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This week in the Senate

The Senate appears to have averted a short-term showdown with the White House over the United Arab Emirate's acquisition of six domestic seaports. In a deal brokered over the weekend by Majority Leader Frist, the Dubai company will voluntarily allow for the 45-day national security investigation senators had been clamoring for since the deal went public. But the furor is far from over, as several issues remain unresolved. Among them, will the investigation be transparent and comprehensive enough to quell the criticism and stop a push for a law that would prohibit any foreign country from running American ports? Will a bipartisan group of senators go forward with legislation that would ultimately give Congress the power to approve the deal? 


Those questions will likely be raised in floor debate and in two hearings this week. A Thursday morning hearing in the Banking Committee will look at the legal underpinnings of the acquisition and includes testimony from representatives of the departments of Treasury, Homeland Security, and Defense. Tuesday, the Commerce Committee is designed to examine "what the proposed purchase means for terminal operations at ports."

The ports deal has also renewed the debate on port security, cargo screening and the money needed to pay for both. We can expect Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to face some questions on those points Tuesday in a budget subcommittee hearing. 

The Judiciary Committee holds its second open hearing on the NSA surveillance program Tuesday, this time with testimony from experts and academics on both sides of the debate. This will also be a critical week for the intelligence committee as they continue to negotiate with the White House on the once super-secret spy program. The White House has little more than a week to reach an agreement with the committee on how to give it more oversight and find a legislative fix. On March 7, the committee has the opportunity to vote on whether to launch a broad investigation if members aren't satisfied with the administration's efforts.

Other highlights this week: the Senate should complete the procedural hurdles and renew the Patriot Act with some modifications -- DNI John Negroponte testifies before the Armed Services Committee on worldwide threats on Tuesday. This could also be a forum to quiz him on NSA spying and port security. -- debate starts on Thursday in the Judiciary Committee on a bill allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the county through a guest worker program. This issue has divided many in the GOP. -- A Thursday hearing on mine safety and health resulting from the West Virginia mining tragedies -- two committees start writing lobbying reform bills spawned by the Jack Abramoff scandal.