Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May/June 2006, pages 28-30

Congress Watch

Demagoguery Reigns, and Rains, in Both Houses of Congress

By Shirl McArthur

The seemingly innocuous commercial agreement for the Dubai-owned company Dubai Ports World (DPW) to purchase the British company Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co.—which would include, among other things, the contract to manage 24 container terminals at the ports of Baltimore, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Miami, and New Orleans, as well as lesser operations at 21 other U.S. ports—resulted in a shameful downpour of bills, resolutions, speeches and posturing in both the Senate and House of Representatives. The fact that the primary responsibility of the terminal operator is to transfer cargo from ships to and from railroad cars and trucks, while port security is the responsibility of the U.S. Coast Guard and the Customs and Border Protection, did not stem the bipartisan flood of xenophobia, bigotry, racism, ignorance and outright lies pouring from the halls of Congress. Democrats, led by New York Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, seized on the issue as an opportunity to challenge perceived Republican domination of the ”national security” issue, and Republicans sought to burnish their national security credentials while distancing themselves from an unpopular, lame-duck president.

The White House apparently was caught off guard by the onslaught. By the time President George W. Bush, other administration officials, Generals Tommy Franks and John Abizaid, and widespread press editorials and commentary, responded to strongly defend the deal, it was too late. Public ignorance and prejudices already had been inflamed by congressional and conservative talk-show demagoguery, as well as by other neocons with their own agenda. (See the previous issue of this magazine for an in-depth look at neocon Frank Gaffney, who reportedly launched the first attack against the deal in a Feb. 14 column in the Washington Times.) Finally, on March 9 DPW Chief Operating Officer Edward Bilkey, an American citizen, announced that it would sell its U.S. operations to an American company.

No fewer than 18 bills and resolutions relating to the deal were introduced between Feb. 27 and March 14. They fall into three broad categories, plus one, H.R. 4885, introduced by Rep. Shelley Berkley (R-NV). Ever mindful of her primary allegiance, it would prohibit mergers and acquisition of companies engaged in interstate commerce by any company controlled by any government participating in boycotts against “friendly” countries.

If foreigners start doubting the stability of their investments, it could be an economic disaster.

The most blatant of these measures were aimed specifically at scuttling the DPW deal. The one receiving the most attention was S. 2333, introduced by Schumer with 23 co-sponsors. Others in this category were S.J.Res. 32, introduced by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), with no co-sponsors; H.R. 4807, introduced by Rep. Peter King (R-NY), with 108 co-sponsors; S. 2341, introduced by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), with no co-sponsors; H.Res. 79, introduced by Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), and H.Res. 718, introduced by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), with two co-sponsors.

The next, slightly less blatant category would be those measures aimed at prohibiting “entities” owned or controlled by a foreign government from conducting operations at U.S. seaports. Of these the most controversial is H.R. 4881, introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), with 27 co-sponsors, which would prevent foreign companies from managing or operating “critical infrastructure” in the U.S. A Washington Post editorial, entitled “Drop it Mr. Hunter,” pointed out the obvious problems that passage of such a bill would raise. Others in this category were S. 2334, introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), with five co-sponsors; H.R. 4817, introduced by Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), with no co-sponsors; H.R. 4839, introduced by Rep. Clay Shaw (R-FL), with two co-sponsors; H.R. 4842, introduced by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), with seven co-sponsors; S. 2367, introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), with no co-sponsors; and H.R. 4959, introduced by Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH), with 12 co-sponsors. A variation is S. 2400, introduced by Collins with five co-sponsors. It would replace the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), the group that approved the DPW deal, with a new “Committee for Secure Commerce” chaired by the secretary of Homeland Security.

The third, more reasonable category includes three measures designed to address the issue of port security. They were H.R. 4833, introduced by Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA), with no co-sponsors; H.R. 4880, introduced by Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), with 26 co-sponsors; and S. 2410, introduced by Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), with two co-sponsors.

Although the DPW deal was already dead, House members on March 15 rejected a move by Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) to remove a provision in an emergency spending bill to further fund the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq that would prohibit the DPW deal. The roll call vote was 377 to 38.

Congress had made its point, and the damage had been done. In a March 14 column, economist Robert Samuelson scathingly criticized Congress’ actions, pointing out that, because of the U.S. trade and budget deficits, foreigners absorb $700 billion annually, and if they start doubting the stability of their investments, it could be an economic disaster. The same day, the UK newspaper The Independent reported that the UAE and Saudi central banks were looking to move a portion of their reserves from dollars into euros.

Palestinian Punishment Bills May be Meeting Some Resistance

A major push during AIPAC’s annual conference March 5 to 7 was to drum up support for H.R. 4681, the so-called “Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act,” introduced by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Tom Lantos (D-CA) shortly after Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian elections. The draconian bill, described in detail in the previous issue of this magazine, would prohibit direct assistance to the PA unless the president issues a “certification” that the PA has met a long, unrealistic list of requirements, including several unrelated to Hamas and the election results. In the absence of the presidential certification, it also would limit assistance to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the West Bank and Gaza, curtail United Nations humanitarian efforts on behalf of the Palestinian people, deny visas to PA officials, prohibit any official U.S. contact with “Palestinian terror organizations,” restrict the travel of PA representatives to the U.N., prohibit a PA or PLO office in the U.S., and try to prevent international financial institutions from helping the PA.

As a result of AIPAC’s efforts, the bill rapidly gained 128 co-sponsors beyond those previously named, for a total of 158 including Ros-Lehtinen and Lantos. (New co-sponsors are listed in the box at right.) The fact that this fell short of the goal of 218 (half the members of the House) can be partially explained by the chorus of objections to the bill from several different fronts. The White House objects to the bill because of its inflexibility and because it impinges on executive branch prerogatives in foreign affairs. Significantly, House International Relations Committee (HIRC) Chairman Henry Hyde (R-IL) also objected, saying “tying the hands of this administration is not in the interests of national security....Hurting the Palestinian people will reward terrorist regimes like Syria and Iran, which seek to exploit the suffering of the Palestinians for their own selfish reasons.”

Retired Israeli general Shlomo Gazit said in a letter to the editor of The New York Times that “this is not the time for politicians from your country or ours to offer knee-jerk counterproductive declarations or legislation to cater to their electorates.” At a March 15 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Special Envoy for Disengagement James Wolfensohn said that aid must keep flowing to the Palestinian people or there would be chaos. “I do not believe you can have a million starving Palestinians and have peace.”

On March 6 Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced the Senate companion bill, S. 2370, which has 51 co-sponsors in addition to McConnell (more than half the members of the Senate), who are also named in the box. It is only marginally less bad in that it gives the president slightly more flexibility. Its “certification” requirements are similar to those in H.R. 4681, but the prohibition on direct aid to the PA includes a very limited presidential waiver provision that would allow limited assistance to the office of the PA president.

The limitation on assistance to NGOs would allow exceptions for “basic human needs” (H.R. 4681 says “basic human health needs”) and for assistance to promote democracy, a clause not included in H.R. 4681. A positive change is that the Senate bill does not include the section from the House bill attempting to curtail U.N. activities in the West Bank and Gaza. The sections denying visas to PA officials, restricting travel of PA and PLO representatives to the U.N., and trying to prevent international financial institutions from helping the PA are discretionary rather than mandatory (using the word “should” rather than “shall”). In another improvement, the Senate bill would prohibit a PA representative office in the U.S., but no mention is made of a PLO office as in the House bill. This section also includes presidential waiver authority. The Senate bill also prohibits any official U.S. contact with “Palestinian terror organizations,” but includes an “exception” not in the House bill for “emergency or humanitarian situations.”

Meanwhile, the two less onerous bills limiting aid to the PA described in the previous issue, H.R. 4668, introduced by Rep. Vito Fossella (R-NY) and S. 2237, introduced by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), have also gained co-sponsors. H.R. 4668 has gained eight co-sponsors, for a total of 23 including Fossella, and S. 2237 has gained three co-sponsors, for a total of six including Santorum.

Separately, Chairman of the House Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) inserted a relatively reasonable provision in the supplemental appropriations bill (the same bill that includes the unfortunate DPW provision) regarding current year aid to the PA and the West Bank and Gaza. It says that no direct aid can be given unless the secretary of state certifies that the PA has “demonstrated its commitment to the principles of nonviolence, the recognition of Israel, and the acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the ”˜Roadmap.’” It also says that no aid for the West Bank and Gaza can be spent or obligated until the secretary of state reviews the current assistance program, consults with Congress, and submits a revised plan.

“Iran Freedom Support” Bills Continue to Progress

Another AIPAC legislative objective during its annual conference was to push H.R. 282 and S. 333, the so-called “Iran Freedom Support” bills. As a result, H.R. 282 has gained 20 co-sponsors, for a total of 354, and S. 333 has gained seven, for a total of 50. Furthermore, over Bush administration objections, the HIRC on March 15 favorably reported H.R. 282 for action by the full House.

New co-sponsors of H.R. 282 are Reps. Roy Blunt (R-MO), John Campbell (R-CA), Nathan Deal (R-GA), Norman Dicks (D-WA), Bob Etheridge (D-NC), Fossella, Barney Frank (D-MA), Tim Holden (D-PA), Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jim Nussle (R-IA), John Olver (D-MA), Tom Osborne (R-NE), Ed Pastor (D-AZ), Donald Payne (D-NJ), Collin Peterson (D-MN), Ed Royce (R-CA), Jean Schmidt (R-OH), and Tom Udall (D-NM). New co-sponsors of S. 333 are Sens. Sam Brownback (R-KS), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Mark Dayton (D-MN), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Joe Lieberman (D-CT), and Gordon Smith (R-OR). 

Shirl McArthur, a retired U.S. foreign service officer, is a consultant in the Washington, DC area.


Congress Members Seeking to Punish Palestinians for Free and Fair Elections

The 128 new House co-sponsors of H.R. 4681 are Reps. Todd Akin (R-MO), Rodney Alexander (R-LA), Robert Andrews (D-NJ), John Barrow (D-GA), Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), Howard Berman (D-CA), Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Henry Bonilla (R-TX), Jo Bonner (R-AL), Mary Bono (R-CA), Leonard Boswell (D-IA), Corrine Brown (D-FL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), John Campbell (R-CA), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Henry Cuellar (D-TX), John Culberson (R-TX), Geoff Davis (R-KY), Jim Davis (D-FL), Tom Davis (R-VA), Nathan Deal (R-GA), Charles Dent (R-PA), Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), John Doolittle (R-CA), JoAnn Emerson (R-MO), Phil English (R-PA), Bob Etheridge (D-NC), Tom Feeney (R-FL), Mike Ferguson (R-NJ), Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Mark Foley (R-FL), Randy Forbes (R-VA), Harold Ford (D-TN), Vito Fossella (R-NY), Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Scott Garrett (R-NJ), Jim Gerlach (R-PA), Phil Gingrey (R-GA), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Charles Gonzalez (D-TX), Bart Gordon (D-TN), Gene Green (D-TX), Jane Harman (D-CA), Melissa Hart (R-PA), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Doc Hastings (R-WA), J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Brian Higgins (D-NY), Tim Holden (D-PA), Bobby Jindal (R-LA), Timothy Johnson (R-IL), Sue Kelly (R-NY), Mark Kennedy (R-MN), Steve King (R-IA), Jack Kingston (R-GA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), John Kline (R-MN), Rick Larsen (D-WA), John Linder (R-GA), Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), Nita Lowey (D-NY), Frank Lucas (R-OK), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Kenney Marchant (R-TX), Jim Matheson (D-UT), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Patrick McHenry (R-NC), John McHugh (R-NY), Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Cathy McMorris (R-WA), Michael McNulty (D-NY), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), John Mica (R-FL), Candice Miller (R-MI), Tim Murphy (R-PA), Sue Myrick (R-NC), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Anne Northup (R-KY), Charlie Norwood (R-GA), Devin Nunes (R-CA), Jim Nussle (R-IA), Major Owens (D-NY), Todd Platts (R-PA), Richard Pombo (R-CA), Jon Porter (R-NV), Tom Price (R-GA), Adam Putnam (R-FL), Rick Renzi (R-AZ), Tom Reynolds (R-NY), Mike Ross (D-AR), Steve Rothman (D-NJ), Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Jim Saxton (R-NJ), Janice Schakowsky (D-IL), Jean Schmidt (R-OH), Allyson Schwartz (D-PA), David Scott (D-GA), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Pete Sessions (R-TX), John Shadegg (R-AZ), Clay Shaw (R-FL), Chris Shays (R-CT), Rob Simmons (R-CT), Michael Simpson (R-ID), Mark Souder (R-IN), Cliff Stearns (R-FL), Ted Strickland (D-OH), John Sullivan (R-OK), Lee Terry (R-NE), Patrick Tiberi (R-OH), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Henry Waxman (D-CA), Curt Weldon (R-PA), Dave Weldon (R-FL), Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA), Robert Wexler (D-FL), Joe Wilson (R-SC), Albert Wynn (D-MD), and Bill Young (R-FL).

The 52 co-sponsors of S. 2370 are Sens. Wayne Allard (R-CO), George Allen (R-VA), Max Baucus (D-MT), Joe Biden (D-DE), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jim Bunning (R-KY), Conrad Burns (R-MT), Richard Burr (R-NC), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Susan Collins (R-ME), John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Mark Dayton (D-MN), Jim DeMint (R-SC), Mike DeWine (R-OH), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bill Frist (R-TN), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), James Inhofe (R-OK), Tim Johnson (D-SD), John Kerry (D-MA), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Trent Lott (R-MS), Mel Martinez (R-FL), John McCain (R-AZ), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Harry Reid (D-NV), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Ken Salazar (D-CO), Rick Santorum (R-PA), Paul Sarbanes (D-MD), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Richard Shelby (R-AL), Gordon Smith (R-OR), Olympia Snow (R-ME), Jim Talent (R-MO), Craig Thomas (R-WY), John Thune (R-SD), David Vitter (R-LA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).—S.M.

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