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Bipartisan legislation tries to cut ports deal

President Bush continues to support the Dubai Ports World deal with a threat to veto opposing bipartisan legislation. Hardball's David Shuster takes a look at the politics of the port deal.

As the president toured the Gulf Coast today, it became painfully apparent to his White House staff that after weeks of fighting for the Dubai ports deal, President Bush is headed towards a huge defeat.  In Washington today, House Republicans agreed to vote on a measure that will kill the deal and the vote will come as early as next week. 

House Speaker, Representative Dennis Hastert (R-IL) said, “We have a port deal and we'll continue to do our best judgment on how to protect the American people.  Thank you very much."

The Congressional move rejected the optimism at the White House, where just yesterday spokesman Scott McClellan thought Congress would wait for a 45-day review. 

McClellan commented, “There have been ongoing discussions, as you can imagine, between the company and Congressional leaders.  We've been involved in those discussions.”

And just last week, President Bush praised the ongoing 45-day review as an opportunity to convince Congress the deal should be approved. 

The President said, “If there was any doubt in my mind or people if my administration's mind that our ports would be less secure and the American people in danger, this deal wouldn't go forward.”

But the American people are still against letting an Arab country run U.S. ports.  The latest polls show that 70 percent oppose the Dubai transaction.  And Democrats have seized on the opportunity to outflank the president and his party on national security.  Tennessee Democrat Harold Ford, running for the U.S. Senate, is using the issue in a television ad. 

In the ad, Ford said, “President Bush wants to sell this port and five others to the United Arab Emirates, a country that had diplomatic ties with the Taliban, the home of two 9/11 hijackers, whose banks wired money to the terrorists.  I'm running for the Senate because we shouldn't outsource our national security to anyone."

And Democrats running for reelection in the House are slamming the president every day. 

Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) said, “We cannot afford to outsource our homeland security and that's exactly what the Bush administration wants to do with the United Arab Emirates."

The decision by the House Republican leadership to vote against the deal as early as next week sets up one of the biggest Republican Party clashes in a decade.  The president, who hasn't vetoed a single measure since taking office, has promised to veto any bill that would block of the port transaction, but some Republicans say they have the votes to override his veto. 

For the Republican Party, which has touted its unity during the Bush presidency, the fight over the port deal threatens to weaken the president's leadership at home and abroad, and Republican advisors have publicly urged the president to prevent this head-on collision. 

Republican Strategist, Ed Rogers commented, “ You can't let this deal go down, but you've got—more of the same is undesirable.  You have got to get with Hastert, you've got to get with Frist, you've got to get them confident, you've got to get them on board with something different.  There has got to be something new in the mix here.  More of the same won't work.”

But there is nothing new and the Dubai port deal remains the confrontation it was when the story first broke. 

Despite the backlash, polls still show President Bush has majority approval on fighting terrorism, but Democrats see blood in the water, an opportunity to stagger President Bush where he is the strongest and a chance to use the Republican in-fighting to shape the political battlefield heading into the fall elections.