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Democrats Criticize Bush on Failed Ports Deal

The head of America's political opposition party is criticizing President Bush for backing a deal that would have allowed a Dubai-owned company to manage some U.S. ports. Dubai Ports World, this past week, said it would turn over managment to a U.S. entity, amid bipartisan opposition in Congress.

Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean says blocking the ports deal was a great victory in the war on terror.

Despite White House veto threats, Democrats and Republicans in Congress stood their ground against the president, backed by overwhelming public opposition to the deal.

President Bush says he is concerned about the broader message that sends to Middle East allies, at a time when he says America must strengthen its relations with moderate Arab states.

Dean says opposition to the state-owned firm managing some operations at six U.S. ports is not about the United Arab Emirates. He says it is about American security. "This is not about the idea of an Arab country controlling American port operations. President Bush and the Republicans who control Congress should not outsource the safety of American ports to any foreign country. Democrats believe that America's security is America's business," he said.

Democrats see the failed ports deal as a chance to beat the president on an issue he has dominated since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington - national security. While the president's overall approval ratings are at record lows, his highest marks still come on that issue.

The sudden decision by Dubai Ports World this past week to transfer U.S. operations to an American entity ends the White House stand-off with Congress for now.

But Dean used the Democrats' weekly radio address to try to keep the pressure on. "We need to do more to ensure the security of our ports. It is unacceptable that five years after 9/11, only six percent of cargo coming into America's ports is inspected," he said. "Republicans have shown a pre-9/11 mindset when it comes to closing the gaps in security in out ports."

That's a reference to a January speech by White House senior political advisor Karl Rove, who urged Republicans to run on national security issues because, he said, Democrats have a pre-September 11 view of the world and Republicans have a post-September 11 view.

The White House was clearly surprised by the depth of Republican opposition to the ports deal, which was announced without consultation with lawmakers.

Asked about the rift within his own party, President Bush told reporters Saturday that Republicans are united in efforts to win the war on terror, keep taxes low and reduce America's dependence on foreign oil. "I've heard all the stories about this rift or that rift. It's typical Washington, it seems like to me. I am looking forward to continuing to work with the leadership in the United States Congress, to pass an agenda that will keep America the economic leader of the world, and will keep this country secure," he said. "And [this] fall, I am looking forward to campaigning with our candidates. I am convinced ours is a party that has an agenda for the future, and ours is the party that has performed."

A public opinion poll by the conservative television network FOX News, says Republicans had a 13 point advantage over Democrats at the beginning of the year on the question of who better protects the nation from terrorism. That Republican lead is now down to five points.

The FOX poll says Democrats lead Republicans by 14 percentage points when voters were asked, which party they believe would win control of Congress in this year's election. That is up from eight-points in February.