Bush and senior administration officials in charge of port security insisted Tuesday that the pending port takeover poses no security risks, but independent security experts weren't so sure, issuing mixed opinions in interviews with Knight Ridder.
But one thing was clear: The rare public quarreling between Bush and the Republican leaders of Congress underscored that, at the very least, the White House has a major political problem on its hands.
This arrogant of Presidents, used to getting his own way, is going to have trouble explaining the benefits of cronyism to his base:
The administration signed off on the deal after it was approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a closed interagency panel chaired by Treasury Secretary John Snow.
Snow was chairman of CSX, a rail firm that, according to the New York Daily News, sold its own port operations to DP World for $1.15 billion in 2004, a year after Snow left to head Treasury. The Treasury Department didn't respond to a request for comment.
Last month, Bush nominated David Sanborn, who heads DP World's European and Latin American operations, to head the U.S. Maritime Administration. Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, said Sanborn does work for the company, but "we're told he had nothing to do with the transaction."
Former Sen. Warren Rudman, R-N.H., who chaired the U.S. Commission on National Security, said the Bush administration needs to make public everything connected to the DP World port takeover.
"Anything this important ought to be very transparent," he said. "I don't think there's any reason why Congress and the American people don't have access to the process."
As in the case of Harriet Miers, the argument that the base is capable of jettisoning Bush any time he deviates from wingnut orthodoxy rings true. And the two issues most likely for that to happen are port security and immigration.
The GOP has actually been pretty good at bringing up Democratic wedge issues like gay marriage and avoiding their own. But have no doubt: GOP wedge issues are just under the surface and won't take a lot to explode.
The most volatile of them remains immigration, where the Minutemen and the Tancredo faction don't accept any part of Bush's guest worker ideas. The issue puts socially conservative Republicans against Republican business interests, and there are no winners for the GOP here.
Port security appears to be a similar GOP loser, with comparisons aleady being made on the right to Jimmy Carter's Panama Canal 'give-away' (ironically, Carter is one of Bush's few supporters on the issue, and that doesn't help Bush one bit).
The Bush administration got support Monday from former President Carter, a Democrat and frequent critic of the administration.
"My presumption is, and my belief is, that the president and his secretary of state and the Defense Department and others have adequately cleared the Dubai government organization to manage these ports," Carter told CNN. "I don't think there's any particular threat to our security."
In the end, a tone-deaf President Bush is going to demonstrate once again how much of a bubble he lives in. Regardless of the actual merits of the deal, he's managed to inflame his base and drive another nail into the idea that national security is a "great strength" of this administration, with no discrernable benefit to other than his cronies with this move.
The media will have to work overtime to make lemonade out of this GOP lemon.