By DÁNICA COTO, Associated Press
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico’s governing party was in full-blown crisis Thursday as confirmation of the nominee to succeed departing Gov. Ricardo Rosselló was delayed into next week, casting doubt over who will become governor when Rosselló leaves office.
Rosselló’s, whose resignation goes into effect at 5 p.m. Friday, had named veteran politician and attorney Pedro Pierluisi as his successor by nominating him to the position of secretary of state, the next in line as governor under the U.S. territory’s constitution.
Pierluisi is a former representative to the U.S. Congress seen by most ordinary Puerto Ricans as a conciliatory, relatively uncontroversial figure, unlikely to be met by continued street demonstrations over poor governance and corruption.
Pierluisi’s main obstacle appeared to be Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, who has said he won’t vote for Rosselló’s nominee and wants to run for governor himself next year. Rivera Schatz is a powerful figure deeply associated with Puerto Rico’s political and business elite, and his elevation to governorship could re-ignite popular outrage.
Shortly after the start of a Senate session Thursday, Rivera Schatz delivered a scathing attack on his critics and said that the Senate would hold a hearing on Pierluisi on Monday.
— Julio Ricardo Varela (@julito77) August 1, 2019
Because Pierluisi has not yet been confirmed, it was not immediately clear if he would be Rosselló’s successor Friday or if the position would pass to the next in line, Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez, who has already said she doesn’t want the job.
Rosselló’s New Progressive Party holds majorities in both chambers of the legislature, meaning a united party could have easily named the next governor.
Many Puerto Rican legislators were predicting that Pierluisi did not have the votes to be confirmed.
Here's Pierluisi entering the Senate as Rivera Schatz gives his message slamming his history with La Junta. https://t.co/O7xDPJbtSs
— Natalia (@nataliarodmed) August 1, 2019
Rep. Gabriel Rodríguez Aguiló of the PNP said he supports holding public hearings before voting on Pierluisi, adding that an overwhelming number of constituents had called to ask for his confirmation.
“We ran out of paper,” he said in reference to secretaries taking notes on the calls.
Several lawmakers have proposed Rivera Schatz, a declared candidate for the 2020 governor’s election, as their choice to replace Rosselló.
After jubilation at the success of their uprising against Rosselló, Puerto Rican protesters have been frustrated at the political infighting and paralysis that’s followed.
Some lawmakers complained about Pierluisi’s work for a law firm that represents the federal control board that was created to oversee Puerto Rico’s finances before the territory, saddled with more than $70 billion in public debt, declared a sort of bankruptcy. Pierluisi’s brother-in-law also heads the board, which has clashed repeatedly with Rosselló and other elected officials over demands for austerity measures.
“That’s a serious conflict of interest,” Rep. José Enrique Meléndez told The Associated Press.
House of Representatives President Johnny Méndez, a member of the governing party, has said Pierluisi does not have the votes needed in the house.
“The situation could not be more complicated,” said Sen. José Antonio Vargas Vidot, who ran for Senate as an independent. “This is absurd, what we’re going through. We never thought something like this could happen. In an extraordinary crisis, we have to take extraordinary measures.”