On NBC, Biden rebutted Russert's earlier claims about Democratic record on port security

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

In an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, Sen. Joseph R Biden Jr. (D-DE) challenged host Tim Russert's previous suggestion that Democratic lawmakers seized on the recent ports controversy in order to build their national security credentials. Biden pointed out that since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly put forth proposals to bolster port security nationwide -- proposals that have consistently been met with stiff Republican resistance.

In an appearance on the March 12 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-DE) challenged host Tim Russert's previous suggestion -- which Media Matters for America noted at the time -- that Democratic lawmakers seized on the recent ports controversy in order to build their national security credentials. He noted that Russert "in effect" said that "Congress hadn't done much" on the issue of securing the nation's ports. Biden then countered: "Back in 2001, we introduced legislation for port security and rail security; 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005. It's been repeatedly spurned by the administration." Indeed, since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Republicans have repeatedly defeated Democratic proposals to bolster port security nationwide.

On February 22, amid the growing criticism of the Bush administration's approval of a deal to transfer terminal operations at six U.S. ports to a company owned by the government of Dubai, Russert appeared on NBC's Today and suggested that Democrats were simply exploiting the issue for political gain. In doing so, he joined the chorus of media figures who, in their coverage of the ports controversy, framed national security as a right-wing value and depicted Democrats as new converts to the issue.

But such characterizations ignore congressional Democrats' substantial track record of promoting port security, as Biden made clear during the Meet the Press interview. In recent years, Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly put forward legislation to bolster port security, only to see these measures defeated by Republicans. The following are several examples:

  • In 2003, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) proposed an amendment to the 2004 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill to provide $460 million for port security. The Senate rejected a motion -- which required a three-fifths majority to pass -- to allow a vote on the amendment, by a 43-50 vote. Forty-nine of the 50 members voting against the motion were Republicans.
  • In 2003, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) proposed an 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. The Senate rejected a motion -- which required a three-fifths majority -- to allow a vote on the amendment, by a 45-51 vote. Fifty of the 51 senators voting against the motion were Republicans.
  • In 2003, Sen. Ernest Hollings proposed an amendment to the 2004 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill to increase port security funding by $300 million. Senators voted down the measure by a 50-48 vote. Forty-nine of the 50 members who voted to table the amendment were Republicans.
  • In 2004, Schumer proposed an amendment to appropriate an additional $150,000 for port security research and development grants. The Senate rejected a motion -- which required a three-fifths majority to pass -- to allow a vote on the amendment, by a 50-46 vote. Forty-five of the 46 members voting against the motion were Republicans.

From the March 12 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press:

RUSSERT: Senator Biden, what has the port controversy done to the Bush presidency?

BIDEN: It's sort of stripped away the curtain that there was any competence on homeland security. I heard you on another show with [Today host] Katie Couric, Tim, saying something, in effect that the Congress hadn't done much either. Back in 2001, we introduced legislation for port security and rail security; 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005. It's been repeatedly spurned by the administration. Virtually nothing's been done. Their priorities are backwards, Tim. Tim, if, in fact, they spent as much money on homeland security as they do one year on Star Wars, we could fund another 13,000 police locally, another 1,000 FBI agents. We could have every container at every port inspected with gamma rays as well as with radiation. We could, in fact, secure our railroads. These guys have priorities that are backwards and they're dangerously, dangerously incompetent. And this is going to be the next place you're going to see that incompetence show.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Terrorism
Network/Outlet
NBC
Person
Tim Russert
Show/Publication
Meet the Press
Stories/Interests
Joe Biden, 2008 Elections
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