"This won't be pretty. " That is the warning and the promise issued Friday by Rep. Norm Dicks, one of Boeing's foremost supporters in Congress...

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“This won’t be pretty.”

That is the warning and the promise issued Friday by Rep. Norm Dicks, one of Boeing’s foremost supporters in Congress.

Dicks, D-Bremerton, predicted “there will be a firestorm of criticism on Capitol Hill” over the Pentagon’s award of the $40 billion tanker contract to a joint venture between European EADS, the parent of Airbus, and Northrop Grumman.

Dicks’ words were echoed by Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, whose district includes Everett’s Boeing plant.

“Obviously, Congress is going to react to the American public,” Murray said, adding there will likely be anger on the part of Americans who see thousands of jobs being sent overseas.

A statement by seven Democrats and one Republican — Rep. Dave Reichert — in the state delegation also promised close scrutiny of the Pentagon’s contract process.

Hometown unhappiness at Boeing’s loss wasn’t limited to the Washington delegation.

Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., whose district includes Boeing’s Wichita plant, criticized the award. “We should have an American tanker built by an American company with American workers,” he said.

Dicks, noting that Boeing was given a sole-source contract to build the tanker in 2003, said, “The worst part is that we won this once” when the Air Force signed off on an agreement to buy 80 Boeing 767 tankers and lease 20. Dicks was one of that original tanker deal’s proponents in late 2001.

It was Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who first questioned whether Boeing had received favoritism in that deal. Under fire from McCain, the Pentagon rescinded it in 2004.

The new competition was intended to be apolitical, but it has become a highly politicized bidding war amid debate over the involvement of EADS and Airbus.

The European companies have stressed their partnership with Northrop, and have built a strong political base in Alabama, where the winning team will assemble its planes.

In a press call afterward, Murray said, “You can put an American sticker on a plane and call it American, but that doesn’t make it American-made.”

Larsen stressed concerns raised in news reports Friday that recent changes to the contract’s specifications had favored Airbus.

“If there are allegations that there were changes late in the game, the Air Force and Pentagon will have to answer them,” he said. He said the military might have to explain the decision in congressional hearings.

Dicks and Murray sit on the appropriations committees in the House and Senate, which pull the purse strings for Pentagon budgets.

But the legislators acknowledged that their immediate reactions to the news — shock and anger — might have to give way to administrative processes.

“As much as we want to yell and scream today, we do need to understand from the Air Force what the facts are,” Murray said.

She said the Pentagon must debrief members of Congress, explaining how Boeing’s bid fell short. The real test then will be whether their colleagues from other states are prepared to take action, Murray said.

That could be complicated by McCain’s emergence as the likely Republican nominee for president, though he has said he thinks the earlier scandals no longer taint Boeing.

The Democratic contenders for the presidential nomination have not taken a position on the tanker contract.

“I hope the voters of this state remember what John McCain has done to them and their jobs,” Dicks said.

Alicia Mundy: 202-662-7457 or amundy@seattletimes.com