Has Senator John McCain (R-AZ) relaxed (reversed?) his stance against the Jones Act?
In late January, Senator McCain, well known as the most vocal legislative foe of the Jones Act, said he would introduce legislation “to ensure we end our dependence” on foreign vessels, contrary to his previously stated policy.
The following month, writing in an editorial for the Wall Street Journal, Senator McCain said the US “could and should” build the equipment domestically to move people and cargo, rather than relying on foreign builders. “It is morally outrageous and strategically foolish,” he admitted, to purchase foreign-built rather than American-sourced equipment.
“Every time we purchase another one,” McCain said, “we foster our long-term dependence” on foreign manufacturers who, he notes, could cut off our access at any point.
Senator McCain expressed well-founded concerns that purchasing overseas would cause the US to become dependent on foreign suppliers who could shut down production just when we needed it most.
The good news, McCain said, about foreign-made transport, is that we don’t need to buy any more. “Many US companies believe a US-manufactured alternative… can be developed by 2019.”
That’s right, 2019. Because Senator McCain isn’t talking about ocean-going ships, but spaceships.
He is still fighting to repeal the Jones Act, most recently in late January of this year with a proposed amendment to a Senate energy bill, but he’s very concerned about buying rockets from Russia, and worries that we are too reliant on a foreign entity to supply us with access to space.
McCain’s concern for our continued access to space echoes the concerns voiced almost a hundred years ago by Senator Wesley Jones (R-WA) for ensuring “a vibrant United States maritime industry” when he authored the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, for which Senator McCain has such contempt.
Part of that vibrant US maritime industry is the US Navy’s Military Sealift Command – military ships manned by civilian mariners – that supply and replenish Navy ships with fuel, ammunition and supplies while underway.
The efforts of MSC merchant mariners in the Gulf of Tonkin no doubt contributed to the Navy Commendation Medal and Bronze Star John McCain was awarded for his missions as a naval aviator aboard the USS Forrestal and USS Oriskany in 1967.
In a recent interview with online defense magazine Breaking Defense (www.breakingdefense.com), the commander of the Military Sealift Command, Rear Admiral Thomas Shannon, said, “Three decades ago, when I came into the US Navy, we had around 400 ships in the merchant marine. Today that number is down to 77 in the international trade.”
MSC’s vessels are a mix of government-owned and private charter vessels, all of which are Jones Act ships crewed by civilian merchant mariners.
“We are getting close to that magic number where we clearly will not have enough US flagged merchant ships to generate the mariners, which MSC will need to operate, notably when we mobilize,” Admiral Shannon told Breaking Defense. “And it is not just a question of mariners; it is about the shipbuilding base and ship repair facilities being available in the United States.”
These shipbuilding facilities, necessary to defend our country, are kept active by a robust Jones Act. Senator McCain’s efforts to repeal it threaten to devastate the industry and directly threaten the security of the United States.
The term “cognitive dissonance” is used to describe the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change. Senator McCain’s outrage at our reliance on Russian rockets flies in stark contrast to his outrage at ensuring a robust domestic maritime program with the Jones Act, which he calls an “antiquated law” and an “unnecessary, protectionist restriction.” His inability to grasp the strategic importance, as outlined by Admiral Shannon, is troubling – especially with Senator McCain’s position as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services and member of the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
In August of this year, Arizona’s voters will decide whether 80-year-old Senator John McCain should serve another 6-year term. We reiterate our fervent hope that he doesn’t.
Chris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org