Velázquez and Ocasio-Cortez Respond to Pierluisi’s Puerto Rico Statehood Push, and (as Expected) They’re Not Supporting It

Mar 5, 2021
8:17 AM

Rep. Nydia Velázquez (l); Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (r) (Public Domain)

If Puerto Rico governor and statehood advocate Pedro Pierluisi was hoping to get the support of fellow Democrats Rep. Nydia Velázquez and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for a new bipartisan Puerto Rico Statehood Admission bill, as expected, it won’t happen.

According to a Thursday story by Axios, the two House members of Puerto Rican descent who co-sponsored a Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act in 2020 that is expected to be resubmitted to Congress soon were pretty clear about what Pierluisi and his allies did earlier this week in the nation’s capital—that any specific push for statehood in the House won’t earn their support.

“The principled position, especially for the head of that colonizing power, is to say that people should have a process of self-determination and to not put your thumb on the scale of one direction or another,” Ocasio-Cortez told Axios.

Unlike Pierluisi’s position, which is to support a bipartisan statehood admission bill with 54 House sponsors that are led by Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL) and Puerto Rico’s non-voting member of Congress Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR), Velázquez and Ocasio-Cortez have been advocating for a self-determination process that would “prompt Puerto Rico’s Legislature to create a Status Convention whose delegates would be elected by Puerto Rican voters. This body would develop a long-term solution for Puerto Rico’s status, be that statehood, independence, free association or any option other than the current territorial arrangement.”

In an interview last month with Axios, Pierlusi said he “he would love to have [Ocasio-Cortez’s] support. I don’t rule out convincing her to join me in the way that I’m approaching this.”

On Thursday, Ocasio-Cortez told Axios that Pierluisi has not contacted her. Velázquez told Axios that she met with the Puerto Rico governor a few weeks ago virtually.

Before the Thursday Axios story, a letter from more than 80 progressive groups, first made public in English by Latino Rebels, called for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to support the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act.

“It is important for members of Congress to get educated on this issue and know we cannot play political football with Puerto Rico,” Velázquez told Axios on Thursday.

The political rift between Pierluisi —a pro-statehood Democrat— and two members of Congress —arguably the two most popular Puerto Rican politicians in D.C.— signals a clear division. Specifically, the role of Velázquez, who has never advocated for statehood, is politically significant since she is now the Chair of House Small Business Committee and a core member of the House’s Democratic leadership.

For example, in a photo tweeted out on February 5 by President Biden’s account, Velázquez is seen seated in the bottom right corner of the Oval Office with other House Democratic leaders.

Schumer has already gone on record to call Velázquez “la luchadora,” noting that he will not support any statehood bill in the Senate.

The bipartisan statehood bill submitted to the House on Tuesday has no official Senate version so far.

Meanwhile, González-Colón said on Tuesday that neither Schumer or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will support a statehood bill.

“I personally don’t expect any of those leaders to support statehood for Puerto Rico. “I have not spoken with Speaker Pelosi, but I did speak with other leaders in the House leadership and they do support statehood for Puerto Rico,” González-Colón said.

On Tuesday night, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) expressed his support for the statehood bill.

Despite claims from Pierluisi that the White House has expressed support for a statehood ratification vote in the bipartisan statehood bill, on Wednesday White House press secretary Jen Psaki gave a very vague answer about President Biden’s position. Latino Rebels has sent several messages to the White House about whether it specifically supports the statehood bill. It has yet to reply to those requests.

A non-binding 2020 status plebiscite in Puerto Rico gave statehood a 52%-48% win. During that same election cycle, Pierluisi was elected governor of Puerto Rico with just 33% of the vote.

In the non-binding plebiscite of 2012, Puerto Ricans rejected the island’s current Commonwealth status and chose statehood. In a 2017 non-binding plebiscite, 97% of voters chose statehood, although the total vote was the lowest vote for statehood since 1967. Both the 2012 and 2017 plebiscites were boycotted by non-statehood advocates, although the 2020 vote was not. All three non-binding plebiscites have been criticized as being political tools of the island’s pro-statehood party.

“This [November 2020] plebiscite that was conducted by the New Progressive Party was a political trick to entice people to come out to the polls,” Velázquez told Axios on Thursday.

“It’s highly suspect when anyone is trying to prescribe an outcome for millions of people,” Ocasio-Cortez said in the same Axios story. “We have to think about how ridiculous this is that the entire future and status of a colony of the United States should just be determined by a simple ballot referendum.”

On Thursday night, Pierluisi tweeted out a clip from Rep. Ritchie Torres, a New York Democrat of Puerto Rican descent who supports the statehood bill.


Julio Ricardo Varela is founder and publisher of Latino Rebels, part of Futuro Media. He tweets from @julito77.