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Interview With Bill Maher; President Bush Threatens Veto Over Attempts to Block Port Security Deal; Interview With Pennsylvania Congressman Curt Weldon

Aired February 21, 2006 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're now in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you the day's top stories.
Happening now, it's 7:00 p.m. here in Washington. Would the handover of American ports to an Arab company harm U.S. security? Bipartisan efforts to try to block the deal bring a warning, a strong warning, from the president.

It's 6:00 p.m. in New Orleans, where residents who want to return get a warning themselves. The city council tells them, get a job.

And he's sharp-tongued, cynical, and never at a loss for words. I will speak live with humorist Bill Maher.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A furious political battle is breaking out over the deal to let a state-owned Arab company take control of major American seaports. The Dubai-based firm would handle operations in Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Miami, and New Orleans.

CNN's Brian Todd is standing by at the port in Baltimore. Mary Snow is at port in Newark.

Let's go to the White House first and begin our coverage with Dana Bash -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, after the White House recovered from what had -- has been a surprise GOP revolt on this issue, they decided that they had to fight back, and that the president would do the firing.


BASH (voice-over): Flying home on Air Force One, a defiant president summoned reporters, threatened his first veto ever, then stopped for the cameras outside the White House to hammer his point home.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If there was any question as to whether or not this country would be less safe as a result of the transaction, it wouldn't go forward. BASH: It is hard to overstate the drama. The president is now under attack by leaders of his party on his defining issue, homeland security, because of outrage over the administration's approval of a deal to give an Arab company management of six major U.S. ports.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist surprised the White House by issuing this statement, saying, "I plan on introducing legislation to ensure that the deal is placed on hold until this decision gets a more thorough review."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert also said he was concerned about the national security implications of the deal and called for an immediate moratorium, that on top of criticism from GOP governors like George Pataki of New York and Robert Ehrlich of Maryland.

But White House officials say, after looking into this secret review process of a 12-agency committee, Mr. Bush was confident the matter was handled properly, and decided to take on the tsunami of criticism. He said, security concerns were misplaced.

BUSH: The company will not manage port security. The security of our ports will be -- continue to be managed by the Coast Guard and the Customs.

BASH: And Mr. Bush challenged critical lawmakers to explain why it's all right for a British company to operate the ports, but not the United Arab Emirates, who he calls an ally.

BUSH: And it would send a terrible signal to friends and allies not to let this transaction go through.


BASH: And that last point you heard from the president, Wolf, is what White House officials say is one of the major concerns here at the White House and a major reason why the president himself came out.

They say that they're very worried about alienating what they call hard-to-come-by Arab allies. And you heard the president himself say he's trying to conduct foreign policy, and that it's important for him to say to the people of the world, we treat you fairly -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana Bash, thanks very much.

How vulnerable are America's ports? Would security be compromised if a Middle East company took control over commercial operations?

CNN's Brian Todd joining us now live from the port in Baltimore -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this port may give you an illustration of how vulnerable it can be.

But, first, we are going to show you this vessel behind us. It just pulled in here about an hour ago. It's the Frieysha (ph), a Panamanian-flagged vessel just arrived here from Jacksonville, Florida, nearly 600 feet long. It has automobiles inside. We're told that the makes of those are Isuzus and a make called Fusos.

This ship can hold about 4,000 cars, a little less than that. It begins unloading probably tomorrow morning. So, as you can see here, this is huge business. And with it come huge security concerns, concerns that have sparked tension this week between local and federal officials.


TODD (voice-over): Port operations up close, a Panamanian- flagged cargo ship loaded and unloaded at the Seagirt Terminal, a facility that handled nearly 300,000 containers of cargo last year, one that, under a new agreement, may soon be run by a company controlled by the ruling family of Dubai.

(on camera): Officials say, this is one of the busiest terminals in the Port of Baltimore. All the cargo that comes through here is X- rayed. But, out of every 100 containers, only about six or seven are opened up and physically searched.

The responsibility for coming up with a security plan for this facility is up to the operator, which, if this deal goes through, will be Dubai Ports World.

(voice-over): Coast Guard officials say they review that plan. Then, U.S. agencies handle the bulk of security. Most officials believe none of that will change.

But Maryland's governor and state security officials are upset, because they say they were not consulted in security reviews for the new deal.

GOV. ROBERT EHRLICH (R), MARYLAND: It takes a little added extra diligence, a little extra analysis, a little extra communication from the feds during wartime. In this case, in my view, that was lacking.

TODD: Those complaints were relayed, minutes later, to federal security officials.

STEWART BAKER, ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR POLICY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND: The transaction was, I believe, public in November, and not -- not a hidden transaction, so, that there was an opportunity for anyone who was concerned about to -- any state or local authority to carry out whatever investigation they thought was necessary.


TODD: Now, federal officials also say, the new deal is not going to override any of that control that local officials have over these ports.

Homeland Security experts say, terminals like this one, that are going to be taken over by Dubai Ports World, may well end up with better security, Wolf, because of all the scrutiny that company has received in this deal.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, in Baltimore, thank you very much.

CNN also confirms that New Jersey's attorney general is now planning to file suit in an effort to stop the takeover of operations at the port in Newark.

Our Mary Snow is getting reaction from this takeover from workers there.

Mary, what are you picking up?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, certainly a big topic here today at the port in Newark. This is one of the largest operations in the United States that would be affected.

It's about 180 acres. And it's estimated that about one million containers pass through here each year. Workers say, even though the Coast Guard would still oversee security, they say they are very concerned and they oppose the deal.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of talk about it today. In particular, a lot of the pier workers, you know, are concerned about this thing, and they -- they should be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With so much going on with the Middle East and the United States, and, you know, then, for them to come over here and be in charge of our ports, I mean, not only is it a conflict of interests; it's kind of like a stab in the back to the American worker, I think, you know?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a bad idea, because that's like giving them an opportunity just to -- to, like, see what -- how does the port works, you know, and how do things get around, or how do things move around.


SNOW: And, Wolf, all the workers we spoke to today expressing concern -- we couldn't find one who said that it would be OK.

In fact, we talked to one worker who said he didn't want to discriminate, but he says he -- there seems to be so much confusion, with all the warnings about terrorism. He said he's just very confused, why an Arab company would oversee operations here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow in Newark -- thanks, Mary, very much.

Let's turn now to CNN new senior national correspondent, John Roberts.

John, welcome to CNN. Welcome to THE SITUATION ROOM.

What kind of reaction are you picking up here in town? JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, obviously, there are a lot of Republicans who are against this.

And President Bush has got a very big hill to climb to try to win them over. There's a chance that he might be able to do that, if he, indeed, can prove to them that this was appropriately vetted, and there's nothing to worry about.

But just the perception for so many Republicans who are going to go to polls this November, particularly a national issue, just the perception is just too much for -- for some of them, to say, why should an Arab company -- an Arab country, in fact -- be running our ports?

So, the president is -- is arrayed against now some -- some very powerful factors, Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, Dennis Hastert in the House, Peter King in the House, Susan Collins and Chuck Grassley in the Senate.

BLITZER: All Republicans.

ROBERTS: All Republicans, coming out and saying, this is a bad idea.

But, as you saw yesterday in your interview with Jimmy Carter, the president is getting some measure of support from some unusual quarters. Today, he got support from another unusual quarter.

Just a little while ago, Senator John McCain put out a statement, saying the following: "We need to take a moment, and not rush to judgment on this matter, without knowing all the facts. Dubai has cooperated with us in the war on terror and deserves to be treated respectfully."

McCain goes on to say that: "The president has earned our trust in the war on terror. We shouldn't think that he's going to sell our national security short."

And McCain finishes off by saying: "Let's make a judgment when we possess all of the pertinent facts. Until then, all we can offer is heat and little light to the discussion."

But, as Dana bash was saying, The president is in a very tough spot here, because he's trying to reach out to Arab nations. He's trying to reach out to countries in the Middle East to say, we want to deal with you. We want to put you on a level playing field.

Of course, this entire program that he's undertaking to try to spread democracy in the region is at stake as well. So, for Congress to come forward and slam the door shut on what is a very important deal for the United Arab Emirates is creating a huge headache for the White House.

BLITZER: What a headache, indeed.

John Roberts, thanks very much. And, to our viewers, stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.

CNN's Zain Verjee joining us now from the CNN Center with a closer look at some other news -- stories making news -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says three men hoped to engage in a holy war from Ohio.

Today, Gonzales announced the arrests and the indictments of the trio for allegedly supporting terrorism. The men are accused of plotting to kill U.S. armed forces in Iraq and elsewhere, trying to raise funds for their holy war. And Gonzales says one of them made threats against President Bush. All three of them entered pleas of not guilty.

With its two new members, the Supreme Court will hear a case concerning abortion. Today, the court agreed to review the constitutionality of a federal law banning a controversial late-term procedure that critics call partial-birth abortion.

Both pro- and anti-abortion-rights groups will be closely watching the case and how the court's two new conservative members, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, might vote.

Michael Morales was supposed to die this morning. Instead, he is expected to be put to death just hours from now. Morales' execution in California's San Quentin prison is set for 7:30 p.m. -- that's Pacific Time -- this after anesthesiologists pulled out of the execution, basically citing ethical concerns, and after a judge gave prosecutors gave prosecutors permission to proceed.

Prison officials had planned to use paralyzing and heart-stopping drugs. Now they are going to be using an overdose of a sedative -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much.

Let's check in with Jack right away -- Jack Cafferty, with "The Cafferty File," in New York -- Jack.


When is the last time you saw Hillary Clinton, Bill Frist, Dennis Hastert, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi on the same side of an issue? Ironic, isn't it, that a president who was reelected because of his leadership in the war on terror tonight stands virtually alone in his desire to sell operational control of six of America's most vital ports to a company owned by the United Arab Emirates.

And, with an arrogance that has typified this administration, the president is threatening to veto any legislation -- legislation that might block this deal.

Not since the botched federal response to Hurricane Katrina has "The Cafferty File" received so many e-mails, thousands of them. And the president is all alone on this. Americans don't want control of their ports handed over to the country that harbored the 9/11 terrorists and allowed nuclear technology to be secretly shipped to Iran, North Korea, and Libya. Imagine that.

There are actually senators and congressmen and governors and mayors telling the White House, you're not going to do this.

And it's about time. No one has said no to this administration on anything that matters in a very long time. This matters, a lot.

Here is the question: What should be done to stop a deal that would allow an Arab company to operate U.S. ports? E-mail us at Or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack, very much.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, more on the port controversy -- should an Arab firm be put in charge of key U.S. facilities? I will talk to the vice chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and White House counselor Dan Bartlett.

Also, a New Orleans city official causes controversy by saying only certain people are welcome to return to the city. We will tell you who he says should stay away.

Plus, he's always an outspoken critic of almost everything, the president included. He's the host of HBO's "Real Time," Bill Maher. He will join us live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Back once again to our CNN "Security watch" and the planned transfer of control of American ports to a Middle Eastern company.

Republican Congressman Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania is the vice chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. He's a member, of course, of the president's own party. He has very serious questions about the port deal.


BLITZER: Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

I want you to listen to what the president said only a few moments ago, this little excerpt. Listen to this.


BUSH: I think it sends a terrible signal to friends around the world that it is OK for a company from one country to manage the port, but not a -- a country that is -- plays by the rules and has got a good track record -- record from another part of the world, can't -- can't manage the port.

And, so, look, I can understand why some in Congress have raised questions about whether or not our country will be less secure as a result of this transaction. But they need to know that our government has looked at this issue and looked at it carefully.


BLITZER: Well, what do you think, Congressman? You're a good Republican. Your president says, let this deal go forward.

REP. CURT WELDON (R), PENNSYLVANIA: A couple thoughts, Wolf.

First of all, last time I checked the Constitution, there are three separate and equal branches. This White House did nothing to communicate with Congress on this deal.

With all of the concern about port security going on in America right now, at a minimum, leaders of both parties should have been brought in from both houses, and had this deal reviewed. That didn't occur. And it's a little late right now to announce it and say, the government is behind it. We're not going stand for that.

And, second, we're not talking about any company from any other country. We're talking about a company with a majority interest owned by another government, a government that does not recognize the state of Israel. That would be like having America, as a nation, go over and buy the -- the airport in Dubai. The Emirates would never allow that to happen. And we're not going to allow this to happen. It's wrong. It wasn't properly communicated, and the Congress has grave concerns.

In my case, Philadelphia is a strategic military port. We worked hard for that designation. It's where all of our military armaments go through in time of need. And to think that we would have that strategic military port controlled by an Emirates government organization is just ridiculous.

BLITZER: Because the president's argument is, if it's OK for a British-owned company to operate the port in Philadelphia and other ports, why can't an Arab-owned company that he says has a very good track record do the same thing? What kind of signal, he's afraid, would that send to the Arab world?

WELDON: Well, he should have thought about that before this deal was reviewed by the agencies.

It reminds me of Bill Clinton, when he told the president of Taiwan he couldn't get a visa to come to America, and the Congress overwhelmingly overruled the president. There is a need for communication in this government. We're not subservient to the White House. And, in this case, the White House did not communicate with the Congress.

BLITZER: Does the -- the -- the opposition, you and the Democrats, and everyone else, do you think you have enough votes to override a presidential veto? You need two-thirds majorities in the Senate and the House. WELDON: I don't think it will come to that. I would hope there would be an opportunity now for some transparency. That should have occurred last week. We found out about this on Thursday. We were given no notice, no opportunity for briefings.

I sit as vice chairman of both Armed Services and Homeland Security. It would have been nice to know the details, to know the process, not to have to face it on national TV, as we did over the weekend.

I can tell you, my colleagues on both sides of the aisle are extremely upset. We're going to fight this every step of the way. Hopefully, the White House will now try to reach out, as opposed to using a bully pulpit to beat up on the Congress which is simply trying to do its job.

BLITZER: Well, that was possible, to have some sort of compromise or work out some sort of deal. But now, as you see, the president going out of his way to draw a line in the sand and -- and -- and get all of his top advisers out there, and -- and defend this deal. It looks like he's -- he's setting himself up for a huge potential battle.

WELDON: You quoted Bill Frist, and you quote -- quoted Denny Hastert.

The president has really, I think, drawn a line in the sand. It's going to be extremely difficult to move the ball over. All of this could have been avoided. And this White House just didn't see fit to do that. And -- and I'm going to stand resolute with my colleagues in opposing this, at least until we understand.

But, in the end, I probably will never support this initiative and will use the power of the Congress, legislatively, to put language in a bill next week supporting Peter King and -- and Chuck Schumer to stop it.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for joining us.

WELDON: My pleasure. Thank you.


BLITZER: You have heard what Congressman Weldon thinks of the port deal. Now hear the Bush administration's side. The White House counselor, Dan Bartlett, here in THE SITUATION ROOM to explain the president's position.

And one of the most politically astute humorists in America, Bill Maher, I will get his opinion on everything from the government's secret spying program to security in the nation's ports -- Bill Maher here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- all coming up.


BLITZER: More now on our top story -- the president threatens to veto legislation which would block the United Arab Emirates from taking control of six major U.S. ports. I will speak with one of the president's top advisers, Dan Bartlett. That is coming up, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

First, though, Zain Verjee once again joining us from the CNN Center with some other stories making headlines around the world.

Hi, Zain.


In Mexico, it has been over two days since 65 miners were trapped deep underground, after a mine blast. Now loved ones and rescuers just don't know if the men are dead or alive. Officials say that they have found no sign of the workers. Desperate relatives are hoping for any trace of information. Meanwhile, rescue workers are fearful that their electric- or gas-powered machines could spark more explosions.

Time and hope are running out, as rescuers search for survivors of a devastating landslide in the Southern Philippines. Crews are using specialized gear in their search. But, so far, no one has been found alive since just hours after Friday's slide of rock and mud that virtually swallowed the entire village. The official death toll now stands at 107, but it's expected to top 1,000.

And, in Iraq, 20 people are dead, after a car bomb attack in a marketplace in a Southern Baghdad suburb. Officials say, 25 people have been hurt. The attack happened after a pair of roadside bombs went off in Central Baghdad today. Those attacks killed one policeman and wounded two civilians -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much.

Just ahead, President Bush standing firm, vowing to veto any congressional move to block an Arab company from managing U.S. ports -- I will speak about it with presidential counselor Dan Bartlett.

And I will ask Bill Maher to weigh in on the controversy as well -- the host of HBO's "Real Time" standing by to join us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer, in Washington.

There are bipartisan concerns over the deal to hand over control of American ports to a state-owned Arab company. But President Bush is vowing to veto any move in Congress to try to stop it.

Dan Bartlett is counselor to President Bush.


BLITZER: Dan, thanks very much for joining us.

DAN BARTLETT, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT BUSH: No problem, Wolf. BLITZER: Well, the president got involved in this decision at what point?

BARTLETT: Well, over the course over the last few days, as there has been a lot of public scrutiny now on a -- on a process has been reported, had started back in November of last year.

And, as we looked into the details of this, Wolf, I think the American people can be assured by a few basic points.

The port operator that was selling this company was a foreign- based operator out of Great Britain. They were selling this company to another one, the one that is in question. And it's a reputable company that operates all throughout the world.

Congress understands the sensitivity, as does this administration, when it comes to our security, particularly when it comes to our ports. That's why there's a congressionally-mandated process called the CFIUS process.

And, under this process, officials, career officials, as well as high-ranking officials, look at the national security concerns about a transaction between two private companies to affect our country.

And in this case, it was rigorously applied, it was rigorously studied, safeguards were reassured and we didn't start from scratch, Wolf, because this is a company our homeland security folks have done business with in the past, as your report just noted. There's a lot of different cargo shipped around the world. Many of it coming to our shores.

This company has been involved with that. And we've had some very good working relationships with them. So I think a lot of this right now that we're looking at is based on a lack of understanding or knowledge about how the port business works. What the relationship is with our Homeland Security Department. And make no mistake, our Homeland Security Department, the Customs Department and the Coast Guard will be in charge of our port security, not a foreign country.

BLITZER: The difference, they argue, the critics, is that the British firm that operated these ports was a privately owned British company as opposed to this Dubai-based company which is owned by the government, the emir of the United Arab Emirates. And some of the critics, we heard Curt Weldon here, just in the past hour, this is a country, the United Arab Emirates, that doesn't even recognize Israel.

BARTLETT: Well, in that case, as you know, many of the Middle Eastern countries have taken that position because there's not a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinian people. Make no mistake about it, the UAE is a strong partner in the war on terror. If you talk to the military, you talk about the relations between our two militaries is very strong. Intelligence sharing, financial cooperation, to cutoff terrorist financing. It's critically important as we fight to win this war on terror, that we have strategic partners in the region. People who are going to work hand in hand to help us wind, not only against defeating the terrorists, but the hearts and minds of people in the Middle East. Taking steps that undermine that, not based on the facts of the process that was adhered to here would damage that relationship.

And that's what the president was talking about, mixed signal we would be sending, Wolf, critically important that members of Congress understand why this transaction went forward. We followed the congressionally mandated process to adhere the safe guards that everybody in America and this president would expect, Wolf. And that's what was followed here. We will continue to work with Congress and other people, mayors and governors as you stated to make sure they understand how carefully reviewed this process was.

BLITZER: Here is what Curt Weldon, Republican, the vice chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee said in the past hour in the SITUATION ROOM. Listen to this.


WELDON: This White House did nothing to communicate with Congress on this deal. With all of the concern about port security going on in America right now, at a minimum, leaders of both parties should have been brought in from both houses and have this deal reviewed. That didn't occur. And it's a little late to announce it and say the government is behind it. We're not going to stand for that.


BLITZER: He's pretty angry, as are a lot of other members.

BARTLETT: Well, it's understand -- I know he takes port security really as a top priority for the chairman, as it is for this president. We've done a lot of things, Wolf, since 9/11 to improve our port security. And there's a specific process that was followed here, Wolf, and I must remind you, this deal was announced, this transaction was announced back in November. This was not something that came out of left field in the last couple of days.

And we have followed this very carefully, we have followed the type of safeguards mandated by the Congress. My understanding of the law is that if there was a denial, that would have been notified directly to the Hill. But we will work with members of Congress, both parties, to make sure they understand the critical consequences that reneging on a fair process that was followed by the law. And that's why the president feels strong about this, Wolf.


BLITZER: Dan Bartlett, the White House counselor, speaking with me earlier. We're going to get more on this story coming up, but let's check some other news, important news we're following.

While most New Orleans officials are encouraging evacuees to return, one is creating some serious controversy, saying only certain people welcome to home. Our CNN Gulf Coast correspondent Susan Roesgen is joining us now live from New Orleans with the story. Susan?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the New Orleans City Council president Oliver Thomas is saying that people who live in public housing developments in New Orleans need to get a job. The people I talked to say the councilman needs to get real.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I had a five month old baby. I had him September 2nd in Texas. There's no way I am about to jump and find a job for nobody.

ROESGEN (voice-over): Toya Madison (ph) is ticked off. An unemployed mother of two small children, she has heard what New Orleans city councilman says about forcing people on public housing to get a job.

OLIVER THOMAS, NEW ORLEANS CITY COUNCIL PRESIDENT: It's work time now, and anybody who is not coming back, to roll up their sleeves to contribute. That's what we need. We need committed people. We don't need soap opera watchers all day.

ROESGEN: Councilman Thomas says he thinks New Orleans public housing developments should refuse to admit people who won't get a job or job training.

THOMAS: If I were to ask a person who was depending on government assistance, do you want your children to grow up and be dependent on government assistance, what would the answer probably be? No. Then let's creating an atmosphere where the probability of that is less likely than more likely.

ROESGEN: This is the Iberville Housing Development, one of four the city is starting to reopen. Local officials say the feds have no plans at this point to force public housing residents to work. Either in New Orleans or anywhere else. In fact, to change the public housing rules would take an act of Congress literally and the rules would have to be the same across the country. Cynthia Wiggins is both a housing development resident and its manager.

CYNTHIA WIGGINS, HOUSING MANAGER: We should not have healthy individuals sitting at home doing nothing, watching soap operas and you and I working out there. I agree with that. But I disagree the way that we're doing it, and I question the timing of it all.


ROESGEN: The underlying fear of that housing development manager is simply the city just doesn't want poor people to come back.

BLITZER: Susan Roesgen with the story. Thanks, Susan, very much. Up ahead, port politics, oil addiction, domestic spying. We'll talk about all of them here in with political satirist Bill Maher. He's standing by to join us live here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Stay with us.


BLITZER: The government secretly spying on Americans without court orders. Bigwig lobbyists confessing wining and dining their bigwig friends in a deal to hand over management with some ports to a country with alleged ties to terrorists. Surely, none of these matters laughing matters but many comedians say they couldn't make up this stuff even if they wanted to. Joins us from Los Angeles, one of the most politically astute comedians, Bill Maher. He's the host of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" that airs Friday nights, 11:00 p.m. Eastern. That show is live, is that right, Bill?

BILL MAHER, COMEDIAN: Oh, it's very live.

BLITZER: Yeah. I saw it Friday night. It was an excellent show.

MAHER: Can't you tell? If we could edit, would it look like that?

BLITZER: It looked very smooth to me. Let's talk about port security. You've been following this the last few days.

MAHER: Right.

BLITZER: What do you make about the president's decision today to come out and threaten Congress with a veto. He hasn't vetoes anything in five years -- if they try to block it?

MAHER: I don't understand it. Usually I can see through him. I don't get what this is all about. Isn't Bush the guy who said we have to be right every time, they only have to be right once to hit us? I know he likes to hold hands with Arabs, I don't get it. I just don't understand what his point is.

And I'm not ashamed to be a little Archie Bunker on this issue. I live in Beverly Hills which is 30 miles from the Port of Los Angeles, Long Beach Port. This is where 44 percent of the cargo coming into this country comes from. It's easily to be sanguine about terrorism when you live in some part of country terrorists are never going to attack. And we all know they're never going to attack Tennessee.

But they might attack a place like this. So you know what? Arabs can't guard ports. I know, write letters, hate me, but that's how I feel. Sorry.

BLITZER: But the president says, his advisers say that Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of treasury, all of the top advisers at an interagency committee, they reviewed it and not going to undermine national security. Basically saying you should take him at his word.

MAHER: First of all, anybody in the Bush administration who is still in the Bush administration says what George Bush tells them to say. And anybody who doesn't, and we have a long list of those people, Paul O'Neill, the general who said we need more troops, those kind of people, they get fired. So I don't put any stock when his loyal soldiers mouth the words he's telling them to say.

And, again, when there's a problem, a security problem, it's usually an inside job. So, once again, terrorists, I mean, Arabs, and yes, of course, the vast majority of Muslims and Arabs are not terrorists, that's true. But it's also true that about 100 percent of the people who are terrorists who are really trying to attack this country are Muslim Arabs, and I'm sorry, but like I say, can you imagine the Israelis doing this? Can you imagine the Israelis, the only people in the world who really know how to do security, why don't we get Israelis to guard our ports instead of the Arabs.

BLITZER: My own sense is and I'll throw it out, is that the president is very worried right now about America's image in the Muslim world and Arab world. And if he were to reject this deal, it would further undermine what is clearly a deteriorating image. And people like Karen Hughes is adviser at the State Department, Condoleezza Rice, they are saying, Mr. President, there are serious consequences if you kill this deal.

MAHER: If he's so concerned about our image in the Muslim world, why don't he stop torturing them. That's what's killing our image in the Muslim world. And Karen Hughes, yes, the person he appointed to carry the water of our image to the Muslim world, what better choice than a Dallas-based soccer mom. Who better understands the Muslims than her?

BLITZER: Jimmy Carter was in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday. He defended the president -- He doesn't often defend the president, but listen to what he said.


JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT: My presumption is, and my belief is that the president and his secretary of state, the Defense Department and others have adequately cleared the Dubai government to -- organization -- to manage the ports. I don't think there's any particular threat to our security.


BLITZER: So if Jimmy Carter is on the same page as the president, I don't see why he should necessarily have a major problem, right?

MAHER: Well, Jimmy Carter is also the one who gave the free pass to the North Koreans. He's been kind of wishy-washy on Castro. I like Jimmy Carter a lot. He's not the guy I would trust with the six- shooter when the bad guys come into town. No. So, Jimmy Carter, I'm not surprised he said that. And I don't like George Bush as president. I wouldn't want Jimmy Carter as president, right now, either quite frankly.

BLITZER: Let me pick your brain on presidential politics a little bit now. In our recent CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll, among registered Democrats, Hillary Clinton came in with 39 percent. Then John Kerry, everybody else was way below at 15 percent, Al Gore, 13 percent. Do you think she got this Democratic nomination locked up?

MAHER: I certainly hope not because as I've said many times, I like Hillary Clinton a great deal. I think she is the worst of both worlds to the Democratic Party. Because she's another candidate who is going to make the same mistake they always make, which is to fish in the NASCAR pond. Trying to fish in that pond where the Republicans own it. OK. That's John Kerry and the goose hunting outfit.

Hillary Clinton coming out against flag burning. What a positive image for anyone who is progressive in this country that Hillary Clinton our one progressive hope is now with the idiots. Great. And that's what she is going to do. She's going to tack to the center constantly. She came out against violent video games, against flag burning, she moved over on abortion. So she's going to wind up alienating the left wing, her true base, and she's never going to get the NASCAR-loving, gun toting, faith-based people who the Democrats are trying to constantly go after. Go after the 79 million people who did not bother to vote in 2004. Some of them must be available for voting.

BLITZER: We have got to leave it there, Bill, unfortunately, because we're out of time. Bill Maher is the host of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher." It airs Friday nights at 11:00 p.m. Eastern. It's live, it's an excellent show if you like that kind of humor and I do. Thanks, Bill.

MAHER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up ahead. Addicted to oil and suddenly reemployed. President Bush visits a renewable energy lab where some workers suddenly got their jobs back. Is it good policy or good P.R.? We're taking a closer look.


BLITZER: Now we've just received a statement from Dubai Ports World's chief operating officer, Ted Bilkey. This is the company that wants to take control, operational control of six major U.S. ports. The statement says, among other things, "we followed U.S. law and actually approached U.S. government for approval of our security arrangement weeks prior to the formal review. We will continue to work with the U.S. government in maintaining the highest standards of security at U.S. ports and we'll fully cooperate in putting into place whatever is necessary to protect the terminals."

That statement just coming in from Dubai Port World's chief operating officer. We'll have more on this story as it becomes available.

Meanwhile, President Bush is focusing also on energy. He visited the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado earlier today and inadvertently put the spotlight on a gaffe. Thirty-two lab employees who were recently laid off due to a budget shortfall but they all got their jobs back on the eve to the president's visit, leading some to accuse the administration putting politics over policy. The energy secretary, Samuel Bodman says it was all just an error. The flap somewhat stole the spotlight the president is trying to put on America's oil dependency, a task easier said than done. Let's bring in our Ali Velshi in New York with the bottom line. Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Way easier said than done. Remember the State of the Union speech where the president said that Americans are addicted to oil and we need to wean ourselves off of this addiction. Let me just put that into perspective for you. We use 20 million barrels of oil a day. More than two-thirds of that is just for transportation.


VELSHI (voice-over): About six months ago when gas prices hit $3 a gallon range, President Bush suggested that Americans needed to wean themselves off oil. He's right. About two thirds of all the oil America burns every day is used by drivers.

American drivers use more than 1/10 of all the oil produced in the world every day and we're using more every day. So why would an administration with close ties to the oil industry now be telling Americans to conserve? An administration that has publicly stated driving is a way of life for Americans and that they weren't about to change that.

With oil supply down because of hurricanes, demand for oil and gasoline was hot. Gas prices, believe it or not, were getting too high. Look at it this way. When gas prices shot up, the alternatives got a lot cheaper.

At two bucks a gallon, one of those fuel efficient hybrid electric cars is still a novelty, even a luxury, at three bucks a gallon starts to make good economic sense. Americans don't need to be told. If gas stayed at three bucks a gallon, they would likely cut back. Temporarily conserving might lower the price of gas temporarily.

Permanent cutbacks could hurt the bottom line. The government doesn't discourage auto makers for selling gas guzzling SUVs.


VELSHI: What do they do for regular drivers? Well, let's take one of those hybrids. You want to buy one of those things? You get yourself maybe about a $3,000 tax credit. Let's say you are a small business owner and you can prove that you use your vehicle for work? You can buy a Hummer and claim up to 25,000 back in terms of a tax credit. So that's where the government's priorities are right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ali Velshi with the "Bottom Line." Ali, thanks.

The U.S. government has pulled tens of thousands of publicly available historical documents from the National Archives. Historians say it's all part of a seven year CIA-led secret program. And while the CIA won't say if it took back the documents. Many of them are now surfacing online. Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton is watching this story.


ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a few years ago you could find this document at the National Archives but not anymore. Researchers at the George Washington University's National Security Archives have been going to the National Archives looking for documents they knew were there, they knew existed, they've seen them before, they'd made copies of some of them, only to find in boxes instead these withdrawal notices saying "access restricted."

Turns out the National Archives was in the process of taking back 55,000 pages. But the thing is, some of them are out there online. One of them posted today, a CIA document from 1950 saying that Chinese intervention in Korea was not probable 12 days before Chinese intervention in Korea. Historian Matthew Aid (ph) put that document online today. He said while it might be embarrassing for the intelligence community, embarrassing documents are not a reason for reclassification.


BLITZER: Abbi, thanks.

Still to come. The government deal to let an Arab company run U.S. ports. Jack Cafferty is going through your emails. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Here is a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends at the Associated Press. In the Philippines, rescue workers listen for signs of life in the mud and rocks of last week's massive landslide. More than 900 people are still missing.

Mexico, relatives of trapped miners offer each other comfort as rescue efforts continue, 65 miners are trapped following the gas explosion. India, a veterinarian carries disinfectant to dump into a chicken burial sight. More than half a million birds have been killed since the discovery of bird flu.

Torino, skating to silver, American Shani Davis takes second prize in the men's 1500 meter speed skating competition. Some of today's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth a thousand words.

Let's go right back to Jack Cafferty. He's standing by in New York. Jack?

CAFFERTY: Thanks, Wolf.

The question is what should be done to stop the deal that would allow an Arab company owned by the United Arab Emirates to operate six U.S. ports. Norm in Cherry Hills Village, Colorado, "The mayors of the port cities should jointly declare that they will close their ports the day the UAE takes over."

Joanne in North Royalton, Ohio says, "The first thing that needs to be done is for the American people to get up off their fat reality show butts and call their senators and representatives. If the terrorist threat is as severe as the Bush administration wants us to believe, a law should be passed limiting the sale of domestic ports to American companies."

Tim, in Powderly, Texas. "I am a Texan who was proud to vote for George Bush both times he was elected governor and both times he was elected president, but if he does not change his stand on selling our ports to an Arab country, then I agree he should be impeached."

Jim in Philadelphia, "I'm a senior citizen in tears. I was praying to hear our president walk up to the microphone and say America, hear this, not on my watch, with respect to this deal on our ports."

Karen in Columbia, Maryland writes, "The American people have to demand that this deal does not go through. The politicians have to know that any of them who support this deal will be voted out by American people in the next election."

And finally, Alan writes this, "I voted for Bush and was a supporter in the past. However, his actions seem to indicate those of a Manchurian candidate-type syndrome. In his bias toward aiding foreign big business and royal families, it's almost treasonous. What I think should be done is Congress should veto President Bush in the form of beginning the drum beat for an impeachment and removal from office. His policies are directly against the interests of the United States and its citizens."

BLITZER: We only have a few seconds. You have got thousands of email. Anyone supporting this deal?

CAFFERTY: You can count on one hand out of over 5,000 emails, I saw maybe four. Do the math.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty. Jack, we'll see you tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM. That's it for me. PAULA ZAHN NOW starting. Heidi Collins filling in -- Heidi.


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