Quick Passage of Sullivan/Scott CRUISE Act Blocked in Senate
Legislation would require CDC to issue guidance for safely resuming cruise line operations this summer
WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) today attempted to advance their Careful Resumption Under Improved Safety Enhancements (CRUISE) Act on the Senate floor, but Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) objected, preventing the bill from passing. The CRUISE Act, also introduced with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), would revoke the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) current “Conditional Sailing Order” on cruises and require the CDC to provide COVID-19 mitigation guidance for cruise lines to safely resume operations. Representatives Don Young (R-Alaska) and María Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.) have introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
Sens. Sullivan and Scott also held a colloquy on the Senate floor discussing the dramatic economic consequences of another lost cruise ship season on thousands of hard-working Americans across the country, and why the CRUISE Act is necessary to salvage the summer cruise season.
The CRUISE Act:
- Requires the CDC to issue recommendations for how to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 to passengers and crew onboard cruise ships.
- Establishes an interagency “Working Group” that will develop recommendations to facilitate the resumption of passenger cruise ship operations in the United States. The recommendations will facilitate the resumption of passenger cruise ship operations in the U.S. no later than July 4, 2021.
- Requires the CDC, no later than July 4, 2021, to revoke the order entitled “Framework for Conditional Sailing and Initial Phase COVID-19 Testing Requirements for Protection of Crew.”
- Ensures that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the CDC retain all appropriate authorities to make and enforce regulations necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases on any individual cruise ship.
Below is a full transcript of the colloquy.
SEN. SULLIVAN: Madam President, I'm honored to be on the Senate floor with my colleague, Senator Scott from the great state of Florida. We are here to talk about an issue that really matters to both Alaska and to Florida, and I would say it actually matters to the whole country.
Let me begin by just saying, like all states, my state, the great state of Alaska, struggled through the pandemic, a lot of challenges. I'm proud to say that with regard to the health challenges of the pandemic, I'm very honored and privileged and proud to represent a great group of Americans, my fellow Alaskans, who came together on the health side, despite our huge challenges in terms of a giant state, dispersed population. We worked together, and on so many indicators of health, directly related to the pandemic, Alaska, Alaskans did very well. We were number one per capita in terms of testing throughout almost the entire pandemic. Remarkably, we have been the number one state per capita in terms of vaccine distribution. Which is a mini miracle if you know Alaska, given how big it is. We had vaccines going out on snow machines, dog sleds, you name it. We were getting it out to everybody in a more efficient way than any other state in the country. And, importantly, thank God, we had one of the lowest per capita death rates in the country.
So we're proud of that, Madam President, but our economy, like many, but I would say almost uniquely is getting hammered, and people are suffering economically, first by the pandemic, of course, and now unfortunately by our own federal government. Let me just give you a couple of examples. In the energy sector, very important to Alaska, very important to America. Yes, we still need energy. Oil and gas, we need it. Some of the greatest workers in the world are in my state. The Biden administration thinks we don't need them. They have been crushing my state. Nine executive orders directed solely at the state of Alaska by this administration to shut us down. Nine. There's no state in the country getting that kind of attention. We don't want that attention. Commercial fishing. Our state has been what I like to call the “superpower of seafood.” Over 60% of all seafood harvested in America comes from Alaska. That has been hurt by the pandemic.
The issue that we're here to talk about today, madam President, is tourism. It is so important to Alaska, so important to Florida. That's what I want to talk about with my good friend, Senator Scott, to bring relief to our fellow Americans, Floridians, and Alaskans, to work to immediately pass the CRUISE Act. That is our bill which would provide relief to coastal communities in our country, in Alaska and Florida, to enable responsible return of cruise ship activities that are so important to the small business owners in our states whose livelihoods depend on a robust tourism sector.
Let me just very quickly, Madam President, mention one thing. Alaska is open for tourism. One of the most beautiful places in the world. In fact, America, do you want to come and have a great vacation? Come on up to Alaska this summer. Not only will you have an amazing experience, we just announced two days ago, you can get a vaccine. Come on up. If your state's too inefficient to get a vaccine, have a great vacation in Alaska, and you will get a vaccine in Alaska as well. You can do both. You can see the most beautiful state in the country, you can fish, see glaciers, wildlife, climb mountains, whale watch, and if you do that, it's going to help our economy, help the small businesses, fishing guides, hotels. I know Americans want to help one another. That's what we have been doing for the last year. We want you to come up, stay safe, get a vaccine, but here's what we need.
To enable that to happen in Alaska and other parts of the country, we need the CDC. to better understand their job, their mission, and their role. This in particular relates to the issues of cruise ship passengers, the ability for cruise ship vessels to start to return to America's waters as they are doing throughout the rest of the world. Asia, Europe, Latin America, people are cruising safely right now. But the CDC, Madam President, is dragging its feet. They're dithering. I have been meeting -- my staff has been meeting with them certainly weekly. I have met twice with the CDC director. And all we get is foot-dragging. All we get is excuses. All we get is guidance that's muddled, confusing, and simply unworkable. And, here's the thing. In my state, communities are dying, and no one seems to care. The CDC, the bureaucrats there, don't seem to give a damn about what Americans are suffering through right now. Literally. I don't know how many times we can be on calls with them where we get no response. And when people lose jobs and lose businesses that is a health impact too.
So here's what our simple bill does, the CRUISE Act. First, it would require the CDC to issue recommendations for how to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 to passengers and crew on board ships. This would be in addition to what the industry has already put forward in their over 70 recommendations. Second, our bill would establish an interagency working group that will develop recommendations to facilitate the resumption of passenger cruise ship operations in the United States, in Florida, in Alaska. The recommendations will facilitate the resumption of passenger cruise ship operations no later than July 4, 2021.
Our bill requires the CDC, no later than that same day, Independence Day, to revoke the order entitled, “Framework for Conditional Sailing and Initial Phase COVID Testing Requirements for Protection of Crew.” And our bill finally ensures that the DHS and CDC. retain all appropriate authorities to make and enforce regulations necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission or spread of communicable diseases on individual cruise ships.
Madam President, this is a commonsense bill. We need the CDC to continue to work with us, certainly, but to recognize that by dragging their feet, tens of thousands of Americans are going to continue to suffer when they don't have to. We can do this responsibly. My state and the state of Florida want to do this responsibly, but we can't wait any longer. Our tourism season in Alaska is very short, our businesses need to know that they can open again, and our citizens need help.
I yield the floor to my colleague from Florida whose citizens are experiencing some of the same devastating impacts that my fellow Alaskans are.
SEN. SCOTT: Madam President. I do want to compliment my colleague. He comes from a beautiful state. While I would like all the tourists to come to Florida, Alaska is a great state to take a vacation. I have had the opportunity to do that a few times. It's a beautiful state.
I want to thank my colleagues, Senator Sullivan and Senator Rubio, for working on this bill that is so important to all of our states, but for sure Florida and Alaska. Many states rely on the success of our ports, our cruise line, and our maritime industries. Throughout my time as governor of Florida, we proudly welcomed more than 100 million visitors every year, shattering annual tourism records each year. Every visitor to our state supports small businesses, fuels job growth, and boosts tax revenue, helping to increase state and local investments in the environment, transportation, public safety, and education. It's not just Florida and Alaska. Tourism including our all-important cruise industry-- it has huge impacts for states across our nation and the thousands of jobs that rely on its success.
In this chart, you can look at this. First off the cruise industry shut down. It's killing a lot of jobs all across this country. Before COVID-19, we had 450,000 American jobs and $55 billion in GDP every year in our economy. Unfortunately due to the suspension of cruises caused by the CDC inaction, more than 300,000 American jobs have been lost. So this is all across our country.
As we continue to work to recover from the coronavirus and get our economy back on track, I remain committed to doing everything I can to support our tourism industry in Florida, Alaska, and all across the countr,y in a safe manner. Unfortunately, while many sectors of the economy had been safely operating for many months under CDC guidelines, Floridians and those across the nation that rely on the cruise industry for work continue to wait, wait, wait for updated guidance from the CDC. I've heard from small business owners who have shared all their stories about how important tourism is to them and specifically the cruise industry is to their livelihood and how much the CDC’s decision here has hurt them.
Let me give you an example. Omar Otero, the founder and owner of VOK Protective Services who says, “As a business owner, I've been dependent on the cruise industry for my livelihood for 20 years, and this pause has been devastating. What many people don't see behind the scenes is that cruising has a significant impact on many small businesses that employ hundreds of thousands of people in America. Resuming cruising is critical to my business and would allow me to work again and support my family.”
Jeannette Piñeiro, president of Cruiseport Destinations, who says, “The uncertainty we've been living with last year is probably the most devastating mentally for a business owner. I have former employees that are still unemployed. They want to get back to work and there's been nothing I could do. The cruise industry needs to be treated on par with other sectors of the travel industry and this legislation would provide a plan to safely resume cruise operations.”
Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the statements from these business owners are placed in the record.
THE PRESIDING OFFICER: Without objection.
SEN. SCOTT: The CDC’s refusal to properly address this shutdown is wrong. It's time to get the cruise industry open and it's going to create jobs all across our country. That's why I'm proud to join my colleagues, Senator Sullivan and Senator Rubio in introducing the CRUISE Act which says we're not waiting on the CDC any longer. In March, President Biden announced the effort to vaccinate all Americans, his plan to vaccinate all Americans by July 4. As of this week, all adults will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.
Our nation has made enormous progress in fighting COVID-19. Yet the CDC continues to act like we're still in March 2020. Meanwhile, as my colleague from Alaska said, there's cruising all over the rest of the world. My colleagues and I are simply asking the CDC to provide a timeline when the cruise industry can begin to reopen like so many other sectors and the CRUISE Act ensures they can do that in a safe manner.
The CDC is treating the cruise sector unfairly while other industries are open for business. There is no reason why America's cruise industry and the thousands of jobs that rely on its success should continue to suffer. Cruises can and should resume, and we're going to do everything we can to bring back cruising safely. I yield back to my colleague from Alaska.
SEN. SULLIVAN: Madam President.
THE PRESIDING OFFICER: The junior senator from Alaska.
SEN. SULLIVAN: As if in legislation session, I ask unanimous consent that the Committee on HELP be discharged from further consideration of S. 1105 and the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration. I ask unanimous consent that the bill be considered read a third time and passed, and that the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table.
THE PRESIDING OFFICER: Is there objection?
SEN. MURRAY: Madam President?
THE PRESIDING OFFICER: The senator from Washington.
SEN. MURRAY: Madam President, reserving the right to object. I understand the position of my colleagues from Alaska and Florida who want to see a return to cruising by July 4. I'm there with them. The cruise industry in my home state supports over 5,500 jobs and creates $900 million in annual local business revenue. Those jobs and that impact on the local economy have been severely disrupted. But we have to ensure the safety of our friends and our families on these cruises before they disembark. We have seen firsthand how devastating COVID outbreaks on cruise ships can be.
Just last year, we saw thousands of passengers stranded on cruise ships, people put in quarantine, or refused entry to ports as borders closed. Over 31 million Americans have contracted COVID and 560,000 have died from this disease. Cruise ships require specific focus and protocols in place to prevent future outbreaks. While I am as eager as anyone else to see a return to travel, we cannot cut corners. Doing so risks lives and will only further delay returning to normal, hurting our economy more in the long run.
We must trust the science and we must allow the CDC to continue its work to help us return to what we love as safely as possible. So I will continue to work with CDC and the administration as they develop the next phase of their cruising guidance, but for now, I object.
THE PRESIDING OFFICER: The objection is heard.
SEN. SULLIVAN: Madam President.
THE PRESIDING OFFICER: The junior senator from Alaska.
SEN. SULLIVAN: Madam President, to my colleague from Washington who I have the utmost respect for, it is true that at the beginning of the pandemic there were all kinds of challenges with the cruise ship industry. There's no doubt about that. We saw that, but that was well over a year ago. We didn't know anything about the virus then, we didn't have vaccines then, and we didn't see the economic devastation then. It is a very different period right now a year later.
Madam President, what we are asking for is the CDC to move. That's what our bill does. You know, Senator Murkowski and I had a meeting, our second meeting with the CDC Director, just three weeks ago. In that meeting, she told us that they were going to issue all of the guidance for the cruise ships, issue it all so people can plan. They said that they could anticipate with this guidance that we could meet cruising opportunities to start by mid-July in Alaska. They said that, with this guidance, the CDC wouldn’t have to be approving every move, every move going forward. And they said they would take into consideration this huge progress we have made on vaccinating Americans. In my state, in southeast Alaska, there's communities with 60%, 70%, 80% vaccination rates. That's where these cruise ships are going to be going.
The unfortunate thing, Madam President, not one thing the director of the CDC told us turned out to be true. That's not good. Her staff or somebody in the CDC needs to be held responsible for telling us something that was not true at all.
Again, what is happening right now is an economic and health devastation in my state. The estimates are up to $3 billion worth of damage just in Alaska alone because of the foot dragging, mixed messages, and unresponsiveness when it comes to the CDC’s guidance. As my friend from Florida just mentioned, airlines, schools, hospitals, and hotels have all gotten CDC guidance and have been able to open. But for some reason, they are focused on this industry, which negatively impacts thousands of small businesses across America, in Florida, in Alaska.
I certainly hope that the CDC seeing that we are trying to move this and it's a bipartisan issue, by the way, will start to do its job and make the commitment that was made to me and other senators to get this moving quickly in terms of guidance so we can be having tourism, cruise ships and otherwise in America by mid-July. That's what I was told by the director three weeks ago. They need to keep that commitment.
Madam President, I yield to my good friend from Florida.
SEN. SCOTT: Madam President.
THE PRESIDING OFFICER: The junior senator from Florida.
SEN. SCOTT: I'm clearly disappointed that my colleague from Washington would object to this commonsense proposal. The cruise industry- it impacts thousands of jobs, not just if Florida, not just in Alaska, but in the state of Washington.
Everybody here I know wants to make sure we can start cruising again in a safe manner. Let's remember, what my colleague was talking about, she was talking about what was going on in March and April of 2020. But today, hotels are open, airlines are flying, beaches are open, restaurants are open, tourism sites are open, amusement parks are open. They're all open. But for whatever reason, the cruise industry has made a decision to not allow cruising to happen. So they singled out this industry and cannot tell any of us why they've singled this out. All we are asking is for the CDC to provide a timeline of when the cruise industry can begin to reopen. The cruise industry wants to do it safely. It's a lot of American jobs, including -- I think it's 23,000 jobs and a billion dollars economic impact in the state of Washington. So I know everybody says they want to get this done, but the only way this is going to happen is if we make sure that we force the CDC to finally make a decision and allow the cruise industry to get open again in a safe manner.
Thank you, Madam President.
# # #
Next Article Previous Article