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- Puerto Rican Gov. Ricky Rosselló has appointed seven representatives to meet with members of Congress in Washington, DC to lobby for statehood. If Congress votes to admit Puerto Rico as the 51st state, Rosselló has proposed that his seven appointed representatives represent Puerto Rico in Congress (two US senators and five members of the House of Representatives).
- Last Monday, Rosselló announced the appointments of former Govs. Carlos Romero Barceló and Pedro Rosselló González, former president of the Puerto Rican Senate Charlie Rodriguez Colon, and former MLB player Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez to form the Equality Commission for Puerto Rico, which will will lobby on behalf of Puerto Rican statehood.
- If Puerto Rico is admitted as a state, Barceló will serve as one of Rosselló’s two appointments to the US Senate.
- Similarly, Rosselló designated Gonzalez, Colon, and Rodriquez as three of his five appointments to the US House of Representatives.
- On 10 July, Roselló announced his remaining appointments: former Gov. Luis Fortuño, Major General (ret.) Felix Santoni, and the national committeewoman of the Republican Party, Zoraida Fonalledas (the second US Senate nominee).
A legal opinion
- John Mark Hansen, the distinguished service professor of political science at the University of Chicago, told The Whim that, if Puerto Rico does become a state, Gov. Rosselló does not have the constitutional authority to appoint a delegation to serve as representatives in the US House. He wrote in an email:
“The Constitution specifies that members of the House of Representatives are to be elected ‘by the People of the several States’ (Article I, section 2). Senators can be appointed, depending on state law. In every case of a state newly admitted to the Union that I know about, including Alaska and Hawaii, US Representatives were elected, either in a scheduled election or a special election. Both houses have the constitutional power to ‘judge the Election, Returns, and Qualifications of its own Members’ (Article I, section 5) and they have on numerous occasions declined to seat an elected representative because of some electoral impropriety… it’s hard to imagine that the House would overturn two centuries of precedent (and the protocols followed after the admission of 34 more states) and agree to seat members who have been appointed.”
Puerto Rico’s current status
- Puerto Rico is currently an unincorporated, organized US territory with commonwealth status, according to the CIA Factbook.
- Those born on the island receive US citizenship, and the United States provides the island with military protection.
- Puerto Rico does not enjoy the same rights as US states (such as Congressional representation and participation in presidential elections), and its citizens “generally do not pay federal income tax on income they earn in the Commonwealth,” according to the US Government Accountability Office.
- Congress has not planned a vote on Puerto Rican statehood.
- Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon is the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, a non-voting position in the US House of Representatives. In January, she introduced H.R. 260, which seeks to “enable the admission of the territory of Puerto Rico into the Union as a State.” The bill claims that an “overwhelming majority of the United States citizens residing in Puerto Rico want to replace territory status with a permanent form of government that provides for equality and for democratic representation in the making of their national laws.”
- According to the Government Development Bank of Puerto Rico, “as of July 31, 2016, the aggregate outstanding principal amount of debt of the Commonwealth and its instrumentalities was approximately $71.5 billion.”
- The island’s unemployment rate is 11.7% (compared to the national average of 4.7%).
- The report states that Puerto Rico’s “ratio of tax-supported debt to revenue is more than double that of Hawaii, the state with the highest debt-to-revenue ratio, and almost seven times the US State median.”
- On 2 May, Gov. Rosselló announced that he had filed the debt crisis into federal bankruptcy court — making Puerto Rico “the largest government to seek refuge from its creditors in US history,” according to the New York Times.
- On 11 June, Puerto Rico voted on a referendum to decide the future status of the territory. The ballot had three options: statehood, independence/free association, or current status. The results of the election do not force Congress to take any action. Of the 23% of eligible citizens who participated, 97% of voters chose statehood.
- In November, Rosselló won the Puerto Rico gubernatorial election while campaigning on promoting Puerto Rico statehood. He received 42% of the vote. The runner up won 39%.
- Article IV, Section III of the Constitution gives Congress the power to admit a new state into the Union.
- Addressing a congressional vote on statehood, Federico de Jesús — a former Obama administration and Puerto Rico government official — told NBC News that he believes “this is as close to dead on arrival as you can get.”
Supporters of Statehood
- In a February interview with Fox News, Gov. Rosselló commented:
“The people of Puerto Rico have already chosen that we don’t want to be a colonial territory and that we want to be a state. And now we’re actually pushing forward another plebiscite on June 11 so that we can ratify that petition. I think Puerto Rico becoming a state would fulfill the destiny of 3.5 million American citizens that live in Puerto Rico.”
- In April, Rosselló delivered a speech called “Moving Puerto Rico Forward” to the Heritage Foundation. Speaking on statehood, he said:
“Allow us [Puerto Ricans] to have a path forward so that the people of Puerto Rico can decide. Allow us to have a path forward so that we can, as US citizens, keep working for this nation, but as part of the United States if our people so choose to do so. Please allow us to have the opportunities to have the runway”
- Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chair Tom Perez endorsed Puerto Rican statehood. He wrote in an email to Politico that he “believes Puerto Ricans should have the same rights as those on the mainland and that his personal view is that statehood is the best method to provide full representation in government and equal rights.”
- Following the referendum, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Maryland) said:
“The voters who participated in Puerto Rico’s status referendum expressed an unambiguous desire to continue seeking a future in common with the United States as an equal member of our union. I hope Congress and the Administration will listen to those voices and enable Puerto Rico to become the fifty-first state. Its people – already American citizens – deserve full and equal representation in the Congress and equal treatment by federal agencies.”
Critics of Statehood
- President Donald Trump tweeted in April:
Democrats are trying to bail out insurance companies from disastrous #ObamaCare, and Puerto Rico with your tax dollars. Sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 26, 2017
- Former Puerto Rican Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá wrote an op-ed for The Hill against Puerto Rico Statehood. He wrote that the admission of Puerto Rico will change the definition of the United States from “a nation-state, into a multi-national state. Although the US is a nation of immigrants and different minorities reside within its borders, its objective since its foundation has been that they all amalgamate into one nation, in what is known colloquially as the famous ‘melting pot.’ Since its inception, the American nation has had on its official seal the following motto: ‘e pluribus unum’, which in Latin means, ‘from the many, one.’ That would change dramatically if Puerto Rico were to become a state.”
- He continued to address Puerto Rico’s economic crisis, referring to Congress’ treatment of the island as colonial, but that “HR 260 is step in the wrong direction.”
- The National Review published an op-ed arguing against statehood. The editorial board wrote:
“If Puerto Rico became a state, its economy and culture would be incredible outliers: It is twice as poor as the poorest of the 50 states, and it would of course be the first Spanish-speaking one. Statehood would remove some of the competitive benefits the island currently enjoys — protection of the United States and its laws without paying income taxes, for instance — in exchange for an inordinately generous welfare state.”
- Fredericó de Jesús told NBC News:
“This vote was a waste of precious resources at a time of severe fiscal constraints. Sadly, today’s vote will thus go down in history as yet another non-binding glorified poll with no real effect on resolving Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States.”
William Spruance contributed to this report.