The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has agreed to hold a full day hearing on the issue of Puerto Rico’s status and the results of a non-binding plebiscite held last November 6, according to reports from El Nuevo Día.
Initially postponed from June 11, committee leaders Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) finally agreed to hold a hearing on August 1 at 9:30AM. Specifically, the hearing will discuss the current status of the island, the results of the plebiscite, and the Obama Administration’s plan to hold yet another plebiscite on the island, with $2.5 million to be allocated towards this endeavor.
The Obama Administration and Senator Wyden appear to be in agreement that the November 6 plebiscite, in which 54% of islanders rejected the current status (and of those voters, 61% favored statehood) was biased in favor of statehood over the other prevailing options. Therefore, the Obama Administration hope to establish another plebiscite that would have four direct choices: “commonwealth,” “free association,” “statehood,” and “independence.” Senator Murkowski is also in agreement of this new referendum. Speakers at the hearing are believed to include Obama Administration officials as well as representatives from all three political parties in Puerto Rico, each representing the three major status choices: Governor Alejandro García Padilla (Popular Democratic Party – Commonwealth/Status Quo), Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi (New Progressive Party – Statehood), and former island Senator Rubén Berríos (Puerto Rico Independence Party). Pierluisi, the island’s non-voting member of Congress and leader of its pro-statehood party, is the most vocal in opposition to the Obama Administration’s plan, arguing that that the November 6 plebiscite made the wishes of Puerto Ricans clear and that the federal government should respond accordingly.
The push for a new plebiscite is in contrast to HR2000, introduced by Pierluisi in the House of Representatives on May 15, 2013. The bill calls for a binding referendum on the island, asking Puerto Ricans whether they wished to be admitted as a state of the Union. If a majority votes in favor of admission, the bill requires both Congress and the President to draft legislation towards admission within 150 days of the referendum. Most notable in HR2000 is that Puerto Rico’s admission as a state would increase the total number of House members by the number of members Puerto Rico would receive in proportion to the current population. In other words, if Puerto Rico would receive five House members according to the current population, the total number of members in the House would increase by five to accommodate the island, bring the total House membership to 440.
Currently, HR2000 has been referred to the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but has not yet been given a hearing date. The bill has 83 cosponsors, but only 8 of whom are Republicans. It remains to be seen whether HR2000 will ever get a hearing date considering the low amount of support from the majority party in the House.
It was hoped that the plebiscite of November 6 would finally bring an end to the issue that has dominated the island for over sixty years, but as the Senate hearing and Pierluisi’s bill indicate, resolving the matter is far from concluded.
Samuel A. Rosado, Esq. is an attorney from New Jersey. He served as Executive Director of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly of New Jersey in 2010, and has been a freelance contributor and writer on Hispanic issues and engagement for Politic365, The Daily Grito, and Misfit Politics. Follow him on twitter at @SARosado.