As Puerto Rico continues to reel from the catastrophe of Hurricane Maria, Donald Trump on Wednesday admitted that he is wavering on doing one of the things that could help the island most because big business doesn’t want him to.
Trump was asked by reporters whether he’d consider temporarily lifting the Jones Act, a federal regulation that mandates that ships passing between U.S. ports be primarily built, owned, and staffed by Americans. The act has been historically blamed for both limiting the supply of goods that can reach Puerto Rico and for highly inflating the prices of goods on the island because of the tariffs that foreign ships are charged to dock there.
Earlier this summer, the administration lifted the act for Texas and Florida following the damage from Hurricanes in those states. At the time, the Trump administration insisted the one week waiver was in the interest of easing the delivery of fuel to emergency crews in the region—a luxury that hasn’t been extended to isolated, gas-starved Puerto Rico, despite the widespread devastation across the island.
Responding to the reporter’s question, Trump first offered his standard non-answer (“we’re thinking about it”) before whining that:
We have a lot of shippers, and a lot of people, and a lot of people that work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted.
Gosh, Puerto Rico, if only you were a real state like Texas, or Florida, maybe then you’d get that special Trump treatment.
Trump’s insistence that opposition to the Jones Act stemmed primarily from the shipping industry was strikingly different from a statement issued on Tuesday by Customs and Border Protection agency spokesperson Gregory Moore.
“The limitation [in delivering emergency supplies to Puerto Rico] is going to be port capacity to offload and transit, not vessel availability,” Moore said in a statement to the Reuters news agency, in response to similar queries about lifting the Jones Act from congresswoman Nydia Velázquez.
“The situation in Puerto Rico is much different,” Moore added, repeating the government’s reasoning that the waivers granted to Florida and Texas were specifically to help ease gasoline outages caused by damaged pipelines.
While it’s true that distribution of humanitarian aid across Puerto Rico has been bottlenecked at the island’s ports, the Jones Act has nevertheless long been a source of consternation for the territory. Other U.S. territories have been exempted by the act, and legislative efforts to offer the same relief to Puerto Rico have been opposed by—you guessed it—the shipping industry.
For Trump, however, publicly blaming an American industry for the ongoing suffering of millions of U.S. citizens is less about a complex geopolitical trade policy and more about his callousness toward the lives and wellbeing of Puerto Ricans. While they struggle to find basic amenities like drinking water and electricity, Donald Trump would like the world to know that, once again, the buck stops somewhere else.