Senators Clinton and Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, plan to push legislation that would bar companies owned by foreign government from controlling operations at U.S. ports. Menendez said yesterday that President Bush should stop the deal immediately.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan defended the administration's decision on the deal again yesterday, saying "transactions like this go through a rigorous review process."

Maryland Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger said his concerns have nothing to do with the fact that Dubai Ports World is owned by an Arab government.

"I wouldn't want Germany or France or any country owning the company that is controlling the operations of our ports," said Ruppersberger, a member of the House Intelligence Committee whose district includes the port of Baltimore. "For us not to have total control over personnel, over operations, is not in our best interest. And I can't understand why the administration doesn't see that."

He and others said they hoped to bring the issue of port security into the spotlight.

"At a minimum, I think, it's an impetus for additional funding for port security," said Rep. Vito J. Fossella, a New York Republican.

It is unclear whether any of the protests will have an effect on the contracts each port has signed with the company. The port of Baltimore, for one, currently has a six-year deal with former P&O to operate Seagirt Marine Terminal that began in 2001 and an option to extend for another six years. P&O took over operations there in 1999 when it bought a New Jersey firm.

The work involves managing the flow of containerized cargo, loading and unloading ships and overseeing dockside storage.

In New York and New Jersey, P&O has a 30-year deal with the port authority to operate the container terminal in Port Newark and a 20-year deal with the city of New York to run the cruise ship terminal.

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com gwyneth.shaw@baltsun.com