White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert defended the Trump administration's decision not to waive Jones Act shipping restrictions for Puerto Rico until Thursday, and said criticism that the White House took too long to issue the waiver is an "unfounded complaint."
The Jones Act requires ships moving goods between U.S. ports to be U.S. flagged and operated, but Bossert said that restriction was not impeding the movement of emergency supplies to the island.
"In this case, we had enough capacity of U.S.-flagged vessels to exceed the requirement of need of commodities into Puerto Rico," Bossert said during Thursday's White House press briefing. "[I]t was a little bit misunderstood and misreported that we had a capacity problem and had to waive the Jones Act. Not the case."
Bossert said there were enough U.S.-flagged vessels to bring diesel fuel and commodities to Puerto Rico, which has resulted in 17 to 18 days worth of diesel fuel backlogged on the island. Now, the issue is distributing those resources once they reach the island.
The Trump administration received criticism from lawmakers, led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who urged President Trump to waive the Jones Act for Puerto Rico as it recovers from Hurricane Maria. But the Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday it hadn't received any requests from the industry to waive the shipping rules.
Puerto Rico's Gov. Ricardo Rossello called the White House on Wednesday night to ask for a Jones Act waiver, which the administration approved Thursday. The Department of Defense determined the waiver is in the interest of national defense, the Department of Homeland Security said.
Bossert said he initially wasn't recommending to Trump that he waive the Jones Act, but said that changed when he received the call from Rossello.
"Once the governor calls and says proactively as I see out into the future on the horizon, then I think that we should listen to him," Bossert said. "The president completely agreed."
The homeland security adviser said he believes that decision was made "not too late."
"It wasn't even too early," he said. "It was the right thing to do proactively."
The Jones Act waiver will be in effect for 10 days.