White House lifts shipping curbs to help Puerto Rico
President Donald Trump issued a waiver Thursday to facilitate aid shipments to Puerto Rico, more than a week after Hurricane Maria decimated the island.
"At @ricardorossello request, @POTUS has authorized the Jones Act be waived for Puerto Rico. It will go into effect immediately," White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced on Twitter.
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello said earlier on Twitter he had petitioned the White House for a temporary waiver of the legislation.
The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, or the Jones Act, stipulates that goods shipped between U.S. ports be carried exclusively by American-made vessels owned and operated by U.S. citizens.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke confirmed the waiver would be valid for 10 days and cover all products shipped to Puerto Rico.
"It is intended to ensure we have enough fuel and commodities to support lifesaving efforts, respond to the storm, and restore critical services and critical infrastructure operations in the wake of these devastating storms," Duke said in a statement.
The move comes after the Trump administration faces growing criticism for denying requests from members of Congress to issue the waiver.
Senator John McCain -- who had called for the law's repeal -- and Senator Mike Lee on Thursday introduced legislation to permanently exempt Puerto Rico from the law to aid recovery efforts and encourage long-term economic growth, according to a statement.
"While I welcome the Trump administration's Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico, this short-term, 10-day exemption is insufficient," McCain said, calling the restriction "an antiquated, protectionist law that has driven up costs and crippled Puerto Rico's economy."
Hurricane Maria made landfall Sept. 20 on the U.S. territory as a powerful Category 4 storm, leaving its 3.5 million residents without power.
It will take "months as opposed to weeks or days" to repair the damage, Rossello said at the time.
Retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who has won praise for managing the recovery efforts in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said Thursday the federal government should have sent relief workers and aid ahead of the storm.