updated 3/7/2006 8:52:33 PM ET 2006-03-08T01:52:33

House Republican leaders on Tuesday embraced legislation that would block a Dubai-owned company from taking over operations at several U.S. ports, brushing aside a veto threat from President Bush.

“We believe that the U.S. should not allow a government-run company to operate American ports,” said Ron Bonjean, a spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

The legislation is expected to reach the House floor next week as part of a $91 billion measure for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and aid for Gulf Coast states recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

GOP House leaders informed the White House staff of their intentions Tuesday.

The push reflects election-year unease among the Republican rank-and-file about a company run by a foreign government managing American ports. Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates, controls the company.

“This is a very big political problem,” House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said. “I have seen it in my district. I have seen it every place I have been.”

Measure to be attached to spending bill
Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he would attach the ports legislation to the spending bill Wednesday to address the concerns of lawmakers and their constituents.

Officials say it would explicitly block DP World from assuming control of terminals at six U.S. ports.

The legislation sets up a confrontation with the president, who wants the money for Katrina aid and the wars but has threatened to veto any measure that would block or delay DP World’s takeover.

“The president’s position is unchanged,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Tuesday.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress have spent weeks criticizing the Bush administration for approving DP World’s purchase of London-based Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co., which holds contracts at several U.S. ports.

Criticism endures
The administration last month reluctantly agreed to do a broader investigation into potential security risks of DP World’s plans in hopes of stunting a potential revolt by members of Bush’s party. Republican congressional leaders were mindful that a vote could embarrass the president and further weaken him at a low point in his presidency.

But criticism has persisted, particularly in the House.

In an unusual break from the administration, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, pledged to block the deal and introduced his own legislation to that effect Tuesday.

Meanwhile, another leading House GOP critic of the takeover, Rep. Peter King of New York, has suggested that DP World could soften the controversy by subcontracting its U.S. port operations to an American company and, thereby, having no role in work at the ports.

“This is the only way I can see that would possibly satisfy all legitimate concerns about security and diplomacy,” said King, who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Michael Moore, DP World’s senior vice president, said the company has not discussed such a scenario with administration officials or lawmakers.

But DP World’s chairman, Sultan Bin Sulayem, said in an interview on CNN’s “The Situation Room,” “We are appreciating that initiative.” He did not rule out King’s proposal, but he did not say the company was considering it either.

The chairman said he believes public sentiment will change when no security problems are flagged during the 45-day investigation.

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