Video: Senate Questions President's Port Deal

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updated 3/2/2006 12:24:24 PM ET 2006-03-02T17:24:24

The president is showing no signs of backing down from his approval of the Dubai Ports World deal for those six ports in America.

Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California sits on the Senate Commerce and Transportation Committee, as well as the Foreign Relations Committee.

She was at Tuesday's hearing in the Senate and joined Chris Matthews on ‘Hardball’ Wednesday to explain why she thinks that overall the deal is wrong for America. 

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’: Have you made up your mind on this sports deal overall looking at all of its features, do you believe it's something that you could not approve? 

SEN. BARBARA BOXER, (D) CALIFORNIA:  I could not approve it and I think it raises so many questions in a post 9/11 world.  If we want other countries running our ports.  I say no.  It's pretty simple.  Byron Dorgan, my colleague from North Dakota, said at that same hearing, he said we don't need 45 days to look at this or 45 minutes or 45 seconds.  The American people get this.  This is just the wrong thing to do and I'm stunned at the president's sense that he's going to veto whatever we come back with.  It just seems that he does have a tin ear on this one. 

MATTHEWS:  You used the word incompetent.  What's going wrong?  I know you're a Democrat and you look at it from that perspective, but what's going wrong as you see it from this administration over the last couple of months with this issue of Dubai, the ports, the Katrina problem, even the shooting by the vice-president, the Harriet Miers miscue, do you think there's a second rate operation at the White House, just in terms of competence, not ideology? 

BOXER:  That's a good question.  I just think there's a preoccupation with so many other things than the thing that's in front of you.  When you're preoccupied with making everything political and scoring points, when you're preoccupied with a disastrous war in Iraq, that's my view on it, and you're worried about that, when you're trying to please your base all the time, which is pretty radical. 

You're just missing what's in front of you, Chris.  I think all of these things, Katrina, the prescription drug plan, this particular deal here, these are big deals.  These are big issues.  They're important.  And I just don't think there's a concentration. 

You know, in my world of politics, I've always found the best way to deal with an issue is to come to a conclusion after you talk to all sides.  I've never been called by this administration, but that's OK, but there are many people that ought to be called from the Congress and I would say, in my final point on this is, there's also such a desire to seize the power, to not share the power, and Dick Cheney has said this. 

He said since Watergate, Congress has had too much power.  So you're constantly having this battle and it's very sad for the American people.  Good Lord, this is too important for us to be fighting about. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  It's different to be a senator, certainly is a much lower level to be a journalist like me.  I can make all kinds of comments.  You can criticize policy, but we just had Andrea Mitchell on, who really knows the foreign scene and she is non-partisan obviously and she said if we kill this deal with Dubai, there's going to be ramifications throughout the Arab world, something like the cartoon issue where we have humiliated them.  Are you worried about that consequence? 

BOXER:  I think she's really overstating it.  The point is I don't think there's an individual alive who wouldn't understand why America, post 9/11, would want to run its own ports and we're not doing this against Dubai.  We're saying at least those of us that are on this very important bill by Hillary Clinton and Bob Menendez, we're saying right now, let's just not have another country run our ports.  It's pretty simple and very straightforward. 

MATTHEWS: It's a deal we're breaking, isn't it?  The deal isn't something that has to be made, we've already made a deal to let the Dubai company run this and don't we have to interrupt this process and say no, sorry, we did sign the deal but it doesn't count.  Isn't that a humiliation to the Dubai government? 

BOXER:  Who is we?  This is what happened.  This committee sat around the table and no one knew about it.  Chertoff said he wasn't there, he's the head of Homeland Security.  Rumsfeld said he wasn't there, he's Secretary of Defense.  President Bush said he didn't know anything about it.  So you know, truly, we need to take a broader look at this. 

I think anyone with any common sense would say an important deal like this ought to have greater scrutiny.  And you know, diplomacy, Chris, takes place through the back channels, we all know that and we have a lot to work on with Dubai, but there's another issue here you didn't raise and of course that's the issue of the boycott of Israel. 

Now, recently America has really made great progress with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, using the back channels, using influence of America, human rights and such, to say please back off and you know what, we're making progress.  What kind of signal does it send to them if we let this deal go through? 

I mean, there's a lot of ramifications here but you know what, at the end of the day, let's do the right thing for our country.  That's what we need to do. 

MATTHEWS:  Here's the question though.  It's all a question of degree.  There's terrible Arab countries an Arab countries we can do business with, Egypt we have a huge foreign aids deal every year with Egypt, we have a good relationship with Jordan, we're trying to develop a better one with Libya, they're getting back in to the international oil business, where would you put Dubai on that. 

I understand your concern about the boycott, a lot of people are concerned about it, but you have countries like Kuwait that we liberated from Saddam Hussein, aren't they partners in this boycott?  Aren't they playing ball with that boycott as well?  Where do we draw the line and say this is not acceptable?

BOXER:  That's just one added reason to all the other reasons I talked about before.  You're asking me about Dubai and I think we have to be honest.

They certainly are working with us, at a government to government levels, but if you talk to terrorism experts, every one of them will tell you, it's still a transfer point for al Qaeda money, for personnel, it's still a place that a lot of people worry about.

And when I ask the question, you know, how many years did it take before we stopped Dr. Kahn from Pakistan, from smuggling nuclear components to Iran for goodness sakes, to North Korea, two of the countries the president puts on the axis of evil, those were smuggled through Dubai and the gentleman said, Bilkey—he said, well, we don't look at the containers. 

Now, you want to know the truth?  They're supposed to look at every container to see if there's locks that have been messed with or the container is somehow looking funny.  They're supposed to do that.  That was to me, such a brush off as if it's not important. 

It's important, Chris.  We're dealing with the nuclear ambitions of Iran today and North Korea because of what happened, the smuggling that took place through the Dubai ports.  So the American people, they're not dumb and look, it's about money and commerce versus security.  We have to have some kind of balance here and I put the people's security first.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Look, I have to ask you about something else because I know you, your record, you're a liberal, you care about human rights and things like that. 

Are you a little bit upset about sitting in the same boat as people like Michael Savage on this, people who raise this really as an ethnic issue, maybe people that think they have a right to raise this as an ethnic issue, people that use terrible terms in describing Arabs, who treat all Arabs the same way, like they're all the enemy? 

You know the radio talk stuff, you hear it and you get reports on it if you don't hear it in the car.  Are you comfortable being in the same boat with them on this issue, because they're just screaming bloody murder about this thing? 

BOXER:  Well look, Chris, of course, I don't want to be associated with that.  The fact of the matter is, I'm on a piece legislation that says no in the future, starting with this deal to any other country running our ports.  That's it.  It doesn't discriminate against anybody.

MATTHEWS:  Even if it's a European country? 

BOXER:  Yes, no foreign country should run our ports.  No foreign country.  I didn't say company, I said country. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, so you don't have a problem with the Long Beach situation with the COSCO and the Singapore situation and the mainland Chinese situation.

BOXER:  I think it ought to be relooked at.  Absolutely be looked at again, because Senator Feinstein and I had problems with that, that was pre-9/11, but we had problems, we got a letter from Bill Cohen and from Sandy Berger assuring us it was safe but I think that ought to be looked at. 

Sure, I have problems with it.  It ought to be looked at, but right now, I'm just saying, there are strange bedfellows in this business.  You've been in it a long time, you find yourself on the same side with people who you ordinarily don't agree with. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that is true.

BOXER:  You know, it's life in America today and it makes it interesting and odd, but you know, I am where I am and I have an opinion based on wanting to protect the people and I think it's a fair point of view and I think it's a common sense point of view. 

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

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