Robert Novak

Deputy Secretary Robert Kimmitt, an experienced Washington hand, managed the deal at Treasury without giving a heads-up to top Republicans in Congress. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist might have been less quick to attack the port arrangement if they'd had advance word. Hastert heard nothing from a former staffer, Kevin Fromer, now handling Treasury legislative affairs.

When the Democrats first opened fire, Presidential Counselor Dan Bartlett was alerted by congressional Republicans to stormy waters ahead and urged to do something about it. Bartlett replied in the imperial style of this presidency by suggesting he hoped Republicans could support the deal, but if they could not, it just would be too bad. That was followed by the president's rare session with reporters aboard Air Force One in which he threatened a veto.

Sen. Richard Shelby, whose Banking Committee has jurisdiction of the issue, was silent at first, but only because he was traveling in Europe. When he issued a brief, limited circulation statement last Thursday, it was not good news for the White House. "From Treasury's perspective," he said, "the [foreign acquisitions] process with respect to the Dubai transaction worked perfectly; from the Banking Committee's perspective, it failed miserably." He set hearings for Thursday that will not be pleasant.

The rest of the world may wonder how a relatively routine commercial transaction turned Republican leaders against their president. Frank McKenna, the Canadian ambassador who is leaving Washington this week, has cracked the code by appreciating the existence of two U.S. governments, one executive and the other legislative. That system requires more presidential finesse than was displayed in handling the Dubai contract.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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