GOP senators want to permanently exempt Puerto Rico from Jones Act

GOP senators want to permanently exempt Puerto Rico from Jones Act
© Greg Nash

Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMulvaney aims to cement CFPB legacy by ensuring successor's confirmation Trump mocks McCain at Nevada rally Don’t disrespect McCain by torpedoing his clean National Defense Authorization Act MORE (R-Ariz.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Energy: EPA declines to write new rule for toxic spills | Senate blocks move to stop Obama water rule | EPA bought 'tactical' pants and polos Senate blocks bid to stop Obama water rule GOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border MORE (R-Utah) on Thursday announced they are introducing a measure that would permanently exempt Puerto Rico from a century-old shipping law that the island's governor said has hindered the delivery of emergency aid. 

The Trump administration on Thursday temporarily waived the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 — often called the Jones Act — for Puerto Rico in an effort to facilitate relief efforts in the U.S. territory in the wake of Hurricane Maria. 

But that waiver is only set to last 10 days, which McCain said is not sufficient to help Puerto Rico recover from a storm that has devastated its infrastructure and left most of its population without power.

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The Jones Act requires that only U.S.-flagged ships be used to deliver cargo between U.S. ports. In a statement, McCain called the law "antiquated" and "protectionist," and argued that it has "crippled Puerto Rico’s economy."

Waiving the Jones Act makes it easier for Puerto Rico to receive aid by opening up ports to any ship that can bring aid, rather than only U.S. vessels. The administration similarly issued a two-week waiver for Texas and Florida after the states were struck by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. 

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said in an interview on CNN Wednesday that he expected the administration to waive the law.

Trump suggested on Wednesday that he was hesitant to waive the restriction, because of opposition from the U.S. shipping industry. 

“We’re thinking about that,” he told reporters. “But we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people who work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted. And we have a lot of ships out there right now.”

The Trump administration has faced criticism in recent days for what some have called an inadequate response to the growing crisis in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands after Maria. The administration on Thursday said the media has failed to adequately credit their response and is sharing outdated information.