Democrats in Congress have introduced a bill that would force the Trump administration to waive the Jones Act for Puerto Rico by allowing the restriction on foreign ships to be lifted in cases of a humanitarian crisis.
The new legislation comes two days after the Trump administration denied a request from several members of Congress to waive the Jones Act, which limits shipping between coasts to U.S.-flagged vessels, therefore, preventing cheaper and more readily-available foreign ships from helping to get gasoline and other supplies to Puerto Rico as the island recovers from Hurricane Maria, according to Reuters.
“This is a humanitarian crisis and Puerto Rico needs all the help it can get,” said Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), the sponsor of the bill who requested a one-year waiver for Puerto Rico.
Velázquez, who was born in Puerto Rico and currently represents parts of Brooklyn, said the legislation would ensure that “any and all maritime assets can access the Island to deliver aid, regardless of their Jones Act status.”
Democratic Reps. Grace Meng (N.Y.), Darren Soto (Fla.), Luis Gutiérrez (Ill.) and José Serrano (N.Y.) have also backed the legislation.
President Trump emphasized that the shipping industry is strongly opposed to waiving the rules.
“We’re thinking about that, but we have a lot of shippers, a lot of people that work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted,” Trump told reporters Wednesday. “And we have a lot of ships out there right now.”
Sen. John McCain on Tuesday demanded that Trump immediately lift the Jones Act, saying “it is unacceptable to force the people of Puerto Rico to pay at least twice as much for food, clean drinking water, supplies and infrastructure.”
The Arizona GOP lawmaker urged acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke to immediately suspend the rule.
“It is unacceptable to force the people of Puerto Rico to pay at least twice as much for food, clean drinking water, supplies and infrastructure due to Jones Act requirements as they work to recover from this disaster,” McCain wrote in the letter.
“We must treat this emergency relief with urgency ― every day that business owners are unable to recover their assets and account for lost business, the economy will retreat even further into devastation,” he continued, while urging his “colleagues to support this bill and finally repeal the outdated and protectionist Jones Act.”
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under President Trump waived the act following hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
The agency said Tuesday that waiving the Jones Act for Puerto Rico would not help the U.S. territory due to damaged ports.
“The limitation is going to be port capacity to offload and transit, not vessel availability,” a spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection told Reuters.