HONOLULU—U.S. Rep. Charles Djou arrived in Washington just three weeks ago, but he's already roiling the waters with fellow members of the Hawaii congressional delegation and the Coast Guard.
Djou, a Republican who won a May 22 special election to fill the seat of former Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie, has been prodding President Barack Obama to waive a 90-year-old law so foreign ships can help respond to the huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The statute, known as the Jones Act, requires vessels transporting goods between states to have been built in the United States, be crewed and owned by U.S. citizens and fly the U.S. flag.
Djou asserted the law was preventing foreign countries and companies from sending their ships to the Gulf to help with the oil spill cleanup.
"There is no good reason to turn away international help in responding to this environmental catastrophe," the congressman Tuesday said in a statement.
Djou also noted that then-President George Bush waived the Jones Act in response to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster.
Djou has since been pummeled for the suggestion. The latest came Thursday from Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, Obama's point man on the spill response. Allen, appearing in a Fox News report, said there's no need for waivers.
"To date, nobody has come for a Jones Act waiver," Allen added.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs last week also rejected the idea that the law was barring assistance from foreign counties.
"We are using equipment and vessels from countries like Norway, Canada, The Netherlands," said Gibbs. "There has not been any problem with this. If there is the need for any type of waiver, that would obviously be granted, but we have not had that problem."
Djou disputes that, citing Houston Chronicle and Voice of America articles that quoted Dutch officials as saying The Netherlands offered to send oil skimmers to the Gulf but were rebuffed, apparently because of the Jones Act.
Dutch skimmers are now being used in the Gulf but only after U.S. crews were trained.
Democrat Daniel Inouye, the state's senior U.S. senator, and Rep. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, lit into Djou earlier this week.
Inouye, without naming Djou, asserted in a statement Wednesday that the congressman's idea was "more about pushing a political agenda than any genuine interest in helping Gulf coast communities."
Djou's spokesman struck back Thursday.
"While some members may be satisfied with the situation in the Gulf, Congressman Djou agrees with the president that we should do whatever is necessary to address the disaster," said Daniel Son.
Djou was one of two major candidates in the May 22 special election that opposed the Jones Act. He and Democrat Ed Case charged that the law results in higher consumer prices for Hawaii residents. Democrat Colleen Hanabusa, who is likely to face Djou in the November general election for a new term, strongly backs the statute.
Son said Djou is readying legislation that would exempt Hawaii from the law, something he promised to do in his campaign. But the bill has virtually no chance of being considered before Congress adjourns later this year.