WASHINGTON, D.C. — Despite millions of lobbying dollars spent to move the Puerto Rico status question in Congress, the competing bills for statehood and self-determination find themselves at an impasse heading toward the midterm elections.
Latino Rebels has learned that a single staffer in House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s (D-MD) office has been tasked with the seemingly impossible job of combining the all-or-nothing proposition of statehood with the open-ended process of self-determination.
“Leader Hoyer continues to work alongside Members of the House Puerto Rican diaspora, Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and others towards agreement on a consensus bill that addresses the status of Puerto Rico,” said Hoyer spokesperson Margaret Mulkerrin in a statement. “Conversations are ongoing, and Leader Hoyer remains hopeful that a compromise can be reached on legislation that can be shared with the public to solicit their feedback, and we can bring to the House Floor as soon as possible.”
The Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act, as the statehood bill is called, looks to force Congress to begin the process of admitting Puerto Rico as the 51st state in the Union. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL) along with 80 cosponsors, including Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón, Puerto Rico’s non-voting member of Congress, and Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Ritchie Torres (D-NY), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Ted Lieu (D-CA), and Hoyer.
The other bill, known as the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2021, would create a status convention where delegates from the U.S. colony would discuss status options with federal officials. Originally introduced in 2020, the new version of the bill would also schedule a multiple-choice plebiscite —in which the option would be statehood, independence, a free association or any option other than the current territorial arrangement— and a recommendation for ranked-choice voting.
The bill has 76 cosponsors in the House, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and the other members of the progressive “Squad,” plus Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Chuy García (D-IL) and others.
Comments gathered this week by Latino Rebels from House members align with Mulkerrin’s statement about a compromise bill. What neither Hispanic Caucus members nor Puerto Rican diaspora members in the lower chamber of Congress could provide to Latino Rebels was a timeline for when —or if— a compromise bill would ever be introduced.
“Pending soon is a decision,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ). “There was some movement and some indication that the principals, with Mr. Hoyer’s support and help, were gonna come up with a consensus bill to move the process forward.”
Sources tell Latino Rebels that beyond Hoyer’s staffer, Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) is marshaling support from various stakeholders in the House of Representatives for consensus legislation that could emerge from the closed-door negotiations.
Velázquez was quick to note that there are few legislative days left to find a consensus on a bill to move forward.
“I’m approaching this with the honesty and integrity that such an important issue requires,” said Velázquez. “That means being willing to compromise without selling out or undermining the basic human rights of the people of Puerto Rico.”
Asked if independence for Puerto Rico was on the table, Velázquez wouldn’t say.
“The people of Puerto Rico need to be part of this process,” said Velázquez. “If we reach the point of getting legislation ready, it will be introduced and we will do hearings here and in Puerto Rico.”
In November 2020, Puerto Rico held a plebiscite on the status question, in which statehood won 52 percent of the vote, but with the turnout at a low 52 percent, 37,932 blanked ballots uncounted, plus other irregularities, many Puerto Ricans have refused to accept the results as an accurate measure of the islands’ preference.
Pablo Manríquez is the Washington correspondent for Latino Rebels. Twitter: @PabloReports