Russert suggested Democrats exploiting port deal for national security credibility; overlooked Democratic track record on bolstering port security

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER

NBC's Tim Russert suggested that Democrats have seized on the Dubai Ports World takeover of a British company -- in which Dubai Ports, a company owned by the government of Dubai, a member state of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), would assume control of six major U.S. seaports -- in order to build their national security credentials. Russert was able to make this claim by omitting any reference to numerous calls by Democrats in both houses of Congress for increased port security and various pieces of port-security legislation proposed by Democrats that have been, in most instances, opposed by Republicans.

In an interview with co-anchor Katie Couric on the February 22 edition of NBC's Today, NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert suggested that Democrats have seized on the Dubai Ports World (DPW) takeover of a British company in order to build their national security credentials. DPW is a company owned by the government of Dubai, a member state of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), that is set to assume control of six major U.S. seaports British company Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation used to manage. Russert was able to make this claim by omitting any reference to numerous calls by Democrats in both houses of Congress for increased port security and various pieces of port-security legislation proposed by Democrats that have been, in most instances, opposed by Republicans.

During the interview, Russert asserted that Democrats are acting on what "they have learned from the Bush administration" about the need for a "post-September 11th mentality," and by objecting to the DPW deal, they are "playing it." He said further, "Democrats believe they can look tough on national security" by opposing the current port deal. Russert also said that with this deal, the Bush administration is taking a more nuanced approach to national security, one that "Democrats are usually trying to argue." Russert then added: "This time, the Democrats have the ... simple issue: We are for national security."

However, in suggesting that Democrats have now found a national security issue they can use for political gain, Russert ignored the fact that, for the past several years, Democrats have stressed the need for greater port security and have urged Congress and the administration to act. Indeed, many of the most outspoken Democratic critics of the Bush administration's current port deal have also sponsored legislation designed to better secure the nation's ports. Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson (FL), Patty Murray (WA), with co-sponsor Hillary Rodham Clinton (NY), Chuck Schumer (NY), and Rep. Jane Harman (CA) have all introduced legislation to enhance the nation's port security.

Furthermore, most Republicans in Congress have resisted Democrats' efforts to secure U.S. ports. As the Senate Democratic Policy Committee has documented, since 9-11, Senate Republicans have voted to defeat Democratic measures to increase funding for port security. For example, Schumer's amendment to the 2004 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill to provide $70 million for research and development to stop nuclear materials from entering U.S. ports was defeated by a 51-45 near-party-line vote. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) introduced an amendment to the same bill that would have provided $100 million in port and maritime security grants. The Republican Senate rejected Byrd's measure by a near party-line vote of 51-45. Republicans also defeated former Sen. Ernest Hollings's (D-SC) amendment to the 2004 Homeland Security Appropriations bill, which would have provided $300 million in maritime security grants, by a 50-48 largely party-line vote. In addition, for the 2003 War Supplemental Appropriations bill, Hollings's amendment to increase port security funding by $1 billion was defeated by a 52-47 vote largely along party lines.

And as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has noted, many of the Senate Republicans now calling for the Bush administration to revoke the DPW port deal have continually voted against Democratic attempts to strengthen port security in the United States.

From the February 22 edition of NBC's Today:

COURIC: Well, obviously for many years now -- actually the last few years, the Bush administration has banked on national security issues trumping civil liberties. It finds itself slightly on the other side of the argument in this case, doesn't it?

RUSSERT: Absolutely, Katie. That's the lesson that Democrats say they have learned from the Bush administration. That is, there is a post-September 11th mentality. That's what Karl Rove warned about, and they are playing it. And House Republicans and Senate Republicans, Katie, are saying "Oh, my God, mid-term elections coming. We can't let the Democrats get to our right on national security. We're going to join this fray as well."

COURIC: Why do you think the White House has taken on this position for this particular situation, Tim?

RUSSERT: Well, they're at a point now, Katie, where it's so far along they don't quite know how to approach it. Here's the situation: Democrats believe they can look tough on national security. House Republicans, Senate Republicans, saying, "We're going to join with them because they're not going to out-flank us. And we're not going to look like rubber stamps for President Bush who's not particularly popular right now."

[...]

But Katie, I think this issue now is at a point where the president is saying to himself and the people around him: "If I go before the world and say, 'We're going to cut back on this deal because the UAE is an Arab country,' what is that going to mean? What is that going to mean to the future of our foreign policy?" It's a more nuanced approach, frankly, and it's the kind of --

COURIC: Right.

RUSSERT: -- nuanced approach that the Democrats are usually trying to argue. This time, the Democrats have the -- the simple issue: "We're for national security, Mr. President, don't do this." The president is on the edge of trying to having to explain his policy and his position.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy
Network/Outlet
NBC
Person
Tim Russert
Show/Publication
Today Show
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