WASHINGTON, D.C. — About 50 Puerto Rico statehood supporters gathered Tuesday in Union Square on Capitol Hill to support H.R. 1522, the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act. Florida Democrats Reps. Darren Soto, Charlie Crist, and Val Demings were in attendance, along with Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR) and members of the island’s pro-statehood shadow delegates.
The resolution for Puerto Rican statehood was formally introduced to the House of Representatives on March 2 by Rep. Soto. If passed, it would result in a ratification vote by the people of Puerto Rico to accept admission into the Union. The bill, which also has a Senate version, currently has 70 House co-sponsors, including González-Colón (R-PR) and 13 other Republicans. The Senate version has four sponsors, all Democrats. The arching goal of the act is to have Congress accept the results of a non-binding November 2020 plebiscite, which statehood won, 52%-48%.
“Our brothers and sisters on the island are U.S. citizens,” Demings told Latino Rebels, “and they need to be treated as such.”
What asked about the biggest challenges facing his Puerto Rico statehood legislation, Soto told Latino Rebels that “we’ve gotta get the Natural Resources Committee and the normal process. None of this is easy.”
“D.C. has been fighting for how many years?” Soto added, referring to the parallel political fight for statehood status by residents of the District of Columbia.
On Wednesday, the House Natural Resources subcommittee will hold a second hearing about two political status bills for Puerto Rico—the Puerto Rico Statehood Admissions Act (H.R. 1522) and the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act (H.R. 2070).
Committee chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) released an analysis Monday of each bill from the Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding issues of constitutionality and feasibility. For the statehood bill, the DOJ analysis said that the Department “supports providing the people of Puerto Rico the opportunity to vote on whether to become a state of the Union, as H.R. 1522 would do.”
The release also noted that DOJ “agrees that the people of Puerto Rico should be allowed to choose whether to become a nation independent of the United States, become a state within the United States, or retain the current status of a territory. Insofar as H.R. 2070 would facilitate a choice among those three options, which we believe are the three constitutional options available to Puerto Rico, the Department supports the bill.”
Dem Leadership Punts on Status
On April 22, Latino Rebels asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer if they favored the statehood bill or the competing self-determination bill introduced by Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) and co-sponsored Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). That bill calls for a status convention with federal officials to create “an official, legitimate and comprehensive bilateral conversation on status.”
“On the statehood issue, that’s up to the people of Puerto Rico,” Pelosi told Latino Rebels, “It’s up to them to decide whether they want to be a state, and then we’ll see what happens after that. It’s up to the people of Puerto Rico to make a decision about their status.”
“There has to be fair process undergone to determine what the Puerto Rican people want,” Schumer told Latino Rebels. “We need to follow their lead. We have a lot of divisions within the Puerto Rican community now as to what the future should be.”
Merging the Status Bills?
Latino Rebels asked Demings and Soto at Tuesday’s rally if they would favor merging their statehood bill with the self-determination bill
“We need to explore all of our options to make sure we get it done,” said Demings. “This has to be about more than a rally.”
“It would be nice to have all three statuses [statehood, independence, commonwealth] with a vote of a plurality winning,” said Soto. “That’s something I stated publicly in El Nuevo Día that could potentially be on the table.”
On March 2, pro-statehood supporter González told Latino Rebels that she did not expect any of Congress’ top leaders —including Schumer, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell— to support any statehood efforts.
“I personally don’t expect any of those leaders to support statehood for Puerto Rico,” said González-Colón, a non-voting member of Congress. “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.”
Pablo Manríquez is Latino Rebels’ Washington correspondent. He is an immigrant from Santiago de Chile with a political science degree from the University of Notre Dame. The Washington Post calls him “an Internet folk hero.” Twitter: @PabloReports.