affect the debate, potentially at least, over the controversy.

Plus, Michael Brown live here in THE SITUATION ROOM. The former FEMA director tells us his side of the story. We're going to be asking him some tough questions. It's an interview you won't want to miss.

Also, nuclear deal. President Bush reaches a landmark agreement while his approval ratings here at home remain low.

All that, lots more, Lou, coming up right at the top of the hour.

DOBBS: Thank you, wolf. Appreciate it.

On Capitol Hill today, border sheriffs testifying on the explosive rise in violence along our southern border. The testimony, the latest evidence of rapidly escalating violence along our porous border with Mexico. Bill Tucker reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Outmanned and outgunned was the name of the hearing. It was dead on the money. Members of the House Subcommittees on Immigration and Terrorism heard about an overwhelmed border control.

SHERIFF LEO SAMANIEGO, EL PASO, TX: They don't have the manpower necessary to handle what I call a planned, well-organized invasion of undocumented aliens and the increase in drug trafficking.

TUCKER: And drug cartels, which are growing bolder every day.

SHERIFF SIGIFREDO GONZALEZ, ZAPATA COUNTY, TX: When an informant very familiar with the operations of this cartel has mentioned to us that the weapons that we use in law enforcement are water guns compared to the weapons that this cartel's used.

TUCKER: Asked about the idea of building a fence along the entire border, the sheriffs were reserved.

SHERIFF LARRY DEAVER, COCHISE COUNTY, AZ: I believe that building -- building fence in certain areas makes a lot of sense. Building along the entire 2,200 miles does not.

TUCKER: But they were very clear when asked about the effect of talk of amnesty programs in any immigration reform legislation.

SAMANIEGO: Anytime you give a group of illegal, undocumented aliens that are already here amnesty or even anything that sounds close to amnesty, you're sending the message to the next 12 million that are going to come in after them.

TUCKER: Which perhaps explains why the number of illegal aliens arrested doubled at the border to 400,000 in the first two months of this year. But for all the talk, there's just too little plain action for some in Congress.

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: I thank you for being here. But until the president and the people in charge of this country decide that they want to do something about it, absolutely nothing is going to happen. They are going to send you back with your limited resources. You are going to be left on your own.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCKER: The sheriffs' simple message: The border is a federal problem, and the feds better do something immediately, or, Lou, the borders are at a risk of becoming a joke.

DOBBS: It's -- if it's a joke, it's a sad joke. It's a deadly joke right now...

TUCKER: Yes.

DOBBS: ... particularly for those sheriffs that we've just heard from. Congresswoman Maxine Water saying it just straight. This administration is more interested in the guest worker program. This Senate, according to my sources, has already baked in a guest worker program. They're playing a dangerous political game. And it's one that likely Republicans in the House of Representatives will be paying the price for, because they're intent on it rather than being serious about either border security, national security, and being willing to put the guest worker program aside and look to real reform.

Bill Tucker, thank you.

We want to share some good news with you tonight. The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, building a state-of-the-art facility for our severely wounded troops, has reached its funding goal tonight. Over the past month and a half, this fund has raised more than $10 million to build the facility in San Antonio, Texas -- a total of $35 million raised. All of it private money. The facility will provide the most advanced medical technology to help rehabilitate our men and women who have been seriously wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We want to thank each and every one of you for your generous contributions. The facility is slated to open on time in January of next year. Thank you.

Still ahead, the results of our poll and more of your thoughts. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: The results of our poll tonight: 98 percent of you say Congress has effectively abandoned its oversight responsibilities, 98 percent.

Well, more of your thoughts now.

Gordy in Nevada wrote in to say -- "Lou, I guess the president went to India to visit our jobs." And Richard in Oregon: "Lou, every time I heard George Bush say he is certain, I want to run for the hills. However, I'm not sure he hasn't sold those, too."

Bill in Michigan: "Lou, there should be a law against the selling of America to foreign governments, but it appears they've already bought the White House."

Steve in California: "Lou, my question is a simple one. Why should we trust the president on the ports deal, as he suggests, when one of his closest advisers on border security is President Vicente Fox?"

And Jim in Illinois: "Lou, if we're going to ask our educators to adopt a merit-based salary system, why not ask our congressmen and senators to do the same?"

An interesting idea.

And Ron in Texas: "Lou, 70 percent of the country is against the port deal. Let's all hope those same 70 percent will turn out to vote the bums out in November."

And Ralph: "Lou, how can you be so critical of our Congress and Senate? Remember, they only have 85 days a year to do the job."

And Robert in California: "Lou, the emblem of the Homeland Security Department should be a sieve, because sooner or later, everything gets through."

We love hearing from you. Send us your thoughts at loudobbs.com. Each of you whose e-mail is read on the broadcast receives a copy of my book, "Exporting America."

We thank you for being with us tonight. Please join us here tomorrow. Good night from New York. "THE SITUATION ROOM" starts right now with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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