The Trump administration on Tuesday denied a request from several members of Congress to waive shipping restrictions, known as the Jones Act, to help get gasoline and other supplies to Puerto Rico as the island recovers from Hurricane Mari.
The Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday that waiving the act for Puerto Rico would not help the U.S. island territory due to damaged ports preventing ships from docking.
But on Friday, Trump waived the Jones Act for Puerto Rico.
So what happened?
Did Puerto Rico suddenly build a bunch of new docks?
Not a chance. The DHS excuse for the early failure to waive the act was a lie.
You see, Puerto Rico is not close to the center of power but the US shipbuilding industry is.
The Jones Act generally requires that the maritime transport of cargo between points in the United States be carried by U.S.-flagged vessels that are at least 75 percent owned and crewed by U.S. citizens, with U.S. officers and built in U.S. shipyards.
In addition to Puerto Rico, the Act's restrictions apply to cargo shipping between the U.S. mainland and Alaska and Hawaii; along the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific Coasts; down the St Lawrence Seaway; and between the East and West Coasts via the Panama Canal.
“Like other protectionist laws, it increases the price of goods and services to American consumers,” the Washington Post stated in a 2010 editorial.
In 2013, Reuters wrote:
The act has powerful backing from a spectrum of vested interests including U.S. vessel owners, unions, shipyards, and elements of the Defense Department and the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD)...
The act has been supported by presidents from both parties. Every one of the last five presidents has supported it. (www.mctf.com/statements.html)
“You ... can count on me to support the Jones Act and the continued exclusion of maritime services in international trade agreements,” Barack Obama promised in a letter to the Seafarers International Union when he was running for president in 2008.
President George W Bush was similarly unequivocal when he said in 2006: “It is important for presidents to embrace the Jones Act. I have for five-and-a-half years as the president supported the Jones Act and will continue to do so.”
“My administration ... continues to support the Jones Act,” President Clinton said in 1997, “as essential to the maintenance of the nation’s commercial and maritime interests.”
Even Ronald Reagan, running in 1980, was clear: “I can assure you that a Reagan administration will not support legislation that would jeopardise this long-standing policy ... or the jobs dependent on it.”
The Trump administration was just following a long line of crony protectionist support for the Jones Act, when it lied and said that docking was a problem for the supplies to reach Puerto Rico.
When the news of the amount of devastation and suffering going on in Puerto Rico blasted across American television networks, Trump bowed to political pressure and temporarily waived the Act---for 10 days.