updated 2/22/2006 12:03:48 PM ET 2006-02-22T17:03:48

Guests: Barbara Boxer, Jack Burkman, Brad Blakeman, Karen Hanretty, Caitlin Harrington, Mark Foley, Carmen Rasmusen, Katrina Szish, Belinda Luscombe

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Right now in “Scarborough Country” political wars over the ports.  As a political firestorm spreads, President Bush says yes to turning our most important ports over to a country with ties to 9/11.  Is the president compromising America‘s safety, that‘s tonight‘s “Scarborough Country‘s” showdown. 

And if your loved one‘s hooked on drugs, chances are good those drugs probably came to America through Mexico.  So why is the American government cozying up to the Mexican government on the issue of drug interdiction?  We‘ll talk about it.  Welcome to “Scarborough Country”, no passport required and only common sense allowed.

Thanks so much for being with me tonight, greatly appreciate it.  We will have all of those stories in a minute.  Plus, an “American Idol” unleashed.  As fans begin to vote, Simon Cowell, the judge everybody loves to hate, is already trashing this year‘s crop of contestants.  Is it one more example of “Idol‘s” mean streak.  Well, you can judge that for yourself later on. 

But first, dramatic developments today as democrats and republicans alike attacked the administration‘s decision on allowing the United Arab Emirates to oversee six of our most important American ports.  Even though the U-A-E has ties to terrorism.  Now, Senate Leader Bill Frist harshly criticized the deal saying, “If the administration cannot delay the process, I plan on introducing legislation to ensure the deal is placed on hold until this decision gets a more thorough review.” 

That drew a quick response from President Bush, who gave a strong defense of the sale.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The transaction should go forward in my judgment and the company has been cooperative with the United States government.  The company is from a country that has been cooperative in the war on terror, been an ally in the war on terror. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And in fact the president said he‘s going to veto any legislation that would kill this port plan.  Again, to turn our most important ports over to a country with ties to 9/11.  With me now to talk about port insecurity is California Senator Barbara Boxer.

Senator thank you so much for being with us.  The president said today, “This deal will not jeopardize the security of our country.”  Do you agree with the president?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER, (D) CALIFORNIA:  I just think this deal makes no sense at all.  And you know since you Joe are motivated by common sense, let‘s just lay all the cards on the table.  As you said, a couple of the hijackers were from the United Arab Emirates.  We know, even three years after 9/11 we had terror experts tell us that Dubai was a city where there was really free entry and free exits for Al Qaeda.  This is the wrong thing to do.

The president talks about a company but the company is owned by Dubai, it is owned by the United Arab Emirates.  It‘s a country store.  And this is the wrong way to go.  We need to be, if you will, conservative about our approach to port safety.  I sit on the committee that is responsible for port security, the Commerce Committee.  And I will tell you for many years now, since 9/11, members of that committee on both sides of the aisle have been trying to push through legislation. 

The administration has not been with us.  Now, they are doing something even worse.  Not only are they not supporting something positive, but they are turning to something negative and it‘s very worrisome. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Senator Boxer we‘ve been talking obviously about 9/11, the connections with U-A-E and 9/11 over the past couple of days.  But let‘s talk about the future.  If you talk to most republicans and democrats alike on Capitol Hill, they‘ll tell you that one of the most serious issues facing us has to do with Iran getting nuclear weapons. 

And yet, let‘s talk about nuclear components going through U-A-E, whether you‘re talking about when Libya was trying to build a program or Iran or North Korea.  Or we can talk about international drug traffickers using, again, U-A-E to move their drugs through that country.  It makes no sense at all.  Can you tell us what‘s going on here, what‘s the story behind the story? 

BOXER:  I think there is a story behind a story.  I‘m going to lay out a couple things you may know or maybe not, so let‘s see.  First of all, we have a committee that is supposed to oversee a buyout, o.k., of an American corporation by a foreign corporation or a foreign country.  Now remember, this particular deal for this particular port deals with a British owned firm. 

But there‘s yet another step here, another 20 ports are run by an American company and this same Dubai ports is going to buy them out.  And Secretary Snow, who is our treasury secretary, who sits on this very special committee that‘s supposed to stop these things if they think it‘s a problem, has approved it.  And it turns out, he has connections with this Dubai company because he was the CEO of C.S.X.. for 20 years and guess what, this company bought out their container shipping operation.

Then you have the gentleman who was put up to be the maritime administrator, came before our Commerce Committee and now I‘m putting a hold on him, guess what, he‘s just coming out of running port operations for Europe and Central America for this Dubai company and he‘s about to run this maritime administration where he will have some responsibility for security.  So, there‘s a lot of connections here.  I think this story is going to have more legs than we even know at the moment.  

SCARBOROUGH:  I think you‘re exactly right senator.  So the question tonight is for Americans whether the republicans, independents, democrats, that are very concerned about port security.  I personally think and I know, I think I‘ve heard you talk about it too, one of your biggest concerns since 9/11 has had to do with port security.  We haven‘t been directing money there.  And people have been talking about that for some time.  I think that‘s why this has struck such a nerve.  So, what do we do as Americans to stop this deal from happening? Where do we apply the pressure points? 

BOXER:  Well right now we have to apply it to the president of these United States, because if he doesn‘t stop this, it‘s going ahead on March 2.  That‘s just a few short days away.  He has now announced that if we try to stop it, whether it‘s a republican bill or democratic bill, hopefully a bipartisan bill, he will veto this bill.  So we have to change the president‘s mind.  And this thing needs more scrutiny, at the minimum it needs a lot more scrutiny, at the maximum I believe we shouldn‘t have foreign countries running our ports.

But you know Joe, this issue touches my heart.  13 times I voted to direct more funding to increasing port security.  13 times the republican congress voted it down.  The president wasn‘t for it.  I have a bill that would say that we ought to have blast proof containers at our ports so that if God forbid a bomb is sent through there, we can contain the damage. 

We can‘t get anything done.  And this just takes it to a whole new level.  It‘s going from bad to worse.  When Al Qaeda has told us that our infrastructure, in particular our ports, are at risk.  So I think the American people have to weigh in with this president.  I couldn‘t be more happy than to see our leadership, republican and democratic working together on this.  But we can‘t just talk here.  We have to stop this thing.  It‘s important.  

SCARBOROUGH:  No doubt about it.  Senator Barbara Boxer, as always, thank you so much for being with us, we greatly appreciate it. 

BOXER:  Thanks.

SCARBORUGH:  Now I would encourage everybody to listen to the senator, we need to apply pressure to the president of the United States and also your congressmen and senators need to get emails and phone calls from you tomorrow if you think like I do that this is a terrible, terrible idea.  They need to pass it in the house and the senate, and make the president take out his veto pen if that‘s what he wants to do.  But we‘re going to debate this fully because there are two sides of this story.  With me now to talk about both sides of it, we‘ve got an all star panel, we‘ve got Brad Blakeman, he‘s former deputy assistant to President Bush.  He supports the plan.  We‘ve got MSNBC senior political analyst Lawrence O‘Donnell.  Also democratic strategist and MSNBC analyst Flavia Colgan.  We‘ve got republican strategist Jack Burkman who also supports the plan and Karen Hanretty. 

Let me start with you, Brad.  Why do you support this plan that so many Americans are concerned about?

BRAD BLAKEMAN, DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BUSH (2001-2004): 

Because congress chose to give the president under his authority under the constitution for our national security, the power to rule on foreign investments in our country as an (inaudible) to national security.  Congress did that.  And then the president decided some time in the 80‘s, I think it was 88, that there should be a panel.  And almost the entire cabinet sits on that panel and they fully investigated this.  And they came up with the conclusion—

SCARBOROUGH:  How do you know they fully—Brad, I don‘t mean to cut you off, but how do you know they fully investigated this?

BLAKEMAN:  Well we have to trust in our government, these are our elected officials.

SCARBOROUGH:  Why?  Our elected officials make mistakes, and I don‘t trust them.

BLAKEMAN:  That‘s what makes our country great.  The congress provided that power to the president.

SCARBOROUGH:  No, that‘s not what makes—

BLAKEMAN:  And the president is doing his job.

SCARBOROUGH:  That‘s not what makes this country great, trusting our governmental leaders isn‘t what makes it great.  What makes it great is we‘ve got the ability to debate, but these people are making a decision on port security in a secret meeting. 

BLAKEMAN:  The congress chose in the statute to say that these proceedings should be confidential.  But Joe, what you don‘t get, is Barbara Boxer is full of baloney.  If she was so concerned about port security, why wasn‘t she on top of these applications that were being discussed within the treasury department involving all the agency‘s of government?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Brad is a hundred percent right.

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on a second, they don‘t allow Barbara Boxer in that room—

BLAKEMAN:  No, you better read the statute.

SCARBOROUGH:  They don‘t allow New York, hold on, they don‘t allow New York port security officials that had to deal with 9/11 and the aftermath in that room.  They don‘t allow local leaders who are going to be most impacted by these decisions in that room.  And Lawrence O‘Donnell I think that‘s what‘s wrong with this project.  I say if congress gave them the power to turn our ports over to foreign countries with connections to 9/11, then maybe congress needs to take that power back, am I right?

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well it‘s an interesting argument Joe for the administration to argue that it‘s the wisdom of congress that has delivered this power to The White House.  If you believe in the wisdom of Congress, you‘re going to hear from congress on this particular deal.  And it seems very clear Joe my sense of it right now is this is a firestorm, this just sounds like something that‘s going to be pretty easy to pass through congress, a reversal of this decision. 

The president will have to veto it if he makes good on his promise, and I think that veto could be overridden the way this story is developing.  This is one of those prairie fires Joe that The White House is not going to be able to control.  What‘s interesting about it is they made this decision in the dark, that‘s the way these kinds of decisions are made. 

But they made it with a tin ear politically.  Look, I‘m not here to judge whether this company will actually reduce the security of our ports.  I can‘t make that judgment.  I don‘t have enough information congress doesn‘t have enough information, that‘s why they want to stop it.  Congress might stop it temporarily and then ok it in the future.  But the point is, they dare to judge.

The White House did not allow anybody in the outside to get a feel for how this thing would play.  And I think Senator Boxer‘s point about the administration‘s connections to the company are part of what blinded the administration to how badly this was going to play.

SCARBOROUGH:  Jack Burkman, I think this is terrible for the Republican Party to be associated with a plan that turns over port security for some of our most important   ports to a country that had connections to 9/11, to a country that‘s helped move nuclear components through to Iran, to Libya, to North Korea.  To a country also again that‘s really the center of international drug trafficking.  They run them through the United Arab Emirates.  What‘s going on in the president‘s mind here?

JACK BURKMAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I hate it when you and I disagree.  But you‘ve got to look at the facts.  The U-A-E is a strong ally of the United States.  The only connection they have to 9/11 is that a couple of the hijackers held U-A-E passports, people say they had accounts in Dubai.  I mean for God‘s sake, I‘ve had accounts in Dubai, anybody doing international business has accounts in Dubai.

SCARBOROUGH:  Jack, hold on Jack, I‘ve got to stop you there, because the U-A-E was actually funding the terror.  I mean, the U-A-E military Jack actually paid one of the 9/11 pilots, according to the 9/11 commission, this is what they said, “The terrorist who flew a jet into the south tower of the world trade center was being paid by the U-A-E military which was sponsoring his studies in Germany.  

BURKMAN:  You have to look at the situation in the totality.  The company in question, there is not one substance of allegation against the company.  There‘s a British interest in it, it is a fine company.  

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on Jack. You and I both know that, that company is nothing more than an extension of the U-A-E.  That‘s one of my biggest problems.  That‘s why (inaudible) China also, because a company in China is having a connection with their companies.

BURKMAN:  I am just amazed to hear someone like Barbara Boxer, who has fought racial discrimination against Arabs, now come on and say, with no evidence other than this is just part of the Arab world, that they should be shot down. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Come on Jack. 

BURKMAN:  It‘s exactly that.

SCARBOROUGH:  We‘re going to continue this when we come back, I cannot believe Jack that you are playing the race card tonight.  I just said, I wouldn‘t want China running these ports, I don‘t want the United Arab Emirates running this port, we‘ll be right back with the rest of our panel when Scarborough Country continues.

Is American security for sale?  Well some are saying so.  Let‘s bring in Karen Hanretty, California political strategist.  Karen, you and I both supported the president in 2004 you and I believe both disagree with him.  Doesn‘t this make the Republican Party look terrible? 

KAREN HANRETTY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Yes.  I‘ll tell you a couple of things.  First, the American people don‘t have confidence in congress.  So this talking point about trust me I‘m with the government is really insulting to the sensibilities of ordinary Americans and people who know better.  Secondly, the administration, because I think this is perhaps the single biggest public relations gaff of this administration so far, has just handed the democratic party a political issue that they can run on for the 2006 elections. 

What do the democrats, what‘s their weakest point, national security, what do you have today, Barbara Boxer running to the right of President Bush on national security.  No more talking about why this is good for some company in the U-A-E.  The president needs to come out, tell America why this is good for America.  

SCARBOROUGH:  Well he just did Karen. 

BURKMAN:  It‘s not about, you missed the point.  The president‘s doing this because he believes its right, that‘s why the president‘s doing this.  He‘s not playing politics he‘s not playing public relations.  

SCARBOROUGH:  How do you know that Jack, did you talk to the president today?  

BURKMAN:  I didn‘t speak to him today, but I‘ve spoken to him a number of times and I can tell you on each occasion he stays the course Joe, always.  And I will make a prediction he‘ll stay the course on this.

HANRETTY:  Well then maybe he should talk to the American people and not just you.

BURKMAN:  The president is not asking for trust, what he‘s asking the nation to do is look at the facts.  The reality is the U-A-E is a strong ally of the United States.  It‘s been an excellent ally in the war on terror, it‘s been an ally of our country for many years, many, many years.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Let me bring in Flavia Colgan.  Flavia, Jack seems to be making my point here, republicans in my opinion have a blind—You know we‘ve always talked about Flavia how democrats have a blind spot when it comes to faith in middle America, they have a blind spot when it comes to national security.  I think republicans have a blind spot when it comes to oil and money.  Is this another example of that?

FLAVIA COLGAN, MSNBC ANALYST:  There‘s no question, I mean obviously from a P-R or political standpoint, this is romper room.  I mean, Lawrence calling it tone deaf essentially.  But let‘s go back to the facts of the issue.  I think there are so many problems with this particular decision which is why there is this big firestorm.  One, the coziness and the pattern in history of the Bush administration awarding lucrative contracts and so forth, out of personal friendships like Senator Boxer pointing to Snow, pointing to David --  you know these people, these connections, that‘s number one.

Number two, the point that you just brought up in terms of the coziness with oil rich companies.  Having the Saudi ambassador, you know, calling him nicknames inside The White House, showing him the Iraq plan -- 

BURKMAN:  But Flavia, that has nothing to do with this issue, this is about port security.  

COLGAN:  Jack, Jack, I let you speak while you shamelessly used the race card which is a complete joke, so just let me finish what I‘m saying.  That‘s another part of the issue, again, this is a cumulative effect.  It‘s the part of the Bush administration, the pattern of the secrecy of not being forthcoming, of not talking to these governors, to congress, to tell them, heads up on something that would obviously be so sensitive.  It brings up another weak point for the republicans in terms of port security of less than five percent of these container ships being checked.

And I think bush and The White House would be smart to have come out today and instead of playing this cowboy, my way or the highway or as Jack would put it, staying the course, they should have said, number one, here is the reason we didn‘t do the 45 day period, which as Brad mentioned, in the 1993 congressional issue --  

SCARBOROUGH:  Flavia, let me stop you here, because I want to go to Karen and I want to ask her that, why did the president come out the way he did today?  I‘ve got to tell you it shocked me Karen.  I mean how does that help the Republican Party, how does that help the country?

HANRETTY:  I‘m sorry, you know the Bush administration needs to come

out and explain to the, again, explain to the American people why is this

good for Americans.  Is this good for the economy?  And not simply come

out, you know the president had a couple of statements today which I find 

I don‘t know if they are naive or offensive but he insinuated that  people are opposing this transaction  because these are Arabs, because these are non-white people.  He compared, he said you know if this was Great Britain no one would be questioning it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  He‘s right.

HANRETTY:  Last time I checked, Great Britain didn‘t blow anyone up.  And you know what this notion that we cannot scrutinize countries in the Middle East who do have ties to terrorism.  And then people who go around playing the race card.  That is absolutely shameful.  And I‘ve got to tell you, I‘ve never been offended on the behalf of Barbara Boxer, but I am tonight.  I thought that was absolutely shameful.  And you know what, the president was insinuating the same thing that people are questioning this because these are Arab countries, that is absolutely not the case.

SCARBOROUGH : That is so ridiculous.  

HANRETTY:  It has nothing to do with their race or their ethnicity. 

It has everything to do with the politics in the Middle East right now. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Karen, you‘re exactly right, Karen.  And it is absolutely shameless that they‘re suggesting if we‘re against this deal we‘re against Arabs, give me a break.  I want my panel to sit tight because I want to bring in right now somebody talking about who‘s taking over this port.  We‘re talking to Congressional Quarterly‘s Homeland Security Correspondent Caitlin Harrington.  Caitlin, talk about this company that‘s taking over these ports and the connection that it has with the actual government, the United Arab Emirates.  

CAITLIN HARRINGTON, CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY:  Well I think that there is actually a very distinct connection in this case.  When you actually talk about Dubai Ports World versus some of the other foreign companies that own U.S. ports.  Or excuse me, terminals that are based at U.S. ports.  It‘s actually quite common for foreign companies to own port facilities in the United States. 

In fact, Dubai ports world wouldn‘t even be the first state owned company to own a U.S. terminal.  A company called Neptune Oriental purchased American President Lines several years back and Neptune Oriental is completely owned by the Singapore government.  And they now own a port in Los Angeles. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So Singapore now owns a port in Los Angeles and again here though the U-A-E is so closely tied with this company it basically will be like the government of U-A-E owning these six ports, right? 

HARRINGTON:  Yes.  This is yet another example of a state owned company owning U.S. port facilities.  And that‘s where I think the difference is here.  When you talk about British companies that own port facilities in the United States and you know other nations, those companies are privately held.  But in the case of Dubai Port World, what you‘re talking about is a company that‘s actually owned by the United Arab Emirates government.  

SCARBOROUGH:  Caitlin, stay right there because that‘s a great point.  I‘m going to bring in Congressman Mark Foley to talk about that.  Mark, that seems to me like it‘ll be one of the bigger problems here.  We‘re not talking about a British company that is a private company.  We are talking about basically an extension. 

You remember back when I think the shipping company was COSTCO, that the Chinese government owned and they were trying to come into the United States and buy some of our shipping   companies.  We had concerns about that.  Again, not because we didn‘t like Asians, just like here it‘s not that we don‘t like Arabs.  We don‘t like governments owning our ports.  So what‘s congress going to do to stop this?

REP. MARK FOLEY, ® FLORIDA:  Well I think you heard from a lot of members of congress who are out ranged by this transaction.  We are not being given any details.  The idea that this is a secret, private transaction smacks of a problem to me.  It has nothing to do with the fact that they are Arabs.  I would have objections as you mention to any other nation controlling these ports.  

SCARBOROUGH:  Mark I have to stop you there for a second, because we had Brad Blakeman who worked in the Bush administration saying it‘s congress‘ fault because congress set this process up, that basically makes it secret.  If that‘s the case, maybe you think you should take that power back? 

FOLEY:  Without question.  In fact, I raised that the other day at the Ways and Means Committee.  The president also, I might add, has the power under Exxon (inaudible) to veto this transaction.  The committee can recommend it, but the president, empowered by congress, can say no to it.  He seems to be on a collision course with us on this topic.  He says he‘ll veto this bill if we send one to him.  He‘s chosen the absolute worst political issue to threaten a veto with. 

I‘ll tell you what, I think we could get 350 members of the house and 80 plus senators to go ahead and override.  So I think we‘re setting ourselves up for a difficult time.  All I want them to do is explain this full transaction, give us the merits of the debate, tell us what the security profiles are, then we can better judge whether this merits -- 

BURKMAN:  The idea Joe that Mark would not be saying any of this if this were the Australian government or the New Zealand government or the British government, this would not have made page 18 in the newspaper --  

SCARBOROUGH:  Jack I have to stop you there.  Hold on Jack, that‘s a red herring, because if it were an Australian company, the Australian government wouldn‘t own it.  If it were a British company, the British government wouldn‘t own it.  We are turning over six of our ports to U-A-E basically, because you look at the board members of this company, they‘re directly connected with the government, and you know it Jack. 

BURKMAN:  But that‘s not the issue—that‘s not the issue that has you and the congress complaining.

SCARBOROUGH:  I don‘t want the U-A-E to own six of my ports in America, do you?  

BURKMAN:  It is not government ownership that has you inflamed it is the Mid-east that has you enflamed.  It‘s the fact that it‘s the U-A-E.  Look, people are throwing around all of these conspiracy theories.  I listened to Barbara Boxer, I listened to Flavia.  The only allegation against John Snow with all this talk of coziness, is that he was chairman of C-S-X.  And C-S-X happened to make an acquisition that has some tangential relation to this.  And based on that, people extrapolated and infer that somehow there is coziness between the U-A-E and the Bush administration.  

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey Lawrence O‘Donnell, I need to bring you in here.  We‘ve got to go to a hard break in a few seconds, but I‘m going to carry this over to the next block.  Quickly, why do you think the president made this mistake today?

I think it was a huge political mistake.  Why did he make it?

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, Joe, I think he was very badly advised.  And

what Mark Foley shows, is this is not a republican problem.  This is

strictly a White House problem.  Bill Frist is leading the opposition to

this in the senate.  The republicans are going to revolt against the

president on this 

SCARBOROUGH:  I think you‘re exactly right.  You all stay with me, we‘re going to be right back with our entire all star panel.  We‘ve got a lot more to talk about when “Scarborough Country” returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  You‘re looking at the new port director for New York City.  Oh, wait a second.  It‘s “American Idol.”

We‘ll going to be talking about the new mean season on “American Idol” when Scarborough Country returns.

But first, here‘s the latest news you and your family needs to know. 

That wasn‘t the port director.  It‘s so confusing.

(NEWSBREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  We‘re back with our all-star panel.  I want to go back to Lawrence O‘Donnell.

You know, Lawrence, last year, I spent the entire year bringing you on this show and we talked about how stupid John Kerry was from time to time.  I would talk about politically tone-deaf decisions that he would make.  And I would explain what‘s wrong with the Democratic Party.

I want you, as a Democrat, to explain to me why we Republicans seem to have a blind spot when it comes to Arab countries that have lots of oil, like Saudi Arabia, and like the United Arab Emirates?  What‘s the blind Republican Party‘s blind spot?  What‘s the president‘s blind spot to make him make decisions that the majority of Americans object to?

O‘DONNELL:  Joe, I think the White House has this blind spot.  I think Mark Foley and other members of Congress are going to show you that Republicans don‘t have this blind spot.

Bill Frist doesn‘t have it.  Bill Frist is adamantly opposed to this. 

He‘s joining Hillary Clinton in opposition to this in the Senate.

I think what happened with the president today is that he was advised by Snow and by the other members of the cabinet, the commerce secretary, who were involved in this decision, to get out there immediately and issue a veto threat—immediately—to shut up people like Mark and to keep the congressmen quiet and to keep the Senate quiet about this.

It did not work.  It‘s animating the Senate and the House even more than they would be if Bush had not issued a veto threat today.

SCARBOROUGH:  Mark Foley...

O‘DONNELL:  It was a very badly advised veto.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... have you talked to any of your people—Mark, have you talk to any fellow Congressmen or Senators who say, “You know what, I want to get out front and fight with the president on this one to turn our ports over to the UAE.”?

FOLEY:  Well, first, thank you Larry for your commentary.

But, yes, I‘ve talked to several of our colleagues.  They‘re just concerned.  They want to get answers to these questions.

Yesterday, or this morning, when I talked to NPR, the person interviewing me said she heard about this problem from fellow-mothers on a little league team.  So they‘re talking about it everywhere.

That‘s what surprises me, that the president wouldn‘t step back and say, “Let me review this a little bit more closely.”  I can‘t invest as an American citizen...

BURKMAN:   But my question is, I wonder what Mark and—I‘m just curious about what Mark and Lawrence are advocating.  Are they suggesting that the president should play politics with national security? 

If George Bush sat down and really believed in the interest of the security of the ports and the interest of the people of the United States and the interest in Homeland Security, that this was the best company and the best decision, are we suggesting tonight that should be overturned for reasons of public relations?

SCARBOROUGH:  But, Jack, we don‘t know that and I—you know what, I want to bring in Brad here.

Because, Brad, my biggest problem with it, and a lot of American‘s biggest problem with this, is the fact that this decision is made in secret.

How do we—I bet the president didn‘t even look at this plan until it hit the papers.

BLAKEMAN:  Look, the president, as Dan Bartlett said today, became aware of this a few days ago.  But that‘s not going to change his mind.

He made the proper phone calls to his cabinet members and his senior staff, who were in on this decision, who investigated.  And the president is very comfortable with the decision.  And if he wasn‘t comfortable with it, President Bush is a principled person; he would have changed his decision.

But the point of the matter is the president followed the law as Congress dictated.  The president is charged with our national security interests.  He made a national security decision.  It was the right decision.

Everybody is saying this is about security.  It‘s about commerce. 

This is a logistics company that operates throughout the world.

It‘s going to be up to the United States of America and our government to provide for its security, not the Dubai company, who‘s nothing more than a logistics company that does a very good job at moving freight around. 

It‘s up to us, the Coast Guard, Homeland, the treasury, customs, that whole entity to guard our ports, not the Dubai company.

SCARBOROUGH:  But we‘re allowing them the—we‘re allowing them an entry into our ports, some of our most important ports.

And Flavia...

COLGAN:  Well, Brad—Brad...

SCARBOROUGH:  ... Brad seems to make—hold on a second.  Brad seems to make my point for me, which is the problem, sometimes, with my part is that commerce—well, of course Bill Clinton did this all the time—but commerce seems to trump national security concerns.  And it looks like its happening in here.

BLAKEMAN:  Hey, wait a second, Joe.  Joe?  Joe?  That is so far from the truth.

This president, after 9/11 -- God forbid if Gore were president—what did this president do?  The largest reorganization in history; he created the Homeland Security Department. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Listen, you and I—you and I both know that port security has suffered over the past three or four years.  I support this president the majority of the time.  I think he‘s been great on national security.  But he‘s been terrible on ports.  And I think this is the worst decision that he could possibly make right now.

I do not trust a company with connections to 9/11 to be running six of our most important ports.  And New York‘s city port, for God‘s sake, you‘re talking about political tone deafness.  It makes no sense to me at all Brad.

BURKMAN:  Joe?  Joe?  Joe?

COLGAN:  Joe, I want to address was Brad keeps—Brad keeps brining up the fact that the president is following the law.

Well, the president has the opportunity to follow the law again.  He has until March 3 to follow another aspect of the law, which is to have a 45-day investigative period into any company that is owned by a foreign country.  Which, again, that‘s one of the most disconcerting aspects of this story.  That this company...

BRAD:  Joe, I...

COLGAN:  ... excuse me—that this company is state-owned.  And think when Jack Burkman says that this is all about—you know, that this is playing politics and so forth, I think that Joe‘s point, which is the same as Tom Ridge‘s point today, is that we need more transparency.

And there‘s nothing wrong.  No one‘s saying definitively that this...

BURKMAN:  If Bush—you know, poor George Bush.

COLGAN:  ... is not a right move.

Jack, excuse me.

BURKMAN:  Poor George Bush can‘t win.

COLGAN:    Jack, try to be a gentleman and allow people to finish, please.

What we need is transparency and there‘s nothing wrong in terms of politically, but also in terms of national security, for the president to come forward and explaining why he feels this decision is consistent with national security.  Explain what precautions they took.  Explain the decision process.

Why he has to get out in front and take the tact that he did, which is basically, “Look, trust me.”  I mean, Brad is dead wrong.  That is not what makes this country great.  Debate is what makes this country great.  Checks and balances is what makes this country great.

And the president is handling this very poorly from a political standpoint, from a PR standpoint and, I think, potentially from a national security standpoint.

But, we don‘t know that.

SCARBOROUGH:  The last thing I want, Flavia, is for a politician to come to me...

COLGAN:  The fact is we don‘t know information.

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, you‘re right, Flavia.  And the last thing I want to hear from a politician is “trust me,” especially when you‘re talking about national security.

And, Mark Foley, I need a prediction from you.  If the president vetoes this bill, what‘s your gut right now?  Will Congress override that veto and keep these six ports out of the hands of UAE?

FOLEY:  In my view, it‘s an override.  The speaker has to send a letter.  Bill Frist sent a letter, Lindsey Graham.  We‘ve all been talking to this White House, urging them to go slow and give us the facts.

One other point I want to make, look at what little we can invest in United Arab Emirates.  We‘re limited, American companies, American citizens, to one time zone where we can own no more than 49 percent of asset, stock or property in the United Arab Emirates.

So we‘re restricted on our side of the table from entertaining any financial transactions.  Yet, we‘re willing to say to them, “Oh, go ahead and buy six strategic ports”?  Sorry.  Bad idea.

SCARBOROUGH:  OK, Mark Foley.

Congressman Mark Foley, from Florida, thank you as always for being with us.

And that‘s the prediction.  You heard it from Congressman Foley.  He usually gets it right.  If the president vetoes this bill, it will be overridden.

Thanks so much for the panel.  What a great panel.  And it‘s great to have Lawrence O‘Donnell back.  I always love having him on this show.

Coming up next, “American Idol‘s” ratings are through the roof.  But are the contestants any good?  Well, Judge Simon Cowell says no and he‘s trashing this year‘s “American Idols.”

Plus, find out what city hopes it can turn what Fido leaves behind into energy?  I don‘t think I want to see that segment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Welcome back to “Scarborough Country.”

Does this season‘s “American Idol” contestants have real talent?  Or are they just being judged too harshly by Simon Cowell?

In a recent “New York Post” interview, Cowell said, quote, “You‘re not going to find 12 amazing singers this year, but you‘re going to get 12 characters, I‘m sure of that.  It‘s a real sort of chocolate box of talent, or lack thereof.”

And, you know, Simon‘s been going around all week basically saying, “Yes, we might have one or two good American idols left, but that‘s about it.”

I want to bring in an all-star panel now to talk about “American Idol.”

We‘ve got former Idol contestant Carmen Rasmusen.  We have “Time” magazine senior editor Belinda Luscombe.  And we also have Katrina Szish from “US Weekly.”

Carmen, let me bring you in here.  Sounds like Simon‘s going around trashing the contestants this year.  What‘s going on?

CARMEN RASMUSEN, FORMER “AMERICAN IDOL” CONTESTANT:  You know what, I think that it‘s too early in the competition to be saying, “Oh, this person‘s amazing, this person‘s not,” because this whole competition is about kind of evolving to becoming who you really are.

These contestants need time to get used to how “American Idol” works, what it‘s all like and performing in front a TV audience, three judges and the audience, you know, across America.  And it‘s really difficulty to bring it every week and to learn how to perform in front of a camera.

So I think that there are a lot of amazing singers.  And I think that they just need time to kind of evolve into who they really are.

SCARBOROUGH:  Katrina, what‘s going on here?  Simon‘s sitting on top of one of the biggest franchises in recent TV entertainment history.  Why is it that he seems embarrassed to be affiliated with “American Idol” this year?

KATRINA SZISH, “US WEEKLY”:  Well, one thing about Simon that I have to say is, even though things he says are very harsh and sometimes not said in the nicest of ways, he does tend to be right on with all of his comments.

And so this year, I have to say, as a viewer watching the show, I have been more disappointed by the talent this year.  I feel like there are a lot more people there who are really just looking for their five minutes of fame.  And they‘re aren‘t as many talented singers out there.  Now, this is just as an audience member.

SCARBOROUGH:  So you agree, Katrina, that this year it‘s more about personality, more about character, than it is about talent?

SZISH:  From what I‘ve seen so far, I think Simon is right on.

SCARBOROUGH:  Belinda, let me bring you in.  What do you think about Simon‘s basically apology tour this week, going on the air and saying, “Hey, you know what...

BELINDA LUSCOMBE, SENIOR EDITOR, “TIME” MAGAZINE:  Oh, please.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... you‘re going to enjoy the show.  You‘re just not going to see a lot of talent.

LUSCOMBE:  Oh, please.  I mean, if there‘s no talent there, whose fault is that? It‘s Simons.  I mean, he chose them.  He was there when they were selected.  So I think he‘s just doing a big, you know, marketing gimmick to get us to watch more.

Because he knows that it‘s more fun to watch who are struggling, who are a little bit pitchy, who have more personality and are going to have fights back stage than it is to watch great singers.

I mean, if we wanted to watch people at the top of their game, the best people in the world, then we‘d all be watching the Olympics.  And we‘re not.  “American Idol” is...

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, you made bosses at Thirty Rock very happy bringing that point up.

Well, Katrina, you know, it‘s very interesting.  When we had the opportunity to watch the Grammy‘s or “American Idol” a couple of weeks ago, instead of watching Madonna and U2 and all of these great stars, everybody watched lousy singers on “American Idol.”

So is it that we like train wreck TV?

SZISH:  I think we do like train wreck TV.  Except, I think, the unfortunate part about calling “American Idol” part of train wreck TV is the fact that that isn‘t really what it was all about when it first began.  I believe we were all genuinely excited a raw nugget of talent somewhere in our midst.

And I feel it has sort of devolved in a way and become a little more about these personalities or about bad singing or about train wrecks.  And I do feel that, perhaps, the franchise itself is not as impressive as it used to be.

SCARBOROUGH:  Carmen, do you agree with that?

RASMUSEN:  I disagree.  No.  I completely disagree.  I think that it is so early on in the competition, you can‘t judge someone from first impressions.

These people are just leaning, like I said, perform in front of the camera, perform in front of a live audience.  It‘s hard.  It was terrifying for me when I was on the show.

And they need time to sort of get comfortable with their surroundings, get comfortable with who they are, with the genres that are thrown them every week.  And I think that, as time goes by, they‘ll gain more and more confidence and then you‘ll be able to hear that more in their vocal performances.

I mean, Clay Aiken didn‘t even make the top 12 because people didn‘t think he was good enough.  He stood (ph) up and made it all the way to the top 2.

Kimberly Locke, same thing, was in the bottom three for three or four weeks in a row.  And then she finally got comfortable, started picking the right songs and made it all the way to the top three.  So I think that people can‘t judge right off.

SZISH:  But coming—right, but coming from...

SCARBOROUGH:  Ladies, stay with me.  We‘re going to have a lot more of this when we return in “Scarborough Country.”

Still around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:   Let‘s bring back our panel right now.

Katrina, you had wanted to say something in response to what Carmen suggested?

SZISH:  Yes, I did.

SCARBOROUGH:  Go ahead.

SZISH:  Thank you for noticing.  I just going to say that Carmen lived the “American Idol” experience in a very different way from the rest of us.  And I know, as someone who has been watching “American Idol” from the beginning days, from the early days, it‘s different to watch it now.

Clay Aiken used as example by Carmen, and I think he came out and the first time he opened his mouth, he was pure gold.  Yes, he did have to get comfortable with the cameras.  He did need to learn to perform in front of an audience.

But he had that raw talent.  And even as a viewer, who knows nothing about singing, we could see that.  And I feel that Clay‘s personality developed as we watched him as opposed to some of the contestants now, who come up and they‘re all personality and not much talent.  And I think that‘s what‘s going on.

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, but—but...

CARMEN:  I know from—I know from my own personal experience though.

SCARBOROUGH:  Let me ask Belinda really quickly here.

CARMEN:  OK.

SCARBOROUGH:  Belinda, when we get into the—I‘m sorry.  Belinda, when we get into this part where people are starting to vote, do you think the audience is going to trail off?  Because I do think they enjoy watching bad singers with a lot of personality.  And now that we‘re getting to some of the more talented people, do you think viewers may turn away?

LUSCOMBE:  History has shown that viewers do trail off towards the middle of “American Idol” and then come back for the finale.

But I don‘t understand the discussion, really.  Because, I mean, pop stars are not always the most talented people.  A lot of them have huge personalities and that‘s half the charm.

If it was just great singers then we‘d all be worshiping, like Beverly Sills or someone.

SZISH:  But it‘s half the charm.  There also has to be that element of talent.

LUSCOMBE:  Obviously.  I mean, but you know, it‘s more fun to watch people with big personalities.  And that‘s why they cast it that way.  It‘s not like they chose the best singers.  They cast it like any reality show.   And they‘re getting what they want.

RASMUSEN:  Well, let me just say, from personal experience, that I know that you need to develop over time.  And I was not even chosen to be in the top 32.  And I performed as a wild card, did not do my best, Simon said, “You‘re awful.  You won‘t make it.”  Ended up picking me the next night and I made it all the way to the top six.

And I know that my voice changed and progressed and got better over time.  And I eventually, you know, ended up recording an album.  So I know, from personal experience, that you can get better over time, as you become more comfortable with yourself.

SZISH:  But, Carmen, I remember—I remember...

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I mean...

SZISH:  Sorry.

SCARBOROUGH:  I guess that means there‘s hope for all of us then, Carmen.

We‘ve got to go.

Thank you, Carmen.

Thank you, Belinda.

RASMUSEN:  Thank you.

SCARBOROUGH:  And thank you, Katrina.

SZISH:  Thank you, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  I always appreciate you coming on.

And we‘ll be right back in “Scarborough Country.”

And don‘t forget the “Situation with Tucker Carlson.”  Perhaps, the greatest new show every produced, it‘s just minutes away.  Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  And finally tonight, we head to San Francisco, California.

Did you ever get the bright idea that you dog‘s poo could be used to heat your home?

Well, friends, if you‘re anything like me, of course, you have.  And you‘ve thought about it often.

Well, so too have the good people of San Francisco, this city by the bay.  It‘s become the first in the country to consider using animal waste to power things like gas stoves and homes.

The waste would be collected in bins, placed in public parks and then converted into methane gas.

And whoever said our friends in San Francisco were loopy.  Good luck with that one, San Francisco.  And stay classy, San Francisco.

That‘s all the time we have for tonight.

Speaking of classy, I‘m going to go to my friend with the British smoking jacket on and bow tie, Tucker Carlson.  It starts right now.

And, Tucker, I‘m not going to ask you what the situation is tonight. 

I‘m going to ask you where the heck is the situation tonight?

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

END   

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