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Lou Dobbs Tonight
Opposition Grows to Port Deal; Chavez Oil Threat; War on the Middle Class
Aired February 20, 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 Monday, February 20.
Live in New York, Lou Dobbs.
LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody.
Tonight, the Bush administration is still refusing to block the sale of six of our ports to the United Arab Emirates, their operation. But this dangerous national security giveaway is now headed to court. We'll have complete coverage tonight.
We'll also be telling you the outrageous things supporters of this deal are now saying about this broadcast and all Americans opposed to the sale of the operation of six of our most important ports. Senator Robert Menendez, a sponsor of legislation to block this port sale, is our guest here tonight.
And guess who President Bush is consulting on border security now? None other than Mexican president Vicente Fox, who has failed utterly in controlling his nation's border emergency. The Bush-Fox border security axis next.
And as bird flu spreads unchecked through western Europe, is the Bush administration doing enough to protect this country? Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disease Preparedness at Columbia University, is our guest on the growing bird flu threat.
Those stories and much more still ahead.
We begin tonight with the new and growing opposition to the Bush administration's giveaway on a major national security issue. Tonight, a Miami-based port company is filing a lawsuit to block the sale of U.S. ports to a firm controlled by the United Arab Emirates, a country with ties to the 9/11 attacks.
We have reported on this program extensively over the past full week on how this could affect the security of these ports and our national security. This dangerous deal is now under fierce attack across the nation.
We have complete coverage tonight from Bill Tucker, here in New York; Dana Bash at the White House; Ed Henry on Capitol Hill.
We begin with Bill Tucker -- Bill. BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, this is a deal that's not going quietly into the night. Instead of quietly dying down, opposition to the proposed takeover of certain port operations in America by Dubai Ports World is getting louder.
TUCKER (voice over): At a news conference at the ports of New York, New Jersey, and Baltimore, officials stood and decried the deal. New Jersey senator Robert Menendez stood at the Newark terminal where DPW would gain control of operations denouncing the deal.
Baltimore's mayor asking if it wouldn't be a mistake to let a foreign government take control of certain operations.
MAYOR MARTIN O'MALLEY (D), BALTIMORE: At a time of terrorist threat, when for years we've been saying that our ports are vulnerable, we should not be surrendering any American port to a foreign government, let alone to the United Arab Emirates with their background.
TUCKER: One potential business partner with DPW, Eller and Company, has filed suit to block the deal from going through. Eller's joint venture in the Miami port handles roughly 79 percent of the traffic in the port.
Before filing the lawsuit, Eller had approached the committee on foreign investment in the United States only to be ignored. The company thinks we're on the verge of a major mistake.
MICHAEL KREITZER, ELLER & CO.: This is the first time since the 1800s that a foreign government, as compared with a foreign company, a foreign government has actually tried to take control of the security at our ports.
TUCKER: Those concerned about security point to the suicide attacks carried out in the Israeli port of Ashdod in March of 2004. The attackers are believed to have entered the port hidden in a container.
And as for the concerns and questions raised by the DP World takeover, they're legitimate in the eyes of one former secretary of Homeland Security.
TOM RIDGE, FMR. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: There's a responsibility on the administration to come forth and demonstrate in a meaningful way that they've not compromised port security.
TUCKER: After a week of declining comment on the record, or to be a guest on this show, as we've repeatedly offered, Dubai Ports World is sending a delegation to Washington to calm the waters. And Lou, there's apparently growing concern in the UAE as expressed in the "Gulf News" that opposition of this deal is rooted in what they call "Islamophobia," their word, not mine, or is as administration figures are quietly whispering, racism and profiling.
DOBBS: And the "Gulf News" newspaper, I think we should point out.
DOBBS: But the fact of the matter is, it is originating with a group of people strongly influenced by DP and others, and the idea that they would bring up the issue of racism in this tells you how desperate they are to move this $7 billion and to take control of the operation of six U.S. ports.
Thank you very much.
A growing number of our lawmakers, both Republican and Democrat, are coming out in opposition to this deal tonight. They say it is shameful that they were not consulted by the administration and left completely in the dark on an issue of grave national security.
Ed Henry is live in Washington now with the very latest for us -- Ed.
ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Lou.
That's right, more political pressure on President Bush tonight to block this port deal from the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Panel, New York Congressman Peter King, who has been briefed on the transaction. And today, he flatly rejected claims made on CNN by Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, who said the necessary safeguards we put in place to make sure this company keeps U.S. ports safe, Congressman King told me those safeguards can only work if Congress has faith in the company, Dubai Ports World.
But King says he does not have that faith because it's a state- owned company in the United Arab Emirates, as you reported. And they were an operational and financial base for some of the 9/11 hijackers.
King said he believes midlevel bureaucrats have fumbled this issue, we're politically tone deaf to the ramifications, and it's time now for President Bush to intervene.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PETE KING (R-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I would urge the president to freeze this contract, to hold this contract until a full and thorough and complete investigation can be conducted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HENRY: Now, if the president does not stop this deal, Democratic senators Bob Menendez and Hillary Clinton say they will try to push through a new law prohibiting the sale of operations at U.S. ports to companies owned by foreign governments, and a growing number of Republicans up and down the East Coast are now making more and more noise about this.
Pennsylvania Republican Curt Weldon today joined forces with Democrat Bob Brady from Pennsylvania to urge the president to not allow the Port of Philly to be turned over to this company. And tomorrow, Florida Republican Mark Foley will be holding a press conference at the Port of Miami demanding that the Bush administration reconsider this whole transaction -- Lou.
DOBBS: Understandably, perhaps, in a political sense the suggestion by Congressman King, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, that this is a mistake on the part of midlevel bureaucrats. This has been approved by the Treasury secretary, the CFIUS Committee, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, and fully endorsed by the secretary of Homeland Security, who actually the temerity to say, Ed Henry, "We have to balance the paramount urgency of security against the fact that we still want to have a robust global trading system."
Those are the words of the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Not a midlevel bureaucrat, we should point out.
HENRY: That's right. And those words are frustrating a lot of people like Peter King. There's obviously going to be a question about whether King and others are insulating the president a bit, though, by suggesting its midlevel bureaucrats.
I think what he was referring to is the fact that he thinks is took too long for some of the lower level bureaucrats to kick it upstairs. You're right, certainly higher level officials like the cabinet secretaries have gotten involved, but he's saying that they pushed it upstairs too late in the game, and it became a fait accompli -- Lou.
DOBBS: This is a failure at every level. Let me be clear, Ed Henry. This is a failure of leadership. This is not a failure of midlevel bureaucrats, period.
And I appreciate your thoughts. Thank you.
HENRY: Thank you.
DOBBS: Later on this broadcast, I'll be talking with a fierce congressional opponent of the port deal, Senator Robert Menendez.
President Bush today once again failed to even mention the growing outrage among Americans over port security. Instead, President Bush continued to promote his administration's alternative energy program during a trip to Wisconsin.
Dana Bash has the latest now for us from the White House.
Dana, this administration appears politically tone deaf on the port deal. And I don't know what else you would describe when one would turn over operational control of six American ports to a company owned by a foreign government. DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that charge, being politically tone deaf, is something that the White House heard not just from Democrats, but from a couple of Republicans over the weekend, Lou. And the way they're playing that here at the White House is they say that's essentially a good thing.
Why? Because they say that that 12-agency panel did decide that the answer to the one question that they looked at, the one question only, is whether or not the nation's security would be at risk, the answer to that is no. And they say at the White House that they feel comfortable with that.
White House counselor Dan Bartlett told us this. He said, "It should be a comforting fact that politics were not interjected into the decisions made by counterterrorism specialists. That is who you want to make these decisions."
And now certainly there is criticism that the process didn't actually go as far as it could have. It was a 30-day review process. They had the option to go another 45 days and decided that that was not necessary.
Again, that is something that they say here at the senior levels of the White House that that is the prerogative of that panel to decide. But they do make the point here at the White House and across the administration today, Lou, that this is not a case of what one official called outsourcing the nation's security to a company from the UAE. They insist that it is still DHS, the Department of Homeland Security, that is still in charge of the security at those ports -- Lou.
DOBBS: Department of Homeland Security may indeed be responsible and have responsibility for much of the cargo, of which they're inspecting just about 4 percent. But the physical security of those terminals will be in the hands of the company operating the terminals, and that is, in this case, DP, a United Arab Emirates government company.
It's -- this entire situation, Dana, it leaves one absolutely struggling for comprehension as to how anyone could be feeling comfort, as Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, says it, because politics weren't involved. What in the world kind of (INAUDIBLE) is that supposed to be for bona fide, serious, grave national security concerns?
BASH: Well, the point that they're making here on this issue, Lou, is they say that the people who looked at this, the representatives from the 12 agencies -- and that includes, as you've mentioned on this show, Treasury, who sort of chairs it, the State Department, Defense Department, DHS, really across the board -- that those people had the nation's security in mind. And that those are some counterterrorism experts who looked at that.
The attorney general made that point while traveling today as well. And so they say those are the people who should be making this determination, and not perhaps, even though some Republicans say that the White House is tone deaf on this -- as one senior official said to me today, not some Democrats who they say here, have been trying to get at this White House in terms of homeland security., get at them politically and haven't been able to. And they think perhaps they found an issue here.
DOBBS: They found an issue. I think every American has an issue here when we're talking about taking operational control and giving it to a United Arab Emirates government-owned company. Remarkable, and the White House is adamant and absolutely resistant to any review of this, correct?
BASH: So far. You know, the president, because of the way the process is, Lou, the president, I'm told, didn't know about this. He didn't have to sign off on it because unless this panel refers this to the president to say, put a stop to, he doesn't see it.
So he didn't essentially know about this until the objections were raised, it was in the public arena, if you will. That's when the White House found out about it. So, so far, they're saying no. We'll see where the public pressure goes, though.
DOBBS: And it is worth noting that this is the same panel, CFIUS, who saw no problem with turning over Unocal to its asset, many of them, to CNOOC, the Chinese-owned oil company. A deal that subsequently was abandoned.
DOBBS: Thank you very much.
Dana Bash, from the White House.
Still ahead here, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, he's threatening to cut oil supplies form his country to this country. He also has some strong, some say silly, words for Condoleezza Rice, our secretary of state. We'll have that story.
And our nation's middle class spending more on health care than ever before. And guess what? The administration has a plan to raise that. A special report next.
And with so many urgent issues facing our nation's lawmakers, our nation's lawmakers have left Washington for yet another extended vacation. We'll tell you about the working life, if you can call it that, of our elected representatives throughout the year. Not just on Presidents Week.
Stay with us.
DOBBS: Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez at it again, threatening to cut off oil supplies to the United States. Chavez said Washington better not cross the line, as he put it.
Chavez also made a direct threat to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and insulted her, saying, "Don't mess with me, girl."
Christine Romans has the report.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Radical Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez taunting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, blowing her kisses and calling her a "little girl" during his six-hour televised address Sunday.
PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ, VENEZUELA (through translator): Remember, little girl, I'm like the thorn tree that flowers on the plane. I waft my scent to passersby and prick he who shakes me. Don't mess with me, Condoleezza. Don't mess with me, girl.
ROMANS: Chavez chiding Rice after she called him a threat to democracy in the region.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: It is essentially important that we have a safe and secure neighborhood and one where democratic progress is continuing. And I think it's fair to say that one of the biggest problems we face in that regard are the policies of Venezuela.
ROMANS: With his country's oil bonanza, Chavez styles himself the patriarch of a socialist revolution and has vowed to unite Latin American against U.S.-backed economic reform, all of the while strengthening ties with Iran, China and Cuba.
RICE: You have a bit of a relationship -- or quite a relationship between Cuba and Venezuela at this point, which I think is a particular danger to the region.
ROMANS: In retaliation, Chavez is threatening to cut the U.S. off from Venezuelan oil. "If the government of the United States goes over the line, they are not going to have Venezuelan oil," proving the obvious that his gesture of discounted Venezuelan heating oil to America's poor this winter was a public relation's move and a jab at the Bush administration.
This is, after all, the man who calls President Bush, "Mr. Danger" and a terrorist and has vowed to "defeat the empire." Just last month, he called Rice a true illiterate.
ROMANS: At the same time he's ranting against the United States, he's working pretty hard with his country's oil wealth to eliminate his political competition. And in his six-hour televised address, he declared he'd like to change that constitution, Lou, so that he can keep running indefinitely.
DOBBS: It's good that he has modest aspirations, and in that very democratic country I'm sure he will be able to seek the people's will and make some determination. Meanwhile, what do you suppose President Bush should do as a result of a head of state insulting his secretary of state?
ROMANS: So far, they have not been drawn into this taunting. But Hugo Chavez, I tell you, he uses any opportunity he can to needle the Bush administration. And he did it six hours. He really worked himself up.
DOBBS: Well, it sounds to me like he was working over his own citizen far more than he was Secretary of State Rice. They're the ones who must have felt the punishment.
Thank you very much.
Turning now to what is nothing short of a war on this country's middle class, working men and women in this country with good jobs at strong companies increasingly are being forced to pay more and more of their health care expenses. That's partly because their employers have simply decided they will refuse to pay those costs, as they have for decades.
Kitty Pilgrim has the story.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do we want?
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Health care!
KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Thousands of Sikorsky Aircraft workers in Connecticut and Florida are striking over health care coverage. They are being asked to pay more.
Across the country, prosperous middle class Americans with good jobs are being increasingly stuck with the health care costs that used to be covered by their employers. Since 2001, an employee's share of health cost has soared 63 percent.
In his first congressional testimony, the head of the Federal Reserve addressed the issue.
BEN BERNANKE, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: Acknowledge a very important problem of the rising cost of health care. I mean, that is the underlying reason that insurance remains high and why employers are either dropping plans or increasing the share that they require their employers to play.
PILGRIM: These striking Sikorsky workers say the company that makes civilian and military helicopters should do more. Striking workers say doctor visit co-payments would double, prescription costs would also climb as well. But large companies point out in 2004 health insurance premiums were up by more than 11 percent, nearly four times the rate of inflation.
President Bush last week went on the road to push health savings accounts where the employee gets the tax advantage to put their own money aside for medical bills. GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The key thing in a health savings account is you actually put a patient in charge of his or her decisions.
PILGRIM: But legislators are pushing the company to pick up the tab. And Wal-Mart has been in the spotlight, as workers rights groups press for companies that employ more than 10,000 employees spend at least 8 percent of total wages on health benefits.
PILGRIM: Now, tax-free personal savings accounts seems to be the legislative fix being pushed at the moment. Critics say it does not lessen the burden on the middle class working Americans. It simply gives them the tax incentives to take care of their problem with their own money -- Lou.
DOBBS: Kitty, thank you very much.
Just ahead here, the life of a U.S. lawmaker. Wouldn't it be nice to have more than a dozen weeks of vacation per year? To have instead of a Presidents Day holiday, maybe a Presidents Week? Just ask nearly any member of our Congress.
We'll have that story.
And securing the safety of some of our nation's biggest ports. Senator Robert Menendez is our guest here next. He's going to do something about it.
Stay with us.
DOBBS: Well, millions of us are working on this Presidents Day holiday. Millions of us had the good fortune to get the day off. It is, after all, a national holiday. But Congress, well, it's not just a national holiday for Congress. It turns out it's a Presidents Week holiday.
Lisa Sylvester has the story from Washington.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the president...
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's Presidents Day. But President Bush is not taking the day off. He's hard at work.
BUSH: I'm first happy it's Presidents Day. It turns out most folks in Washington don't work on Presidents Day. The only one working is the president. SYLVESTER: You might think Congress is putting time in on this holiday. But Capitol Hill is silent. In fact, Congress is taking not the day off from Washington, but the entire week.
JOHN CHALLENGER, CHALLENGER, GRAY & CHRISTMAS, INC.: There aren't many jobs where the real work of that job is something that they do maybe halftime, at most. It's projected they'll have 96 days in session during this congressional year. You wonder what's going on those other hundred-plus days that we all work.
SYLVESTER: While the rest of Americans have been hard at work this calendar year, Congress has been in session only eight days. In March, House lawmakers leave Washington for a week for St. Patrick's Day. They'll take off another two weeks in April.
In May, another week for Memorial Day. In July, another week for Independence Day.
And at end of July, it's summer break. And they don't return until after Labor Day.
Congress refers to these breaks euphemistically.
AMY WALTER, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: These are district work periods. They're not recess. Did you notice that?
SYLVESTER: It's lawmakers' face time in their districts. Important especially in an election year. It's fair to say congressional members need time to hear constituents' concerns. But what about actually doing the people's work in Washington? There's a lot on the agenda: immigration reform, health care, tax reform and the budget.
WALTER: All the talk about lobbying reform has brought up some other questions, too, including maybe there needs to be a look at how much time lawmakers are actually spending in Washington doing work.
SYLVESTER: And perception is everything. Maybe that's why the approval rating for Congress is at the lowest level since 1994 -- Lou.
DOBBS: Well, there is, I'm sure, a school of thought that should have some consideration as well that if they were there more often, there might be even lower approval rating.
Lisa Sylvester, one of our favorite people working in Washington tonight.
Thank you very much.
Taking a look now at some of your thoughts.
Darryl in Austin Texas, wrote to say, "President Bush said America was becoming more religious and I can see why. With this administration's exporting jobs, importing illegal aliens, and ignoring Communist China's economic and military buildup, divine intervention may be the only hope we have left!"
Let's hope not.
Donald Intlekofer in Las Vegas, Nevada, wrote in about our poll last Friday. "Not only is the amnesty program an insult to those who wait for years for legal immigration, it is also an insult to the millions of Americans who can't find a job."
And Loisanne Ruano in Escalan, California, "I find this amnesty program a far larger insult to 'We the People' who obey our laws and are continually ignored by our public servants."
And Maynard in Arizona on domestic wiretaps, "Is Attorney General Gonzales as sure that warrantless wiretapping is legal as George Tenet was that there were WMDs in Iraq?"
Send us your thoughts at LouDobbs.com. And we'll have many more of your thoughts coming up here later in the broadcast.
Next, homeland insecurity. The outrageous deal that would allow an Arab company to run six major U.S. ports, an Arab company owned by an Arab government. Why many are finally waking up to the fact that this just might not be a great idea for national security.
Senator Robert Menendez is going to do something about it. He's my guest here next.
And the bird flu is spreading. The deadly virus now confirmed in 11 countries. We'll be telling you how that disease could spread and what is being done and not done to stop it.
Stay with us.
DOBBS: Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who is supposed to be protecting our nation from national security threats, is instead taking the administration's side in the sale of six of our nation's ports to a Dubai government-owned firm. He says incredibly that national security must be weighed alongside so-called free trade.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I'm not going to go beyond my general description of the process. And certainly Congress is welcome to look at this and can get classified briefs. You know, we have to balance the paramount urgency of security against the fact that we still want to have a robust global trading system.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOBBS: A robust global trading system.
Senator Robert Menendez, who is writing legislation that would block this port deal if necessary, joins me here tonight in New York.
Good to have you with us.
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Good to be here with you, Lou.
DOBBS: Senator, robust globalization. What's your reaction?
MENENDEZ: Well, this is about security. It's not about trade. No ones says we can't trade with the government of Dubai of the United Arab Emirates if we choose to. This is about controlling the operations of the port, which already are such a huge breach in our overall security blanket.
Ninety-five percent of everything that comes through that port, the port of our country, the port of New York and New Jersey, which I've represented in the House before going to the Senate for the last 13 years, does not get inspected.
DOBBS: You along with Senator Clinton, are planning to propose legislation specifically directed how?
MENENDEZ: Well, first and foremost, Lou, we want the president to say no to this deal. We have only to March 2nd, and that gives us 10 days. And the president can actually obviate this deal, and I think he should. And if he fails to do so, what our legislation will basically stand for the principle that the ports of the United States should not be in the control and operation of a foreign government.
DOBBS: And DP is a United Arab Emirates-owned company. It is a state-owned company. And at the same time, we're hearing charges of racism. In this case, Islamophobia is the way one particularly, in my opinion, clumsy craftsman expressed himself on this. How do you react to those kinds of charges?
MENENDEZ: Well, first of all, I don't believe that the ports of the nation should ultimately be in the hands of any foreign government, first and foremost.
But secondly, how can we feel secure when this particular country had two of the September 11th hijackers emanate from the country? How can we be secure when this particular country, according to the 9/11 commission said, it was a financial source for al Qaeda?
How can we be secure when this country ultimately has permitted nuclear components to transit through their country by A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani scientist, that ultimately sold, smuggled goods on nuclear components to Libya, to Iran, to North Korea? If they couldn't do a better job of security within their own country, how are we going to have our ports subjected to their operations?
DOBBS: And the fact that CFIUS, the Committee on Foreign Investment of the United States, has approved this deal, approved the sale of undersea cables, the greatest treasure of broadband created by the United States, selling it to an Indian company without objection, approval of the sale of Unocal assets to CNOOC, a Chinese-government- owned company. How in the world -- is the Senate going to look into the operation of this committee and whether or not it has outlived its usefulness, if there is any usefulness?
MENENDEZ: Well, I certainly hope so, Lou. Next week the Banking Committee, which I sit on, is going to have a review, I believe, of this particular action. But the reality is, I think we need to look at CFIUS and come to an understanding, whether there should be checks and balances here by the Congress, in addition to the president.
When we talk about the ports of the nation, for example, that's a huge opportunity for someone to put in the cargo that doesn't get inspected a nuclear, chemical, or biological weapon.
DOBBS: Senator Robert Menendez, we thank you for being with us.
MENENDEZ: Thank you.
DOBBS: Appreciate it.
In tonight's poll, tell us what you think, if the United States government is turning over operation of some of our major ports to a United Arab Emirates company and doing nothing to secure our borders, should we simply disband our Homeland Security Department?
Cast your vote at loudobbs.com. We'll have the results later for you here in the broadcast.
Next, the White House tries to put Dick Cheney's shooting accident in the past. But outrage over the sale of our ports to an Arab government-owned company moving to the forefront. I'll be joined by three of the country's top political analysts next.
And the deadly bird flu continuing to spread. It's accelerating. I will talk with one medical expert who says we're in a race against time. Stay with us.
DOBBS: The Bush administration's approval of a deal to allow an Arab government-owned company to take control of the operation of six U.S. ports has turned into a political crisis for the White House and a national security threat to the United States. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is trying to defend the decision and administration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHERTOFF: Well, this, again, I don't want talk about a classified process. But the general process that has to work before this incursion requires a very thorough review and where appropriate, necessary conditions or safeguards have to be put into place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOBBS: Joining me now for more on this story, three the country's best political analyst.
Ed Rollins, served as White House political director under President Reagan, Michael Goodwin, columnist of "Daily News," -- "New York Daily News" I should point out -- and Bill Schneider, senior political analyst for none other than our CNN.
Thanks for being here.
Bill, your reaction to this, what is -- people are describing as a political story. It's certainly that. Frankly, to me, it is a national security story.
BILL SCHNEIDER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: My reaction is the same as my guess. We haven't done any polling, but my guess is an overwhelming majority of Americans, very simple, what were they thinking? I mean this is incredible to most people that they would turn over the operation of six major ports, all over the country, to an Arab government.
Now this government is allied with the United States on the war on terror, but the question is what kind of procedures are there to make sure that they're hiring practices are properly screened? What are they doing to protect the security of the United States?
All that Michael Chertoff says is we have safeguards in place. What are they? No less than Tom Ridge has said it's very hard to understand what they mean unless the administration explains what they're doing.
DOBBS: Ed Rollins.
ED ROLLINS, FMR. W.H. POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Unfortunately Michael Chertoff, who was a very fine U.S. attorney and very fine federal judge, does not yet have the credibility after Katrina to basically make a case for this.
And I think to a certain extent the great strength this administration's had over Democrats has been the country had more confidence that they were going to protect the borders.
And I think clearly on the immigration issue and clearly on something like this, it goes against common sense. People say how could you ever let an Arab country basically protect our ports?
MICHAEL GOODWIN, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: It's almost like a roll reversal is going on here. I mean, you expect maybe if the Democrats had proposed this, the Bush people would be all over this and say, no, no we protect the country.
But here we have the president and his party and he particularly should be protecting the country. That's their strength among the public and they seem to be giving that up. Apart from the substantive issue, which it does seem to raise real red flags about safety, politically it makes no sense. So it's such a mess and it's so hard to figure out how they could blunder into this.
DOBBS: This has been a series of blunders on the part of this administration. You can pick an incipient point. Many would choose going to war in Iraq with the claim that there's WMD when there was none. The conduct of the war, Katrina, you can go through a host of issues. But on this, as you correctly point out, Bill Schneider, the one thing this administration has and the polling has been the tough position on terrorism and now we have borders that are absolutely porous. Voters understand that you can't permit three million illegal aliens to cross a border and at the same time call that border security.
SCHNEIDER: It all seems to be unraveling, Lou. This administration really had two image, two reputations that they survived on. One was strengthened security. That got Bush re- elected, and the other was competence. Competence disappeared with the handling of Hurricane Katrina, and now security is beginning to it's already unraveled because of the handling of border issues. It really is completely beyond comprehension how they're letting this happen.
DOBBS: Ed Henry reported at the outset of the program today that Congressman Pete King, Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, was trying to give the president some gentle cover of -- by criticizing mid level bureaucrats on this, and not moving the decision process up the chain.
But Michael Chertoff, Ed Rollins, saying we have to balance, on this issue, of selling the operation to a Dubai-owned government company, we have to balance a paramount urgency of security, paramount urgency of security, with the fact that we still want to have our robust global trading system.
ROLLINS: This has nothing to do with robust trading. This has to do with security. There's been all sorts of shows about -- the television shows about the weakness of the security and the ports at this point in time.
The problem is the president is going to make a lot of Republicans try to support him in this, and it's going to work to their detriment. This reminds me of his father when the father broke the tax pledge and lost a very significant portion of the support. I think this particular security issue could lose this president a lot of support.
DOBBS: Michael Goodwin, when you hear the secretary of Homeland Security talk about robust global trading system, I couldn't help but to react and think, you know if there's one person in the administration, this administration so crazed and fanatic in its religious-based commitment of what they call free trade, which costs us trillions, if there is one man who should be talking about protectionism, it should be Michael Chertoff.
GOODWIN: I think we should be able to have one person in the cabinet and that's all he or she thinks about, and that would be Chertoff. And I would think Pete King is a good kind of bell cow for where this sort of independent voters, not only in the Republican party but the nation at large are going. When Pete king, who is on Homeland Security, chairs one of the subcommittees, talks about this as we don't have the process, we don't know what you're doing, we don't know why you're doing it, I think the plan is in trouble.
I think Congress is going to act. It's a free shot for Democrats. It's a gift to Democrats and I think Republicans are legitimately scared that we're giving up the one thing that this party has going for it right now.
SCHNEIDER: And Lou --
DOBBS: Yes, Bill.
SCHNEIDER: Let me point this out. There is something else going on here that's very damaging to President Bush. And that is that Bush and Cheney, both of them, come out of the oil and energy industries. Everybody knows that.
So when there seen to be turning over the management of these ports to an Arab country and a firm that's controlled by an Arab government, that's bound to raise a very damaging image in people's minds that they're too close to the oil industry. They come out, they're both oil men. They're too close to a lot of Arab governments that are in power and that raises a lot of suspicions.
We just did a poll about Dick Cheney's problems. And we came up with a very startling answer. Now, we didn't do the poll actually. It was "Time" magazine. And one of the questions they asked was, does Dick Cheney have the country's best interests at heart? And you know what result was, it's absolutely startling: 46 percent said yes and 45 percent said no. Virtually an even split.
This man is the vice president of the United States. Is that because of the shooting incident? I suspect it's because people know he's an oil man and when they look at that and look at oil prices, they say, does he really have the best interest of the country at heart? This issue raises the same thing.
DOBBS: Ed Rollins, you get the last word on this. All of the politics aside. We're looking at a stark, clear choice on national security. Four percent of the goods come into this country are inspected, only four percent, 96 percent are not. We have millions of people crossing our borders illegally. There is no border security.
How in the world can any government, let's forget the politics, how can any government whose responsibility it is to secure the welfare of the nation and the American people conduct itself in this way?
ROLLINS: Well, they can't and I think when they had the airport security situation, they hired 50,000 federal employees, called them Transportation Security Administration, and as important as the borders are, as important as the ports are, maybe you need to hire 50,000 people to basically guard our ports and our borders.
DOBBS: I think that is a wise thought to end on. And from your lips to the Bush administration and Congress's ears. Thank you.
Ed Rollins, we thank you, Bill Schneider, Michael Goodwin, thank you.
Coming up at the much to the hour here, on CNN, "THE SITUATION ROOM" with my friend Wolf Blitzer. Wolf?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Lou, we're going to have much more on the business deal that would give an Arab country control six major American ports. Outraged Republicans and Democrats say the deal is really putting national security up for sale. We're also going to go live to one of those ports in question. Baltimore.
On this President's Day, my exclusive interview with former president Jimmy Carter. We'll tell you what he has to say about the deal involving those ports and he'll also weigh in on what's happening in the Middle East now that Hamas leads the Palestinians.
And Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. Last week on this program you heard the former FEMA director Michael Brown give Chertoff a C-minus on his response to Hurricane Katrina. And now Chertoff responds and offers his own review of Brown's performance. All of that, Lou, coming up in a few moments.
DOBBS: Thank you very much. I thought -- I actually thought that Chertoff had given ups a review on his performance.
BLITZER: He fired him.
We'll be looking forward to that, thank you very much. And a reminder to vote on our poll here tonight.
If the United States government is turning over operation of some of our ports to a United Arab Emirates government company and doing nothing to secure our national borders, should we simply disband our Homeland Security Department. Cast your vote at loudobbs.com. We'll have the results in just a matter of moments.
Still ahead, a look at your thoughts, your e-mails, including growing outrage over that Arab company's bid to run six of our nation's ports and our government's approval of the deals. And the deadly bird flu is spreading and spreading fast. I'll be joined by one medical expert who says we are playing roulette. And luck may not be on our side. Stay with us.
DOBBS: The bird flu is continuing to spread across Europe. France, the largest poultry producer in Europe, now confirming that a duck tested positive for the deadly virus. Since the virus first appeared in China in 1997, it has moved across Asia, into the Middle East, Africa, and is now in at least seven European countries.
Since late 2003, bird flu has also been found in humans in the countries that you see here in red, including Indonesia and Thailand. Overall, it has infected more than 170 people and killed more than 90. And if you look at a map of the east Asian flyway of migratory birds, it is impossible to say where the virus will turn up next, including on the shores of the United States.
Joining me now is the director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Dr. Irwin Redlener. And we thank you for being with us, Doctor. It's good to see you. The bird flu, it's now apparently in France, India, possibly even in England. They're testing a swan there. Are we doing enough to contain this and by, we, I mean, the world?
DR. IRWIN REDLENER, DIRECTOR, CTR FOR DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Yes, well, it's really actually very hard to contain it. And we're now in kind of in a race against time to try to do what we can to prepare for the possibility that this will stop just being almost exclusively among birds, and then really get into the human population which is of course what we're all very worried about.
DOBBS: Is there anything in the migration of the virus that concerns you? Is there anything that suggests that there is a worsening of the situation?
REDLENER: Well, this is a tricky situation to analyze. The thing is that's making the scientists very uncomfortable, though, is the fact that it's popping up in different places now, not entirely explainable by the actual migration patterns of the birds.
So we don't quite know how it's getting to the various places it's getting, which means that it could pop up in the U.S. at some point soon. The question is, how long will it just stay confined to the bird population, even if it is popping up in various parts the world? But the more places it appears, the more we get concerned about the statistical chances of it showing up in people.
DOBBS: Are we doing enough in the United States to ready ourselves for what could be, could be a pandemic?
REDLENER: Well, the thing that's strange about that, and I think people ought to be aware of this -- we're starting to invest fairly heavily in the development of vaccine technology so we could rapidly produce the vaccine when we need it and also to stock up on the anti- viral medications like Tamiflu.
The problem for us in disaster planning is that we're very much underinvesting in beefing up our health and hospital systems so we could take care of people because it's going to be a few years before we get the vaccine and the anti-virals up to par. In the meantime, all we're going to have, if we get a pandemic flu anytime soon, is the ability to function in the medical system. Right now we're way, way behind.
DOBBS: Way behind -- the number of beds that are available in our hospitals, our medical care facilities across the country -- if we were to be hit by anything, like a virulent flu, let alone the bird flu, what would be the situation? REDLENER: Well, the health care system is extremely fragile now. It's sort of been deteriorating over the last decade or two. There's virtually no margin for surging or expanding in the event of an emergency. We're short on everything from beds to mechanical ventilators, and that's why when we look down road and see possibility of a bird flu epidemic, we're really worried that we won't be able to respond as we need to.
DOBBS: Dr. Redlener, we thank you very much for being here.
REDLENER: Thank you, Lou, appreciate it.
DOBBS: Still ahead, we'll have more of your thoughts, the results of our poll tonight and we'll have the very latest for you on the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. Stay with us.
DOBBS: I've been talking to you about the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund for some time now, ever since Don Imus brought it to my attention. The fund is constructing a state of the art facility in San Antonio, Texas. It's a center that will help our severely injured members of the military. If you would like to contribute, please go to fallenheroesfund.org. The fund is less than two weeks away and just under $2 million away from meeting its goals. So we hope you will help. Once again, fallenheroesfund.org or you can find a link to the fund directly at loudobbs.com or call 1-800-340-HERO, 1-800-340- HERO. Please help out.
Now more of your thoughts. Paul in Illinois wrote in to say: Is this administration out of their minds? How could anyone believe that President Bush is concerned with our country's security? On top of what is happening with our southern border, now this?
And Danny in Oklahoma: Why would anyone be surprised at the sale of our ports? I mean, they've already sold out our country.
Donald in Indiana: Lou, can it be true that in the entire United States of America there is no qualified firm to manage our port system? What are we going to sell of next, oversight of our military?
And Paul in Alabama: When a person sells out their country, it's called treason. When the United States government does it, they call it free trade.
And Lewis in California: It seems the only jobs that are safe in the good old USA, are government jobs. It's time we outsourced them, now that we are putting Arabs in charge of port security, China in charge of manufacturing, what next? Mexico in charge of border security?
And Herb in Georgia says: Why give the contract to the middleman? Why not give it directly to al Qaeda?
And Troy in Alabama: Just when one thinks that this administration has appointed every idiot in captivity as a department head, here goes another one, trying to give away our ports.
And Richard in Florida: Are the people running this country completely crazy, turning over our ports to foreign owners? Would any other country turn over their ports to U.S. control?
Steve in Missouri: Lou, there shouldn't be any other country, friend or foe, placed in charge of our ports.
We love hearing from you. Send us your thoughts at loudobbs.com. And each of you whose e-mail is read on this broadcast receives a copy of my book, "Exporting America."
And the results of our poll tonight, 93 percent of you saying that if the United States government is turning over operation of some of our major ports to a United Arab Emirates government company and doing nothing to secure our borders, we should simply disband our Homeland Security Department.
Thanks for being with us tonight. Please join us here tomorrow. I'll be talking with an American sheriff who sent Mexican President Vicente Fox a bill to cover the costs of jailing illegal aliens. The amount? More than $300,000. For all of us here, thanks for watching tonight. Good night from New York. "THE SITUATION ROOM" begins right now with Wolf Blitzer. Wolf?
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