Wednesday, September 27, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He admitted to keeping the Jones Act (which bars foreign ships from bringing aid to Puerto Rico) in force because shipping companies told him to.

UPDATE, 9/28: After confirming late Wednesday evening that the Jones Act would not be waived, Trump reversed course sometime during the night. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced at 8:02 A.M. Thursday that the waiver had been granted. There was no explanation for Trump's repeated refusals to do so on Wednesday, or his comments about shipping industry demands.  

The Jones Act is a 1920 law that requires that all domestic shipping (including between the mainland and Puerto Rico) be done on ships built and registered in the United States. Both Republicans and Democrats have called for an emergency waiver of the law, which would allow foreign-flagged vessels to deliver relief supplies. It would also lower the cost of those supplies for consumers. Asked about this today, Trump replied, "We're thinking about that but we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people that work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted."

It was an odd comment for several reasons. Even business-friendly presidents rarely admit to simply doing as they're told by industry groups--especially when to do so would conflict with the well-being of 3.5 million American citizens. Besides, Trump seems to be more or less aware that sending aid to an island is more complicated than it would be over land. In the course of his self-congratulatory press conference yesterday, he repeatedly stressed (in case anyone was unaware) that Puerto Rico was an island, and that trucks could not be driven directly to it.

Trump waived the Jones Act immediately to aid in recovery efforts in Texas after Hurricane Harvey, and Florida after Hurricane Irma.

So what?

  • The safety and welfare of millions of Americans is more important than the short-term profit margins of a few shipping companies.