What Senators Say About Puerto Rico Statehood

Mar 4, 2022
10:56 AM

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, who told Latino Rebels that “the people of America” should decide the political status of Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — At the State of the Union Address on Tuesday night, President Joe Biden made an interesting comment to Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González.

“If I were in Puerto Rico,” the President said, “I would vote for statehood.”

The moment was caught on a hot mic as Biden exited the House chamber where Puerto Rico went unmentioned in the President’s hour-long speech.

Ironically, Latino Rebels had been staking out the Senate tunnels before the speech on Monday and Tuesday, where we asked 14 senators whether they supported statehood for the island territory.

“That’s something we should definitely be exploring,” said Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO). “Is there an actual will? Do Puerto Ricans want to be a state in the United States of America? Last time I checked there was some division.”

“There needs to be a clear consensus by Puerto Ricans about what they want. I don’t think territory is meant to be a permanent status,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). “But the measure of statehood has usually been an overwhelming consensus in favor of statehood and that has not yet manifested.”

“If it came to the Senate floor and it was supported by the Puerto Rican people, I would vote for it,” said Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). “But I believe fundamentally in self-determination.”

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) has introduced a bill in the Senate, after Rep. Nydia Velázquez, a Democratic congresswoman of Puerto Rican descent from New York City, introduced one in the House, that would allow the island to form a convention to determine Puerto Rico’s future status.

The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act, as it’s known in both chambers, so far has nine  cosponsors in the Senate, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), plus 76 cosponsors in the House, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and the other five members of the progressive Squad, Maxine Waters (D-CA), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), and Chuy Garcia (D-IL).

A competing bill, the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act, was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), after Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL) introduced one in the House.

The Senate bill has five cosponsors, including Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA), while the House bill has 79 cosponsors, including Reps. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-FL), Ritchie Torres (D-NY), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Steny Hoyer (D-MD), María Elvira Salazar (R-FL), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), and Lou Correa (D-CA), along with Puerto Rico’s Republican non-voting member of Congress, Resident Commissioner González.

“If the Puerto Ricans want to become a state, I’m all in,” said Sen. Warren.

Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Jon Ossoff (D-GA) echoed Warren.

“If that’s what the people of Puerto Rico want, yes,” said Cardin when asked if he’d vote for statehood if it came to the Senate floor.

“If that is the will of the people of Puerto Rico,” said Ossoff when asked the same question.

Sen. Padilla said he would “be supportive” of statehood if it came to a vote on the Senate floor.

“It’s certainly something I would consider supporting,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said of Puerto Rico statehood.

Meanwhile, Republican Senators were not so supportive of statehood for Puerto Rico.

Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) indicated that they hadn’t given Puerto Rico statehood much thought.

“I’m not focused at all on that issue,” said Collins.

“I’ve never had to face that question,” said Moran.

“I know that’s been a much debated and controversial topic, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), adding that statehood was unlikely to find his support if brought to a vote in the Senate.

“I’d have to really look at it,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). “I can’t give you a yes or no. I mean, I would lean no, but I can’t back that up. So I just have to look at it.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) stated his opposition to statehood more directly, saying plainly “No” when asked if he supported Puerto Rico becoming a state.

Then there’s conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (WV), who told Latino Rebels he supports a constitutional referendum on the island’s status.

“Let the people of America vote [on a] constitutional referendum,” said Manchin.

When asked if he meant the people of Puerto Rico, Manchin doubled down.

“The people of America,” he repeated. “I’ve said that so many times before.”


Pablo Manríquez is the Washington correspondent for Latino Rebels. Twitter: @PabloReports