The House Appropriations Committee voted today, 62-2, to attach a provision to a “must-pass” appropriations bill that would bar DP World from taking over control of any port facilities. (I haven’t seen the language, and press reports are vague, but I gather this is what it says.)
This is a mistake, I think, in both policy and political terms. I’ve seen no evidence that operation of port terminals by DP World would create any security issues, or, for that matter, bring about any change in the manner in which the facilities are run, or the identity of the people running them. Politically, it appears that many Republicans are nervous about November’s election and anxious to put some distance between themselves and President Bush. This strikes me as a foolish calculation; surely the Republicans will be better off if they stick together. The headlines generated by this kind of party split–the ports issue is almost entirely symbolic, and is all about headlines–will do more to hurt Republican Congressional candidates than help them, I think.
There is no doubt that concern bordering on panic is widespread within the party. The Evans-Novak report writes:
All the evidence suggests that the Bush Administration now has an all-out rebellion on its hands from the GOP Congress. This is not isolated in any single issue, such as the ports deal, but in fact extends to that and numerous other issues as well. Republican congressmen are tired of being bullied and ignored by a heavy-handed executive, and they are playing hardball with their President. Given his unpopularity, many of them find it useful to distance themselves from Bush anyway.
In short, Bush has little leverage left within his own party, and his transformation to lame-duck status is all but complete. On all sides, conservative Republicans are working against him.
That’s hyperbolic, of course. Actually, Novak isn’t that pessimistic about Republican prospects in November:
Since everyone — including panicky GOP congressmen — seems to be talking about a “probable” Democratic takeover of the House, we thought it would be appropriate to lay out the precise scenario in which this could happen. What follows is an account of the GOP’s doomsday scenerio, which would result in a Democratic majority with 218 to 220 seats (a one to five-seat margin).
Novak proceeds to identify the specific races the Democrats would have to win to regain the majority. He concludes:
This scenario represents a gross Democratic gain of 20 seats. If all of these dominoes fall, and Republicans can’t manage to pick up six Democratic seats, then Democrats will have netted 15-plus seats and a majority in the U.S. House for the first time since 1994. This is a possible, but unlikely scenario. We remain skeptical. We also discount Democrats’ talk of taking over seats they almost definitely won’t win, such as Mark Green’s seat in Wisconsin, Steve Chabot’s in Ohio, and Anne Northup’s in Kentucky.
I can’t comment on most of the key races that Democrats could win, but I was struck by the fact that Minnesota’s 6th District is on the list. I think a Democratic pick-up in the 6th, a good Republican district, is very unlikely. The Democrats will probably run the same unimpressive candidate who lost to Mark Kennedy in 2004, and the Republican candidate, in all probability, will be my friend Michele Bachmann. She is a brilliant woman and a dynamic campaigner. I don’t think the Republicans are going to lose this seat, and if there are many more similar races on the Democrats’ “must-win” list, the Republicans should get over their jitters and get back to the conservative agenda that got them elected in the first place.
SCOTT disagrees: I think Republican Senators and Congressmen justifiably fear the unpopularity of the DPW deal and the devastating use to which a vote in its favor could be put by their political opponents. I don’t have the knowledge necessary to evaluate the deal on the merits, but I think it is politically untenable.
JOHN adds one more thing: Note this quote from Republican Congressman Jerry Lewis (an unfortunate coincidence, I guess):
“This is a national security issue,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis, the chairman of the panel. The California Republican said the legislation would “keep America’s ports in American hands.”
This is bizarre on several levels. First, a number of port facilities are already owned by foreigners; nine, I believe, by Saudi companies. Would the legislation require those facilites to be sold to American companies, assuming there are any American buyers? Not as far as I know. Second, the facilities in question were already in foreign hands. They were being operated by a British company that was acquired by DP World. Surely Congressman Lewis knows these facts, so what on earth is he talking about? If they’re not careful, the Congressional Republicans will come across as just as out of touch as the Democrats.