By Eduardo J. Soto and Federico A. de Jesús
WASHINGTON, D.C. — This Democratic presidential primary saw unprecedented demands for candidate positions on issues affecting the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Advocates flew to Iowa and challenged candidates on the trail, asking them to #ShowUsYourPRPolicy. As a result of this advocacy and in response to devastating natural disasters, many Democratic presidential candidates took the time to listen to and uplift the needs of the people of Puerto Rico.
Today, we make our voices heard ahead of a crucial decision that will determine whether that emphasis on our community’s needs will continue, or whether we will again become an afterthought: Vice President Joe Biden’s selection of a running mate for his campaign.
Since 2017, the destruction that Hurricanes Irma and María left in their wake has revealed not just the callousness of the Trump Administration toward its largest territorial possession, but also unprecedented expressions of love and solidarity from Americans everywhere. Spurred by an urgent and critical need to rebuild, all aspects of the United States’ mistreatment of Puerto Rico were suddenly, albeit briefly, in focus.
Democratic candidates visited Puerto Rico many months ahead of the local primary. Some campaigns went as far as to incorporate the recommendations they received from Puerto Rican leaders into their platforms. But in that crowded field, one woman demonstrated an unrivaled grasp of the core issues holding Puerto Ricans back. She has demonstrated time and again an unshakable commitment to economic development, worker justice, and debt relief for the people of Puerto Rico—before it was fashionable. We are talking of course about U.S. Senator Elizabeth Ann Warren of Massachusetts.
By selecting Warren as a running mate, the Biden campaign has an opportunity to translate unprecedented support for just and equitable treatment of Puerto Rico into structural change that will meaningfully improve Puerto Rico’s economy and the health of our democracy. Warren is the only candidate on the Biden campaign’s reported shortlist to have proposed bold solutions to Puerto Rico’s debt crisis and struggling economy. Most notably, she applied her background as a leading bankruptcy expert to design the US Territorial Relief Act, a bill to provide Puerto Rico’s local government with a mechanism to invalidate and cancel some of its debt.
Warren’s leadership on these issues predates her presidential campaign. Before Puerto Rico’s debt issues made national headlines, she advocated for executive action to meet the crisis head on. In 2016, she was one of a handful of Democratic Senators to vote No on PROMESA, a failed framework for Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy that imposed an undemocratic fiscal control board and provided little to no defense against its membership’s conflicts of interest. Since its enactment, PROMESA has resulted in steep cuts to essential services, sweetheart deals with creditors, and no meaningful economic growth initiatives.
After the 2017 hurricanes, Warren co-wrote a Marshall Plan-like reconstruction bill and proposed housing relief for displaced families when the federal government turned its back to them. Time and again, when our community needed her, Warren walked the walk.
It is not lost on us that the Vice President Biden lagged other candidates in terms of Latino support during the Democratic primary. The Puerto Rican population in the states, which has long been larger than the island’s, is growing fastest in the critical swing state of Florida but is also rapidly growing in states like Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Selecting a trusted messenger for our community as Vice President Biden’s running mate would show not just a commitment to sound policy for Puerto Rico, but also a commitment to earning our vote. Selecting Warren would also prevent certain political missteps, such as when a leaked draft of the 2020 Democratic Party platform appeared to endorse PROMESA’s continued implementation, rather than its reform or repeal.
This Administration’s neglect and discriminatory treatment against Puerto Rico is undeniable. We applaud Vice President Biden for fighting back against those abuses. We maintain, however, that Puerto Rican families should be more than just a cudgel against Trump. Their needs should matter always, and not just when politically expedient.
Democrats overwhelmingly support Warren’s selection as a running mate, making her the best choice for a party that needs to stick together if it is to defeat Donald Trump. It is our hope that when Vice President Biden and his team make their decision, they will consider the people of Puerto Rico along with the other factors that make Warren the best choice in an extraordinarily talented and historically diverse shortlist.
The authors are both Democratic strategists in Washington, D.C. who were born and raised in Puerto Rico. Eduardo J. Soto worked as an advisor to House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters (D-CA) and is a Director at The Raben Group. Federico A. de Jesús was the national Communications Director for Hispanic Media in the 2008 Obama-Biden campaign, and served in similar roles in the offices of then House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He also served as Deputy Director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration and is now Principal at FDJ Solutions, a public affairs firm.
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