senator john mccain

Senator McCain’s Latest Jones Act Repeal Effort Unlikely to Progress – Holland & Knight

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August 30, 2017

File photo: Krista Kennell /

Senator John McCain’s latest attempt to repeal the Jones Act seems to be dead in the water and will likely not pass either the Senate or House, according to attorneys at Holland & Knight.

Senator McCain introduced the legislation in July, known as the Open America’s Waters Act of 2017, just days before he underwent surgery to remove an aggressive brain tumor above his left eye.

But according to Holland & Knight transportation attorneys Eric Lee and Michael Cavanaugh, the legislation calling for a full repeal the Jones Act is not likely to progress any further.

“McCain’s latest legislation appears to be a broad repeal of U.S. law restricting transport of merchandise between U.S. ports and offshore sites to U.S coastwise vessels,” write Lee and Cavanaugh in a co-authored alert published by Holland & Knight. However, like McCain’s prior attempts to strike down the Jones Act, the new McCain campaign seems “unlikely to pass either the Senate or House, or to lead to other legislation or policy changes,” the authors write.

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, aka the Jones Act, requires that all goods shipped between ports in the United States be transported on American-built ships that are owned and operated by Americans.

The latest attempt by McCain is now his fourth effort to eliminate or sharply pare back Jones Act cabotage restrictions in the past eight years. He first introduced legislation for a full repeal the Jones Act in 2010. Later, in 2015 and 2016, he introduced legislation that was more narrowly focussed on eliminating the U.S.-build requirement of the Jones Act.

McCain has vowed for a full repeal of the Jones Act, describing it as “antiquated law” that hinders free trade and raises prices for American consumers, despite tough opposition from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

“Like his prior attempts, the new McCain campaign seems unlikely to gather sufficient support to pass either the Senate or House, or to stir much debate leading to other legislation or policy changes,” according to Lee and Cavanaugh. “Legislation protecting U.S. ship operators and shipyards from foreign competition in U.S. inland and coastal domestic trading markets dates from the first few U.S. Congresses during the late 18th century. Despite strong support from much of corporate America and traditional Republican interests, including the oil majors and Heritage Foundation, and continuous pressure from U.S. jurisdictions heavily reliant upon ocean shipping trade with other states – such as Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico – historical efforts to reduce the scope of the Jones Act materially have failed outright or been heavily diluted. The current political landscape is no more favorable. Weakening the Jones Act in any way would appear to run directly counter to the protectionist themes of the Trump Administration.


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