Video: Republicans Against Bush
updated 2/23/2006 2:37:04 PM ET 2006-02-23T19:37:04

Members of the Republican party are starting to express their anger concerning President Bush’s role in the sale of U.S. ports to an Arab run company.  Major U.S. port cities and American lives find themselves facing new risks.

Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, joined Chris Matthews on ‘Hardball’ to speak about his involvement in the port fight.

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, ‘HARDBALL’:  Senator, we just heard from Jay Ahern, a top official at U.S. Customs who says it is U.S. Customs that checks on the content of these big containers that come into the country, not the company that is the stevedore? 

SEN. RICK SANTORUM ®, PENNSYLVANIA:  Well, that's right.  And I don't think anyone has claimed—at least I haven't—that the security at ports is under the operation of the stevedore.  But, in fact, the stevedore does load and off load and does contract with folks to carry this cargo.   

And so there is a concern as to what is going to be going in this and who these people are that are going to be doing this activity.  And I think it's a legitimate thing for us to look at given the nature of the country involved. 

MATTHEWS:  Worst case scenario, Senator? 

SANTORUM:  Well, the worst case scenario is I think what everyone fierce is that something is loaded onto a ship and is not caught or screened by the Coast Guard folks or the folks at Homeland Security.  You heard that they can only inspect, I think they said, roughly five percent of the material that's coming through. 

MATTHEWS:  That's right.

SANTORUM:  And so, you know, the worst case scenario is that you have got to trust 95 percent to folks who are hopefully doing things in good faith when they are moving things into this country. 

And, look, what I'm looking for, and—the people of Philadelphia and the Port of Philadelphia contacted me early last week, expressed concern about this when they heard about this transaction and asked me to look into it. 

I did, and I really didn't feel that the review that was done—at least from everything I was told—was adequate enough to ensure that this company and that this transaction was really vetted thoroughly from a national security point of view, and that was my concern and that's why I wrote the letter. 

MATTHEWS:  Michael Chertoff, the secretary of Homeland Security, says that there are guarantees in place which will protect U.S. security in this deal with the United Arab Emirates company.  What's your problem?  You don't trust Chertoff?  You don't trust the president who's backing him up? 

SANTORUM:  Well, again, everything that I have been able to find out and the review that I did—and again, you know, this was in response to the situation in Philadelphia—was that there had not been the kind of rigorous review that was necessary, A; and, B, I mean you know, as you said, I'm a supporter of the administration. 

This is a situation where the administration, I think, should have known that once this became an issue or this became public and that there could be problems associated with this transaction and public concern, I think they should have gone to the extra extent beyond the CFIUS, which is the board that actually reviewed this—beyond that to do a little bit more when it came to looking at the judiciousness of this transaction. 

MATTHEWS:  We just had Michael Smerconish or Philadelphia on last night—he's a very popular talk show host and highly outrageous at times.  He says his problem is they are Arabs.  Would you have the same complaint about this letting of this contract or allowing this takeover to occur of the British Company by the Emirates company if it were Dutch, or German or Belgian?

SANTORUM:  Well, the problem is not that they are Arabs.  The problem is that the UAE has had a mixed past with respect to, you know, the war on terror.  And so any country, whether they were Arab or there was a country that also had—you know, we also had problems with, with respect to the involvement as the UAE did with the events of 9/11, I would be concerned about any of those countries being involved in commerce, particularly at our ports. 

I mean, I think what you heard from your previous guests was that while we have made improvements in support security, it probably is our still most vulnerable area.  And so I think many of us believe that we have to be a little more cautious in this area then we would be certainly with other areas of transport. 

And by the way, I mean, the UAE does business on a lot of fronts in the United States of America, which I certainly don't and I think most Americans don't have a problem with.  It's the particular concern about our vulnerability to the ports that has raised this issue. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you have any problem with former members of Congress, Republicans as well as Democrats, senators like Senator Bob Dole defending the Dubai deal for money, in other words, lobbying for foreign governments so that they can do something that you guys—I shouldn't be disrespectful as members of the Senate and the Congress are saying is a danger to America?  Are you happy to see former colleagues getting paid to take the other side of an argument that you say endangers the United States? 

SANTORUM:  Well, I mean, the president says it doesn't.  So I mean, there are two points of view here and I respect, as I do on every issue, I respect people's right to argue that and to put forth evidence. 

And look, I come at this with saying that I think this is a problem and that we need to do something about it.  You know, I would support a cooling off period here for a period of days, you know, maybe a couple of months for us to take a more intense look at this, maybe have the Congress commission some folks to look at this more thoroughly. 

I'm not saying that this is a transaction that—you can't prove it to me that it's not going to be safe, but right now, you certainly have not. 

Watch 'Hardball' each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC. 

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